Vt. music teacher reaps her own rewards
By Kevin O’Connor
A Top-10 finalist for the Grammy’s first-ever Music Educator Award, Vermont music teacher Lisa Patno Bianconi was featured Monday on the CBS Evening News as one of only two honorees to be profiled.
The other instructor — Kent Knappenberger of Westfield, N.Y. — ultimately was announced the winner Tuesday when his story aired on the network’s morning show. But Bianconi, a teacher for nearly three decades at Kurn Hattin Homes in Westminster, is reaping her own rewards.
“I came here with an attitude,” 12-year-old Ethiopian orphan Emembet Stott said on the CBS program seen by 8 million
viewers. “Ms. Bianconi, she talked to me. The fact that she was right there and listened to me — I don’t even know how to explain it. She felt like the mother I never had.”
Growing up in Rutland, Bianconi started piano lessons at age 5 and was proficient in band and chorus by the time she graduated from high school in 1981. But going off to college in neighboring New Hampshire, she minored in chemistry just in case she couldn’t find a job teaching music.
Enter Kurn Hattin, a 120-year-old boarding school for grades 1-8 students seeking what the private nonprofit institution describes as “a secure and supportive haven during a troubled period in their families’ lives.”
“They are kids who have been abused and neglected,” Bianconi was quoted on CBS. “They come in here really angry and the first thing they say is, ‘I don’t do music.’”
She does. Since her hiring at age 21, Bianconi has taught every music class, instrumental lesson and band, choir and vocal program — spurring her school to nominate her for the new Music Educator Award, introduced to recognize teachers “who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field.”
Bianconi, one of more than 30,000 candidates from all 50 states, was selected one of 217 quarterfinalists in May, one of 25 semifinalists in September and one of 10 finalists in December.
“Never, never, never give up,” Bianconi told CBS. “These kids have all been given up. Every day, I come in here with positive attitude, positive energy no matter what happens. Whatever happened at home, leave it at home. Give these kids 100 percent full force, full energy.”
Bianconi joins such music legends as Journey (“Don’t Stop Believing”) and Queen (“We Are the Champions”) who, inexplicably to their fans, haven’t won a Grammy. But as a Top-10 finalist, the teacher will receive a $1,000 honorarium and matching grant for her school, plus thanks from Kurn Hattin’s 100 students worth more than any trophy.
As Stott told CBS: “There is never gonna be something big enough for what she does, even a Grammy. She’s bigger than that.”