Something to sing about

Local music teacher receives regional, national accolades

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Natalie Wilson instructs students in the Grass Valley Vocal Jazz group during a recent early morning practice. The program is one of just a few in the nation. Recently, Wilson received regional and national accolades for her work.

Natalie Wilson is definitely not singing the blues.

The Grass Valley Elementary School music teacher and vocal jazz instructor has received regional and national accolades for her work.

She was named the Outstanding Music Educator for the Lower Columbia River Music Education Association and will be honored at the state conference in Yakima.

“It’s exciting and I’m super humbled by this because I received the honor two times in a row,” Wilson said. “I know there are other teachers just as worthy. To receive it twice is amazing.”

But that’s just the start.

After presenting a Vocal Jazz Concepts lesson at a national Jazz Education Network conference in January, Wilson was approached by Sharon Burch, director of the education committee. She asked her to serve as kindergarten through eight-grade chairperson.

“I was so honored and humbled,” she said. “There’s always a part that knows I’ve worked really hard, but at the same time I think, ‘Why me?’ This is really a collaboration with the kids, supportive parents, school and community.”

The Jazz Education Network is dedicated to building the jazz arts community by advancing education, promoting performance, and developing new audiences.

Wilson is excited about her new role.

“To be involved with people who are as passionate as I am is really exciting,” she said. “I can take the position and run with it, and mold it to fit within the organization as well as on a global level and include the common core standards.”

She mentioned her interest in helping teachers use music in the classroom when they may not have the background in it.

“We are lucky here, and we have a music program,” Wilson said. “Many schools have nothing at all.”

Sean McMillan, Grass Valley principal, describes Wilson as “positive and energetic.”

“She is extremely flexible and goes the extra mile to support the entire school beyond her music instruction,” he said. “She is very passionate about elementary music and it is great to see her work at Grass valley being recognized as an elite model across the country.”

Currently, Wilson instructs 80 students in the vocal jazz program, which consists of third- through fifth-grade students.

Accompanied by a student rhythm section on piano, bass and drums, it is one of very few elementary vocal jazz choirs in the nation.

They rehearse before school and attend competitions throughout the year, usually turning heads and raising eyebrows for being the only elementary school participants.

The group has also won several accolades, including, “outstanding musician awards” at annual jazz festivals, first-place at the Northwest Vocal Jazz Festival at Mt. Hood Community College in the middle school/junior high division, and participation in local, state, regional and national honor choirs.

“I really appreciate the community support,” Wilson said. “I feel that when you have high standards, the kids will jump up to reach them.”