Gawle named semifinalist for 2016 Music Educator Award

Frank “Chip” Gawle, band director and fine and performing arts instructional leader at Wilton High School, has been named a semifinalist for the 2016 Music Educator Award.

Presented by the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation, the third annual award recognizes current educators who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools,” according to the Grammy Foundation.

Gawle, a North Stamford resident who has worked in Wilton High School’s music department for 35 years, was one of 25 music teachers selected from more than 4,500 initial nominations submitted from all 50 states.

Each year, a Music Educator Award recipient is selected from 10 finalists, and recognized for his or her impact on students’ lives.

This year’s award will be presented to the winner at the special merit awards ceremony and nominees reception on Sunday, Feb. 14, during Grammy Week. The winner will be flown to the host city of the Grammy Awards, where he or she will accept the award, attend the awards ceremony and receive a $10,000 honorarium.

The nine other finalists will each receive a $1,000 honorarium and the schools of all 10 finalists will receive matching grants.

Chip Gawle

Gawle said his love of music started at the age of 10, when he began playing trumpet.

“I got pretty good at it pretty fast and I excelled in my junior high school and high school programs,” he said. “When I went to college, I was going to be a lawyer, but I got really excited about the music program at UConn.”

Gawle said he “fell into education” because of his father, who was “a great teacher who loved his job and loved the kids.”

Gawle was nominated for the 2016 Music Educator Award by Ralph and Ellen Willis.

“Ellen was the band parent president of the band booster organization. She and her husband nominated me, and from there, I was one of 4,500 or so nominees,” said Gawle.

“I had to do a survey questionnaire — write some essays and answer some questions, and I guess I did well on that and I made the quarterfinals.”

After that, Gawle said, the process got difficult.

“In May — right in the middle of the busiest time of the year with the school musical and all of the big concerts at end of year — the Grammy Foundation wanted two videos,” he said.

“One with parents, students, ex-students, administrators, and me describing huge things like my philosophy of teaching, my lasting legacy in the profession of education, what I’ve done to advance the cause of music education, anything for the advancement of music in the community.”

The second video the foundation needed was a seven-minute uninterrupted teaching video, said Gawle.

“I got a packet from the Grammy Foundation with only a couple of weeks to do this, and I wasn’t going to do it because I thought it was too hard,” he said.

“Then my Advanced Placement music theory students got ahold of it and said, ‘Oh no, you can do it. You can do this, that and the other thing. Don’t worry — you got this.’”

Gawle said those students, as well as parents, pulled together and created and produced the two videos for the Grammy Foundation.

“Just watching that happen was probably one of the highlights of my career,” said Gawle.

Working in Wilton

Gawle said Wilton High School has a “fantastic” fine and performing arts department staff.

“The fact that the high school kids are successful is not isolated to the fact that I’m the band director,” he said. “I’m just one piece of a whole bunch of pieces that make it all happen.”

Thanks to the fine and performing arts department and “40 years of hard work on a lot of people’s part,” Gawle said, music has become an important part of Wilton’s education system.

Gawle said the best part about being an educator is working with, helping and getting to know the students.

“Tons of students come back after graduation and visit and a lot of students continue playing music in college and through life — that’s what we’re really about,” said Gawle.

“We build lifelong friendships with kids through the music program, and that’s probably because we see them so much.”

While other teachers don’t have the benefit of working with students for all four years of high school, Gawle said, he is fortunate to get to do so.

“When you get to see them before school, after school, at night and on the weekends, you get to know them as people and get to know their families,” he said.

“You get to work on the most important things about education, which are character, responsibility, teamwork, compassion, kindness, caring — all the stuff that really matters — through music.”

Gawle said he is “blessed to be a music teacher in a town that’s incredibly supportive of education and to get to work with great kids.”

“I still remember all their names and everything that they did,” he said, “and to know that when they come back that they remember me and usually have things to say like, ‘We had a great time working with him’ and ‘He taught me so much about life’ — that’s really what the teaching profession is.”

Gawle said he sees his being named a Music Educator Award semifinalist as “positive recognition” of Wilton High School’s music program and everything that the fine and performing arts department has accomplished.

“The teaching profession itself has been bashed so hard in the past five years by test scores and standards and poor performance and teachers who do inappropriate things with kids that it’s nice to have something to celebrate in the profession,” he said.

“We’re teaching kids because we really care for them. It’s about making relationships and being passionate and compassionate, about teaching and learning and building relationships that are lifelong. That’s what good teaching is, and that’s what good teachers do, and I’m certainly not the only one in this school or in this town.”

The finalists of the 2016 Music Educator Award will be announced in December.

To learn more about the Music Educator Award, visit

This is an updated version of a previous article published on