For the love of music; Folsom teacher nominated for national award

By: Bill Sullivan, Associate Publisher
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Music has been a life-long love for local resident Curtis Gaesser. Now in his 34th year of teaching, the beloved Folsom High School music instructor is just one of 25 music teachers in the United States to be named a semi-finalist for the 2017 Grammy Foundation National Music Educator Award.

“I am very humbled, and flattered by this,” said Gaesser. “But if it wasn’t for a lot of extremely talented kids I wouldn’t have been nominated. This is an honor for me, but even more so for our area as a whole getting this recognition. It’s not just me teaching these kids, it’s their talent and it’s all the teachers and parents who helped them find their way in music.”

The Music Educator Award is presented by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Museum. The award was established to recognize educators from kindergarten through college 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. The semi-finalists represent 17 different states; initial nominations were submitted from all 50 states.

At a later date, just one recipient will be selected from 10 finalists and recognized for their impact on students' lives. The winner will be flown to New York to attend the 60th Annual Grammy Awards and a range of Grammy week events. The nine additional finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium, and the schools of all 10 finalists will receive matching grants. Fifteen semi-finalists will receive a $500 honorarium with matching school grants. 

Gaesser, 56, was born in Hawaii and has lived locally since his teenage years. As a senior in high school, he moved to El Dorado Hills and attended Ponderosa High School. It was there he played Alto Saxophone under the direction of long time instructor Roy Fulmer.

“I think anyone in band in the 70s and 80s was taught by Roy Fulmer in this area, he’s very well-known here and one of the best in the business,” Gaesser said.

After graduating from Ponderosa, Gaesser earned his master’s degree at California State University, Sacramento. He began his teaching career at Cordova High School where he worked for three years before making the decision to work closer to home in Folsom.

“At the time Cordova had a huge student body; that was when the base was still open there,” Gaesser said. “We never left El Dorado Hills. I had an opportunity to teach a little bit closer to home. Folsom High was just that little brick school down the street when I made the move, but I knew this area was going to just explode with people and opportunity. It was really a great decision to come here.”

When he speaks of his career in music education, Gaesser is quick to put his students before himself when it comes to the accolades that both he and Folsom High School have earned through the years. The respect he garners from his students is apparent just moments after walking into his classroom. It’s a respect that goes both ways. Gaesser is an instructor who evokes great encouragement and positivity, yet he isn’t shy when it comes to constructive criticism to his talented pupils who demand perfection themselves.

“Folsom has had an incredible number of very gifted musicians come through this school,” Gaesser said. “They are committed to music; they routinely practice as much as 15 hours a week. They are into this, and that’s important if you want to succeed, not only in music, but in anything. You have to love what you do.”

The journey to the Grammy Foundation National Music Educator Award began more than a year ago. It was then that Gaesser was urged by those around him to throw his hat in the ring for the annual nominations process.

“Since I am in my last handful of years teaching, I decided this time I would go ahead and do it,” he said. “Eventually I got the news that I was one of a couple of a hundred quarter-finalist and it was then that I had a plethora of tasks to do to meet the qualifications.”

With the help of a parent volunteer, who is a videographer, Gaesser spent many hours after school for several days back in May, gathering each of the required submissions for the foundation. They sent everything off as requested and just recently learned he was a semi-finalist, and he was one of just two teachers in California among the finalists.

Regardless if he is chosen or not, Gaesser and his students are very prideful that their work together has been nominated for what is considered one of the highest honors for music educators. “Promoting excellence in music education" is the mission of the Folsom High School Music Boosters - a mission that Gaesser carries close to his heart.

“I love teaching music, especially when you get to work with the superior talent I have gotten to work with here in Folsom,” Gaesser said. “These kids are amazing, award or not, that is an honor itself just to get the opportunity to work with them and guide them.”