Originally created 05/07/04

School is awarded Grammy



Put their name in lights, roll out the red carpet, and prepare the party.

Students and faculty members at Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School have hit it big.

They've earned distinction as the 2004 National Grammy Signature School, the Grammy Foundation's label for the best music education program in the nation's public schools.

Students and faculty have been on an emotional high since learning of the honor on St. Patrick's Day, and they are gearing up for a glitzy gala and presentation ceremony next week.

That's where singer-songwriter Edwin McCain and the Grammy Foundation will present a $25,000 check. Mr. McCain will also perform a song before the Davidson students take the stage to show off their talent.

A small group of faculty members and students will also attend the 2005 Grammys, to be held in either New York or Los Angeles.

James Dunaway, Davidson's choir director, said he never imagined getting the honor when the school first completed one of 20,000 applications sent to public schools last year.

"When I got the message on my voice mail to phone the foundation, I got real excited and suspected that we had received some recognition, but I never dreamed that the news would be this big," he said. "To be named the best in the country is really more than I ever dreamed."

But then Davidson is where pupils use classroom breaks to practice their music and spend after-school hours performing in public to raise money for Davidson projects.

Students call it a special place.

"Only at Davidson can you go to an opera for a field trip," said Arti Danes, who plays viola in the chamber orchestra. "I think it's just a wonderful opportunity."

Richmond County pupils audition for entry to the school, which serves grades six through 12. Pupils spend years fine-tuning their talents, sometimes with the same teachers guiding them each year.

"It's just a kind of musical community. It's almost like a college," said Arwen Myers, a junior and soprano section leader.

The school is no newcomer to recognition. More than once, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has named it the best high school in the state.

The Grammy honor came after Dr. Dunaway was urged to apply by Augusta attorney Robert Mullins, a member of the Grammy Foundation.

The Los Angeles-based foundation narrowed down applications from 400 schools. From there, 100 schools were named finalists and were asked to send in a compact disc with recordings from the school's chorus, orchestra and band.

Forty schools received certificates of recognition, seven of which were named "Gold" Grammy Signature Schools. Of those seven, Davidson was named the national winner.

"Just as the Grammy Awards honors excellence in recording, Grammy Signature Schools honors excellence in public high school music education," said David Sears, senior director of the foundation's education programs.

The award is determined on the basis of a scoring system that was applied and critiqued by a panel of top music educators and professionals.

"I think our application may have had an edge because it had excerpts of a live performance of an opera that we did last spring," Dr. Dunaway said. "How often do you find a high school that stages Purcell's Dido and Aeneas?"

The $25,000 is made available by 7 Up, which has led many at the school to promise a switch to the lemon-lime soda.

The school plans to use the money to bring in professional artists, collaborate with professional musicians and purchase desperately needed equipment, such as large instruments and choral risers.

Neil Portnow, the president of The Grammy Foundation and the Recording Academy, released a statement praising Davidson and the runner-up schools for maintaining art and music programs despite a challenging economic climate.

"We applaud them for their commitment to music education, which makes a positive difference in the lives of young people, while ensuring these vital programs do not become cultural casualties in their districts," he said.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 823-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.

WANT TO GO?

Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School will play host to a Gala and Recognition Ceremony at 6:15 p.m. May 13.Tickets go on sale to the public Monday at 9 a.m., and the box office will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.Tickets for the gala cost $8 for adults and $6 for students and senior citizens. After the theater sells out, $3 tickets will be sold for standing room only. Tickets must be purchased in person at the school and with cash.
For more information, call 823-6924, ext. 200.



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