By Bernie Petit
Playing the piano is a family tradition for Cortney Cooke Davis. All the women on her mom’s side play it.
Teaching music is her way of staying connected to what she loves. Her passion for instilling the love of music in her students shines through in her work at Sunset Park Center for Accelerated Studies in Rock Hill, S.C.
That passion explains why Davis is one of six teachers from across the greater Charlotte region to be named a 2013 Arts & Science Council Cato Excellence in Teaching Award winner. The award honors teachers who have distinguished themselves in teaching art, science or history, or who have creatively infused arts, science or history into the core curriculum.
“What this means to me is that teachers are recognized for going above and beyond the normal job hours and for always putting in and doing extra,” Davis said. “It’s nice for The Cato Corporation and ASC to recognize that.”
Each year her kindergarten students perform a musical based on a beloved fairy tale. Her lesson plans on Native American music culminate with a performance of “The First Thanksgiving,” which features barred instruments and Native American drums played by students.
Second and third graders perform a winter musical for the holidays. Third, fourth and fifth grade students comprise a performing choir. Students learn to play Appalachian dulcimers to accompany folk songs and dances. They learn to play the recorders using the “Recorder Karate” program, in which they earn belts each time they master a song.
“I feel like, as a teacher, for a lot of them this is their first opportunity to really have exposure to music,” she said. “It’s important that you cover all the different areas of music. If you only give them one track of music, they’re not going to realize how many other things are available and what kinds of things they can do.”
Davis focuses on music literacy and prepping her charges for band, chorus and orchestra programs at the secondary level. That approach yields success stories that continue after former students move on to middle and high school. Several of her former students and their parents still keep her apprised of their progress.
“I feel like every child is a musician and it’s my job to help them find their outlet of musical expression,” Davis said. “I want them to be lifelong music learners in whatever they choose. Whether they do band, chorus, musical theater, that they’re always lovers and consumers of music.”
Other 2013 Arts & Science Council Cato Excellence in Teaching Award winners will be highlighted in the coming weeks. Winners will be recognized at “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration,” performed by the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and the 70-member gospel choir Chorale Le Chateau, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. You can read about that event here.