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Teacher Wins a Grammy

Music teacher Annie Ray was honored at the Grammy Awards for her work with students with disabilities.

Annie Ray poses in formal wear in front of a wall that says 66th Grammy Awards.

Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images Entertainment

Music teacher Annie Ray won a Grammy Award for teaching excellence.

Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and SZA may have dominated the 2024 Grammy Awards, but not all the winners were recording artists. The 2024 Music Educator Grammy Award went to Annie Ray, a music teacher who started a program for students with disabilities.

Ray, who is orchestra director and head of the performing arts department at Annandale High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, started the Crescendo Orchestra to give all students the opportunity to learn about music. The students in the program have developmental and intellectual disabilities, and many are not verbal. But music is a language everyone shares, says Ray, who comes from a musical family and has played the harp since she was 5 years old.  

That belief helped spark the idea for the orchestra back in 2021. Ray teamed up with special education teachers to design the program. Students start by learning about rhythm, first with scarves and then with egg shakers. Eventually, they practice on a cardboard version of an orchestra instrument, learning how to care for it and store it properly. Finally, they receive the real thing. Ray also started a parent program that gives the students’ caregivers the opportunity to learn the same instruments as their children.


Annie Ray points to a screen that reads Which symbol is used to make one sound and shows several musical symbols.

Matt McClain—The Washington Post/Getty Images

In this 2021 photo, Annie Ray uses a projection screen to teach music to nonverbal students.

The Crescendo Orchestra program isn’t only about learning to play music. It’s about learning to work together—and realizing the value of making a mistake. Ray says the program has also given her a greater sense of the power of music.

“I really push my students to be bold, go outside their comfort zone and realize…we have to learn how to make bad sounds before we learn how to make good sounds,” Ray told National Public Radio (NPR).

A high school student plays the cello and another sits in a chair as both look at Annie Ray as she provides instruction.

Matt McClain—The Washington Post/Getty Image

In this 2021 photo, Annie Ray works with students Kevin Juramillo (right) and Max Fay (left).

Along with the Grammy Award, Ray received $10,000, which she’ll use to expand her music program. She also had a chance to attend the Grammys, where Taylor Swift hugged her, and Meryl Streep told her about how a music teacher changed her life. 

“This is the students’ award,” she told NPR. “I’m just lucky enough to have been a part of their journey and their process and to have been taught by them.”

Did You Know?

Studies have identified links between music education and greater confidence and creativity.

Students making various gestures conveying confidence are placed along three musical staves with treble clefs.
© Hanna Syvak/; Composite illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

How a Teacher Inspired Lizzo

Lizzo is dressed in formal wear as she plays a flute on a red carpet in front of a crowd of photographers.
Sean Zanni—Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

These days, Lizzo is a Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and flute player. But Lizzo wasn’t always Lizzo. She credits her high school music teacher with inspiring her to pursue her dreams.

Lizzo was born Melissa Jefferson in Detroit, Michigan, and moved to Houston, Texas, at age 10. Soon after, she started playing the flute in her middle school marching band. Melissa was already into music—she was a major fan of Beyoncé’s group, Destiny’s Child. But playing music was a whole new experience. She relished the feeling of accomplishment she got when she practiced her instrument and got better and better. She also loved the experience of working with other musicians to make a beautiful sound. Playing music together taught her how to work with others.

“[Playing in a marching band is] leaning on somebody and needing that support. I believe in the one sound. Everybody coming together to make that one sound,” Lizzo told CBS in 2019.

Although Lizzo worked hard to improve on the flute, she also had encouragement from Manny Gonzalez, her high school band teacher, who helped her get a college scholarship. A few years ago, she was reunited with him during a visit to her old high school. 

“You were like, ‘Get it together, girl, because you are special. Apply yourself.’ Those moments mean so much to me,” Lizzo told Gonzalez in a 2019 CBS News report. 

Lizzo’s dream changed over time. She originally wanted to be a classical musician but set her sights on pop when she discovered a love for singing and rapping. But her determination remained constant.

“I always knew that she would make it big,” Gonzalez told Texas Monthly. “Not just because she was good, but because she had her heart set on it.”

What’s Your Thing?

People doing different hobbies such as playing instruments, painting, and skateboarding.
© MicroOne/; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Being successful at a hobby isn’t necessarily about becoming the very best. Sometimes, it’s just the experience of trying something new. People have had hobbies for thousands of years. You can learn more about hobbies at Britannica.






: an activity that you do regularly for enjoyment rather than as a job

Definitions provided by
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Criss Cross

See if you can figure out where all the musical instruments fit into the puzzle.


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