Two Lowcountry vocal teachers could soon have the opportunity to add Grammy award winner to their resumes.
William Bennett, director of choirs at Cane Bay High School in Berkeley County, and Robin Rogers, vocal director at Charleston County School of the Arts in North Charleston, are two of 222 music teachers from across the U.S. who have been selected as quarterfinalists for the Grammy Music Educator Award.
Bennett was nominated by some of his students, and Rogers was nominated by students, parents and former colleagues. Both say their nominations and selection as quarterfinalists were completely unexpected.
"I was totally taken by surprise, because I just had no clue that someone had nominated me," said Rogers.
"I really thought it was some sort of scam or something," said Bennett with a laugh.
But it wasn't a scam. The award is given by Grammy in the Schools, a part of the Grammy Foundation that promotes music education and opportunities for young people. The award recognizes music 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 organization's website.
More than 7,000 educators were originally nominated, and semifinalists will be announced in September. Ultimately, one winner chosen from 10 finalists will be flown to Los Angeles to accept the award and attend the 2015 Grammy Awards ceremony.
"I think it's cool just to have made it this far, so we'll see where it goes from here," said Bennett.
Music runs deep in both teachers' lives.
Bennett, 32, began playing the French horn in middle school in Fort Mill, S.C., but he never really sang until sophomore year of high school.
"I met a girl, and she encouraged me to join our high school choir," he said. "At first, I was like, 'No, I can't sing, I'm not a singer.' And I tell the kids this story, too, because I get a lot of kids who say they can't sing."
Bennett initially wanted to go to medical school, but fell in love with choral music and the idea of being a choir director while at the College of Charleston.
"I feel like this is my calling," he said. "I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be, and I've never once questioned it."
Rogers, 55, got his musical start a little earlier, beginning with piano lessons as a four-year-old in Spartanburg, S.C. He said his music teachers in junior high and high school were his inspiration for becoming an educator himself, and he's been at the job for 34 years.
If Bennett and Rogers are as passionate about anything as much as they are about music, it's being in the classroom.
Bennett has been at Cane Bay High School since it opened in 2008, and he got to write its alma mater. He said he loves how music shows his students how the world fits together.
"I can't tell you how many times we've been looking at a piece of music, and somebody will say, 'Oh yeah! We learned about that in world history class!' or 'Oh, we were just talking about that in science class the other day!'" Bennett said. "They start making these connections."
Rogers has taught at Charleston School of the Arts for nearly 20 years, and he said he's constantly learning from his students.
"I have wonderful students to work with here, because they audition in sixth grade and we are able to teach them for seven years, so the quality of our students here is fairly high," said Rogers. "And that has made me become a better teacher, because you're intrigued by, 'How can I make this work better if they're at this level to bring them to the next level?' It keeps you on your toes."
Rogers works closely with fellow vocal director Heather Hammond, who says he deserves the recognition.
"He's high-energy," she said. "The students love him, the parents love him and if you go to one of his performances, you'll definitely see quality work."
But Grammy recognition aside, both teachers say they're happiest getting to share their passion with the community.
"Somebody made a joke and said, 'Oh, you're going to get a big head,'" said Bennett. "And I said, 'No, actually it's been an incredibly humbling thing to go through.' And I'm just really grateful to my students and to the people who helped me get here. It's not about me. It's about all the people combined."
Rogers said his philosophy is simple.
"Music really makes people happy, so what I try to do is share my love of music with my students," he said.