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McGraw teacher strikes chord with state officials

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Michael Brownell, at right, the music teacher at McGraw Junior-Senior High School, is rehearsing for an upcoming concert. Some of his students, from left, are Michael Livitskiy, eighth grade; Marissa Jenney, 11th grade; and River Milsapp, 11th grade. Brownell was recently appointed president of a state music teachers association.

For almost 30 years, Michael Brownell has served as McGraw High School’s music teacher, working to enhance hundreds of students’ musical experience, and beginning this year he took on a role allowing him to represent millions of students.

Brownell is the president of the New York State School Music Association, which works to advance music education.

Since being elected president of the music association, Brownell’s influence on music education has grown exponentially, getting to meet with influential political figures and developing new initiatives.

In November he was part of a roundtable on the future of music education with SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and hosted by Renée Fleming, a celebrated opera singer.

“It was a fantastic discussion,” Brownell said. “Music has a strong future. There will be challenges, but music education has always been strong.”

His tenure runs to the end of 2017. But this is not the first time Brownell has held a leadership role within the association. He has steadily climbed its ranks, starting as a college chapter president, then moving up to a Zone 3 representative — representing a portion of New York — and second vice president.

Brownell said he had a passion for music when he was young growing up in Oneonta, playing trumpet and singing in choir in elementary school. He believed the best way to share his passion was to become a teacher.

He received his bachelor’s degree in music education from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, graduating in the summer of 1988. That fall he was hired as the music teacher at McGraw High School, were he has been ever since. At one point during that time he did take a leave of absence to obtain his master’s degree in music education from the Ithaca College School of Music.

One of Brownell’s priorities as president of the association is to encourage schools to look at alliterative and emerging ensembles such as guitar ensembles, folk music ensembles and digital tablet ensembles –– creating music through the tablets with digital instruments.

“The possibilities are endless,” he said. The goal is to get schools to look at more musical avenues “making music more relevant to students,” rather than just offering traditional band ensembles. Brownell said he is working toward implementing this initiative into McGraw High School, which has “always had a strong music program.”

Steven Schopp, executive director of the music association, said Brownell has been doing a terrific job and the progress on his emerging ensemble initiative has been going well.

“He has been very effective on a national level at putting forth the needs of music education,” Schopp said.

Brownell said getting kids involved in music provides them with the opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves and gives them an outlet for their creative talents.

“I feel very fortunate to represent thousands of schools and millions of students across New York state,” he said.