Durham music teacher wins Grammy, inspires students

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Phillip Riggs just lived nearly every musician’s dream.

Not only did he get to sit among some of the greatest musicians in the world, he was also honored by The Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation.

Even after taking the award home he’s still doing just what helped him win – being the full-time music education teacher at the North Carolina School of Sciences and Math and taking time to teach at high schools around Durham as part of a music teacher mentor program.

“If we can get kids turned on to music and we can get them a little further down the road in making good music then I feel like we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do,” Riggs said.

Phillip Riggs teaching class.
Phillip Riggs teaching class.

The mentor program’s lesson plan includes students and teachers.

“The easier it is for us as educators to find new ideas, new ways of reaching kids and different perspectives that aren’t our own, the more kids we’re going to relate to. The more kids we’re going to reach,” said Chris Hathcock, Jordan High School’s band director.

As for as the Grammy goes, Riggs had no idea he’d actually been nominated for the award by a former student until the academy called him. While at the awards, Riggs said he was pretty popular among the guests.

“So many people came up and said ‘Thanks for being a teacher,’ or would tell us a story about their music teacher in high school and how they made a difference in their lives”.

He was one of more than 4,500 nominees for the Music Educator Award.

“To me, winning’s not beating other music educators as we think of in like an athletic competition. I’ve been selected to represent all those folks who are doing great stuff and so I hope I can do that justice through the year,” Riggs said.

grammy teacher 1

That impact is something young musicians feel every beat of.

“He’s passionate but he doesn’t get very like in your face or very aggressive about it,” said Evan Perry, who plays the bassoon. “It’s very calm and collected so that you know that he knows what he’s doing and it makes you feel more like you know what you’re doing.”

Relationships are the key when it comes to teaching and learning music, Riggs said.

“I really think it really boils down to relationships…you can’t truly make music without that.”

Riggs said the relationships are ones that students must continue long after he leaves the room.

“I really enjoy what he has to say to us and he’s there to help us improve and get better and I really appreciate that,” said Destinee Yoder, a clarinet player.

They all share the same belief that music has changed their lives and will help shape who they are in the future.
“Somebody sitting in our classroom today may end up on that stage.” said Riggs.

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