When the Grammy Foundation in May whittled down more than 30,000 nominations—many of them multiples in support of the same individuals—to select 217 quarterfinalists from around the country for its inaugural music educator award, Vivian E. Gonzalez made the cut. When they trimmed the list to just 25 in September, she joined the ranks at the top again. Where this will end—possibly in Hollywood in January?—no one can be sure.
The South Miami K-8 Center music teacher says she was nominated “by a ton of former students and parents, current students and parents, as well as colleagues and staff members at my school.” She remains unsure exactly why she was chosen among the thousands initially in contention, but she thinks it helps that she spoke “very fast” so as to share as much information as possible in the timed video she submitted during the second round of consideration.
Gonzalez has taught thousands of students in 14 years on the job, among them children with special needs. Today she works with some of the area’s most promising students in a music magnet program.
“I get the opportunity to show each of my students that they can do and learn anything that they put their minds to, as long as they are willing to work hard for it,” she said. “I strongly believe that music teaches students more than just music. It teaches them discipline, focus, persistence, dedication and perseverance. Music is an art and a way of thinking and experiencing the world.”
Gonzalez recognized her passion in life at an early age. She began studying violin at age five, and by the time she was 10 she had made her solo debut with the former Philharmonic Orchestra of Florida.
A graduate of New World School of the Arts High School, Gonzalez went on to earn a bachelor’s of music in violin performance at the University of Florida before receiving a master’s of science in music education from the FIU School of Music in 2004, which she followed with a specialization in curriculum and instruction from the FIU College of Education in 2007.
Gonzalez credits an FIU music professor with helping her realize a calling to teach—not what she initially planned to do with music.
“According to everyone, I was supposed to be a professional violinist. It was what I had trained for my entire life,” she said. But when asked directly what she envisioned for herself—“Not what was expected of me, but to really think about the life I wanted to have”—she chose a different path.
Today, Gonzalez knows it was the right path. Still humble even with all the praise that has been heaped upon her—she finds out in December if she is among the five finalists invited to participate in Grammy Week 2014—she nonetheless understands her power and that of music teachers everywhere: “We are gatekeepers to a world of imagination and expression.”