Arvada West music teacher comes in top ten in Grammys


This past weekend on January 28th, Arvada West’s own choir director, Chris Maunu, had the chance to compete against ten other finalists for the national Music Educator Award presented by the Grammy Foundation.

Although Maunu did not walk away with a golden trophy on Sunday, he was named as one of the top ten finalists in the nation, which is a hefty accomplishment that no high school teacher should take lightly. He himself will receive a $1000 honorarium, and the school will get an identical grant to be put towards the music program.

The Grammy award and $10,000 grant given to the winner went instead to elementary music teacher Melissa Salguero from the Bronx in New York. 

Any current, full-time music educator is eligible to be nominated for the award, from those in the kindergarten classroom to those in college lecture halls. There are thousands of applicants every year, but very few make it to the final rounds. Maunu was invited to apply for the nomination earlier this school year, and placed into a pool of 290 quarterfinalists. After that, he advanced to the 25 semifinalists before earning his spot as one of the top ten, sparking a lot of local interest in the Arvada West choir department this last fall.

His nomination is not Maunu’s only claim to fame. Last year, he attended the national American Choral Directors Association (ACDA)  with Vocal Showcase, the most highly-skilled mixed choir Arvada West has to offer. They were chosen out of roughly 1000 applicants in the fifty states, and were one of only two high school mixed choirs to perform at the event. According to Maunu, it is the most prestigious thing a choir can do in the United States. In addition to that, A-West chorus students are New York bound this spring for a performance in the famed Carnegie Hall.

Although Maunu was not chosen as the top music educator of the nation, he is an influential figure at the high school. After 11 and a half years as director, the choir program has grown from about 120 students to roughly 340, nearly tripling in size. While he has gained them recognition, what Maunu truly values is the improvement in culture that he believes has occurred since he started.

“When I got here,” he says, “everything was very average.” Now, he claims, the students are more dedicated, and have raised their standard of excellence. One of his main focuses in class, and what he thinks makes Arvada West stand out more than other choirs is their ability to perform with an “emotional and physical freedom” that is difficult to obtain at high school age.

Shawn Collins, assistant principal and activities director at Arvada West, says that Maunu has improved the program by creating an environment that brings out the best in students, and allows them to build up a system of support for one another.

“The kids feed off each other in elevating their abilities with his guidance,” Collins says of Maunu’s teaching. His stance is that performing arts is one of the most important aspects of the school, as questions about the department are the most common question he answers from local families at 8th grade parent night.

While making the top ten in a nationally recognized and popularly known awards ceremony such as the Grammys is an enormous honor, it seems that it is not as important within Arvada West as Maunu’s true dedication and passion for his craft, and the way he transplants those traits into his students. He has not let all the attention affect his teaching or the way he does his job. Said Collins last week, “He’s still the same great teacher we’ve had since he’s been here.”

Maunu shrugs and says, “I have a job that I love, I loved my job before this, and I love it just the same after all this attention.”

He plans to stay at Arvada West and continue improving himself as a teacher and his students as singers every day.