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creative:impact - Music educators win Grammy Awards too!

Yael Rothfeld
Ann Arbor Public Schools

A semi-finalist for the 2022 Grammy Award for Music Educators, Yael Rothfeld, a music teacher at Ann Arbor’s Thurston Elementary, believes she wins every day because she gets to the joys of music. Get ready to be inspired by her passion when she joins "creative:impact" host Deb Polich of Creative Washtenaw.

Deb Polich
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.


"My name is Yael Rothfeld and I am in my 19th year teaching at Thurston Elementary School. I received my undergraduate and master's degrees from Michigan State University. I hold certifications in Early Childhood, Piano, Level One and Level Two Elementary General Music in Music Learning Theory." 
"Besides teaching at Thurston, I teach a music education class at Eastern Michigan University for students studying to be grade level teachers. I am also a certified yoga teacher, and teach yoga classes throughout the week. I love traveling, spending time with family and friends, singing, playing piano and ukulele, and almost anything that relates to being outside in warm weather."

Yael Rothfeld
Credit Yael Rothfeld
Yael Rothfeld

"I work with such amazing students, teachers, and families at Thurston, and love watching my students' musicianship grow and develop. It is wonderful to be able to see the same students year after year, knowing where they were in Preschool or Kindergarten, and seeing how far they've come when they leave Thurston at the end of 5th grade!"


Ann Arbor Public Schools

Thurston Elementary School

Ms. Rothfeld's Music Website

"The Recording Academy And GRAMMY Museum Announce Semifinalists For The 2022 Music Educator Award"

"Thurston Elementary music teacher named a quarterfinalist for the 2022 GRAMMY Award for music educators"


Deb Polich: It's Tuesday, and that means it's time for another edition of creative:impact on WEMU eighty nine point one FM. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and until David Fair returns from his medical leave, your solo host for the show. Thank you for listening as we welcome creative guests and explore the impact of the arts and creative industries in Washtenaw County. So, OK, listeners, admit it. At some point, you dreamed of being called up on the stage to accept your Oscar, Emmy, Tony Award, or Grammy Award. Let's find out if our guest, Yael Rothfeld, a music teacher at Thurston Elementary School, ever had that dream. Yael, welcome to creative:impact.

Yael Rothfeld: Thank you. It's good to be here.

Deb Polich: Yeah. So I'll go first. My imagination would put me on stage accepting a Tony or an Oscar for costume design. How about you? Did you ever imagine yourself in a similar position? 

Yael Rothfeld: You know, I never really imagined myself, but I'm sure, like, I definitely did dream of, like, dressing up and being in some place like that where I could meet famous people and maybe go onto the stage with my acceptance speech. 

Credit The Grammys / grammy.com
Grammy Music Educator Award

Deb Polich: So, unlike me, your dream's coming true. You are a 2022 Grammy Award quarterfinalist for Music Educator. Congratulations! 

Yael Rothfeld: Thank you.

Deb Polich: So, nominees for this award are music educators who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrated commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools. Being nominated makes you a winner no matter what happens and means that you're an extraordinary teacher. So, how did you learn you were nominated in the competition? 

Yael Rothfeld: So, I received an email right before summer vacation, before school started, that said that I was selected as a quarterfinalist. And there were 200 people selected-- 

Deb Polich: Wow.

Deb Polich: About 200 people selected as quarterfinalist. And then I had to submit information. I had to make videos and write things out to be able to make it to the next round.

Deb Polich: Which is the semifinalist round. I spoke wrong. 

Yael Rothfeld: Correct.

Deb Polich: Correct. Correct. Correct. Cool. 

Yael Rothfeld: So, yeah, so I made the videos, and I had didn't hear from them. I assumed I just hadn't gotten picked. And, then in October, I received another email that I had made it to the next level as a semifinalist. 

Deb Polich: Pretty exciting. How about your students? Are they excited for you? 

Yael Rothfeld: They are. They're really excited. I've had a lot of students tell me that if I win, that I need to get autographs for all of them if I go to the Grammy Awards. 

Deb Polich: That's so cool. This is creative:impact on 89 one WEMU, and our guest is Yael Rothfeld. She is a music teacher at Ann Arbor's Thurston Elementary and a Grammy Award semifinalist for Music Educators. So, let's jump back to the award criteria--educators who have made a significant and long lasting contribution on the field of music. You've been teaching for about 17 years. What takes place in your classroom? 

Yael Rothfeld
Credit Ann Arbor Public Schools / a2schools.org
Yael Rothfeld at the piano in her classroom.


Yael Rothfeld: So, you know, I had the opportunity to be in the same school for all of the years that I've been teaching on, this is actually my 19th year teaching. 

Deb Polich: Oh, 19. 

Yael Rothfeld: And yeah. And, you know, I've had..Thurston Elementary School has not always been as big as it is right now. So, while I was at Thurston, there were several years where I taught at other schools also. But, for the past while, maybe 10 years or so, I've solely been at Thurston. And so, I've had this unique opportunity to be able to see my students go through from preschool through fifth grade. I see siblings, I get to know families, and it's just a really great situation being here, understanding the community, being a part of the community. 

Deb Polich: So, you know, children take to music and rhythm naturally. Talent is optional. What then is the purpose of music education if they're already connected to music? 

Yael Rothfeld: So, I want them to be able to be independent musicians. And so, you know, I take them through a bunch of different types and things with music. We sing, we dance, we move. We chant, we improvise, we compose. And so, I want them to get a little bit of everything when they're with me, so that when they leave fifth grade, they can go on to do whatever it is that they would like whatever it is that they're passionate about. And maybe that's going into music, but maybe it's just appreciating music. Maybe it's having a garage band with some friends, maybe it's going to a concert and, you know, understanding the piece of music that they're listening to. 

Deb Polich: So is music education curriculum-based? Do you and every other Ann Arbor public school elementary teacher have the same programs for each grade level, or do you have a lot of discretion? 

Yael Rothfeld: So, we do have some discretion. We definitely do have at that scope and sequence. But within Ann Arbor Public Schools, we're also given the leeway to put in our own creativity with our curriculum. And so, my curriculum is research-based. It's called music learning theory. And I try to teach music the way that you would teach a language. And so, you know, you start with children as young as you can. And, you know, they're just learning. They're listening. They're engaging. And then, little by little, they start learning a little bit more. They learn the speaking or the singing and the chanting. And then they start, you know, improvising with their voice or with instruments just as you would have a conversation. And then we just kind of go from there. So, I feel like the younger the child is, the more they can absorb and the easier it is for them to learn.

Deb Polich: You know, along that way of looking at progression through music education, is there benefit for sequential music education at every grade level, regardless of a child's talent and capacity? 

Yael Rothfeld
Credit Ann Arbor Public Schools / a2schools.org
Yael Rothfeld with her class.


Yael Rothfeld: Oh yeah. I think I think any child can learn music, and it may be that they enjoy and maybe, like, connect a little bit more with singing or maybe instruments is more than singing, or maybe it's improvising or composing. And that's another reason why I try to have such a big variety within my music classes, so children can see what it is that, you know, they are leaders and/or what it is that they are most passionate about. And, you know, if I get them when they're young, they are able to make progress and learn and be successful.

Deb Polich: This is creative:impact on eighty nine point one WEMU. We're talking with Yael Rothfeld. She is a semifinalist for the 2022 Grammy Award for Music Educators. So, you know, it's really clear you love what you do. What's your favorite part about teaching? 

Yael Rothfeld: You know, I think my favorite part is just seeing when that connection happens to see that look in the child's eye, when they just understand, to hear maybe one of my students who hasn't found their singing voice for months and months and, all of a sudden, is able to match pitches and sing, or to have a student come in saying, "I'm so excited that today is Tuesday because I have music today." You know, or to see the children being able to interact in the classroom musically, you know, to work together as a group and just to have fun while learning.

Deb Polich: So, how do you encourage the child who may feel that they don't have the chops, if you will, for music?

Yael Rothfeld: Yeah, well, I think just a variety of different types of activities. There's always something that the students will feel like they can be successful in, and maybe it's just answering a question or maybe giving a suggestion. Maybe it's today they get to play a triangle or a xylophone, or today they get to contribute to writing a melody that goes along with the poem. So, I feel like each of my students think like they understand that there's so many aspects with music and that there's something that they can do that they can be successful. 

Deb Polich: And you mentioned that you've been teaching for a long time. Have you found students that have gone on and maybe used what they've learned from you or maybe for music, or maybe in some other part of their life or their careers? 

Yael Rothfeld: Definitely. I have had a few students who, after leaving me, decided to go into music and have published some albums. I have actually two former students of mine that went into music teaching that are here in Ann Arbor as well, that are teaching music at this point, that were my students as elementary school students, which was amazing to see. 

Yael Rothfeld
Credit Ann Arbor Public Schools / a2schools.org
Yael Rothfeld at the center of her class.


Deb Polich: Yeah. Rewarding, for sure. 

Yael Rothfeld: Sure. Definitely.

Deb Polich: So, now that there's a real possibility that you could win a Grammy, when do you find out and how are you imagining the moment? 

Yael Rothfeld: Sure. So, end of November or early December, they'll tell me if I have made it to the finals, and they pick 10 people for the finalists. And then, this year, the Grammys are at the end of January. And so, I know that I would know ahead of time. I just don't know exactly when and whichever or whoever they take as the winner, they will fly to the Grammy Awards. 

Deb Polich: Oh, so cool. Well, listen, we're rooting for you for sure. And, no matter what, you're already a winner in our books. Thanks so much for joining us on creative:impact today and telling us your story.

Yael Rothfeld: Thank you. It was great to be here. 

Deb Polich: That's Yael Rothfeld, music teacher extraordinaire in Ann Arbor's Thurston Elementary School. She's a 2022 Grammy Award semifinalist for music educator, and we'll find out more about where she progresses in a few months. Learn more about Yael and her Grammy nomination at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your solo host of creative:impact while David Fair is out on medical leave. Please join me next week for another creative conversation with a creative Washtenaw guest. This is your community NPR Radio Station, eighty nine point one WEMU and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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