Six MTSU Alumni Named CMA Foundation Music Teachers of Excellence

Six alumni from Middle Tennessee State University were recently named among this year’s 30 total Country Music Association Foundation’s Music Teachers of Excellence. Pictured, from left in top row, are Tony Hartman and Michael Holland; from left in middle row, Katiana Nicholson and Evan Burton; and from left in bottom row, Andrew Smith and Allen Kennedy. (MTSU graphic illustration by Stephanie Wagner)

Six alumni from Middle Tennessee State University were recently named among this year’s 30 total Country Music Association Foundation’s Music Teachers of Excellence.

The CMA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Country Music Association, created the Music Teachers of Excellence program to recognize music educators from across the country who are making the greatest impact on their students and communities, according to the organization’s release.

MTSU’s alumni winners, from both the College of Education and the School of Music, included Evan Burton, Tony Hartman, Michael Holland, Allen Kennedy, Katiana Nicholson and Andrew Smith.

The Foundation partnered with 30 country music stars — including Reba McEntire, Keith Urban and Chris Young — to create congratulatory video messages to announce the wins to recipients. Winners also receive a $5,000 grant, half to invest into their classroom and music programs and half to support personal expenses.

Tony Hartman, who teaches both at Scales Elementary School in Murfreesboro and as an adjunct professor at the MTSU College of Education, learned he had won by way of an elaborate ruse put on by his school administrators and students.

“I was told that we were meeting to discuss behavior expectations for an upcoming field trip; the vibe in the room was very serious,” said Hartman, originally from Davenport, Iowa. “My principal then revealed the true reason we were meeting, and my teacher team filed out of the conference room followed by the rest of the school administration team, the district curriculum coordinators, the head of HR, the superintendents and director of schools…. It was overwhelming to say the least, but the gesture was very much appreciated.”

Hartman also shared a shoutout to the other alumni who took home a win this year and in years’ past.

“I hope it validates the School of Music, College of Education and School of Foreign Languages,” said Hartman, who double majored in music education and Spanish for his 2010 degree. “I hope MTSU increases their funding of these departments so that future students can continue to build upon this world-class legacy.”

Hartman named numerous faculty who supported his journey from college to the classroom: Lalo Davila, Oscar Diaz, Jamila McWhirter, Jamey Simmons, Jennifer Vannatta-Hall and band director and professor Craig Cornish.

“Professor Cornish provided me with volumes of well-earned advice that has served me in my band classes as well as an education professional in general,” Hartman said.

Cornish remembers Hartman as a fantastic student with enormous energy and said it was “no surprise” when he learned Hartman had won the award.

“His community and work keep him in touch with MTSU, and he also comes back to share with students,” Cornish said. “These winners are a nice testament to the program we have in Music and Music Education here at MTSU. So many of our former students are now the movers and shakers in music education in Tennessee and beyond.”

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