It’s widely said that the heart of the Gold Hill area north of Placerville is Gold Trail School. Those in the know also agree that the heart of Gold Trail School is its music program. And the heart of the music program, as few would dispute, is its longtime teacher, Glen Cain.
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Don’t just take his students’ and their parents’ word for it — ask The Grammy Foundation, the folks behind the national Grammy Awards.
Chosen from among 30,000 nominations for the inaugural Recording Academy Music Educator Award, Cain learned recently that he is among 25 semifinalists from across the nation for the first-ever honor.
The winner will be named during Grammy Week 2014, during a special ceremony and reception honoring music educators “who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools.”
The new award was announced during this year’s Grammy awards by the likes of Ryan Seacrest and Justin Timberlake, opening the competition up to the country at large. From the 25 semifinalists, 10 will be named in December as finalists.
The winner will be flown to Los Angeles to be part of next year’s Grammy ceremonies and will take home a $10,000 prize along with a matching contribution to the top teacher’s school.
Cain doesn’t know who nominated him and it would be hard to narrow down the list of possible admirers, after 31 years of teaching music at Gold Trail.
“I can’t imagine this place without him,” said Gold Trail School Principal Scott Lyons, who sat down with Cain recently in the music room at the small school, a room filled with band instruments and metal music stands. “Glen has endowed our students with not only the ability, but the desire, to have music in our lives.
“It’s part of becoming a complete person,” said Lyons, 47, who has been with Gold Trail for 24 years.
The Jones family couldn’t agree more with Gold Trail’s principal.
With four children having gone through school under the tutelage of Cain, mom Michelle Jones said the lessons they learned not only sharpened their musical talents, it also honed their skills for living happy, productive lives.
“When my youngest was graduating from Gold Trail I went over to shake Mr. Cain’s hand and tell him ‘thank you,’” Jones recalled. “I was completely taken off guard when a flood of tears erupted. I knew I appreciated his ability to get the most out of every student and help them to love music but I didn’t know how deep that appreciation ran.”
Jones added that she and her family moved to the Gold Trail School district the summer before her oldest child, who is now 28, entered fourth grade.
“It was the greatest move our family could have made because my kids were exposed to Mr. Cain, a teacher with the heart of a passionate musician.”
All the Jones children have done well in life and all still enjoy a love of music, with proficiency in musical instruments as well as honing their voices, their mom added.
She recounted that her third child, Melanie, earned a spot in honor bands, but was painfully shy about trying out for big parts in Gold Trail’s “Musical Mania” theater class. That is, until one year Cain coaxed the young lady into performing a small solo in “Alice in Wonderland,” her mom said.
“Years later I watched Melanie compete and win Miss Teen El Dorado,” Michelle said. “She talked about Mr. Cain and his great influence on her in a speech during the pageant, saying that it was a turning point in her life when she learned to go out of her comfort zone because Mr. Cain could see potential in her.”
Michelle said the Jones family is just one of hundreds who are supportive of Cain and Gold Trail’s music program, which is offered to all students at the small school, located in a gorgeous country setting.
“The fact that another parent is building a stage for Gold Trail with the help of other parents and the community says a lot about how much we love this man,” she said.
That parent would be Dave Stringer, who recently put the finishing touches on the brand-new stage where upcoming productions will thrill parents and students alike. Stringer volunteered all the hours of work to create the gleaming maple-wood setting.
Cain’s eyes shone as he showed off the stage to the Mountain Democrat and his voice reflected great depth of feeling as he spoke of what the community support has meant to him and the school.
“The support has been overwhelming over the years and I think it’s because the parents understand just how important the music program is to the kids,” said Cain, 56. “They raise money throughout the year, every year, to keep the program going. It’s the reason we’ve been able to sustain it.”
Cain has taught music at Gold Trail since 1983, and he recalled that when he first began, the reaction from students was gratifying … maybe a bit too gratifying, he laughed.
“When I came to Gold Trail I got a lot of kids interested, so many that we had to move the band room to a larger area. So many kids were signing up that we had doubled the enrollment in the music program before I got my first paycheck.”
Principal Lyons added that it sometimes can be surprising which kids are most eager to take the music courses and learn to play an instrument.
“Sometimes it’s the kid who you wouldn’t have thought would be interested in music,” he said, adding that the music program is a required element of the Gold Trail curriculum. “But their attitude is not that we have to take music but that we get to take it.”
Lyons said, too, that he and other Gold Trail administrators are particularly proud of the number of former Gold Trail students who land starring roles in area high school plays and musical productions, and he left the band room briefly to return with a yellow-striped program that had the former students’ names highlighted on a playbill for El Dorado High School’s “A Fall Feature,” performed last month by the high school’s jazz band and chorus. There were nearly 20 saxophones, trombones, trumpets and rhythm instruments in the hands of Gold Trail alumni during that rousing production.
“We’re not bragging, it’s just reality,” said Lyons as he showed the highlighted names.
Cain, a graduate of local schools and of Biola University, with his master’s in education from California State University, Sacramento said he grew up in a home where “there was always music,” and he and wife Linda’s three adult children have all enjoyed careers that include music.
Son Ben is band director at Marina Village Middle School in El Dorado Hills, son Matthew is a music and worship pastor in Oregon and Sarah, their daughter, is owner of Heracain Productions in Placerville along with working as a substitute music teacher.
Cain, a lifelong resident of El Dorado County, recalls one of his earliest experiences in realizing his love of music, as he walked into a band room at Sierra School as a young boy and his senses were struck.
“I walked in and noticed right away the smell,” he said, smiling. “I saw all these old, musty musical instruments, and I was amazed at the sheer potential they represented for me. I’ll never forget that smell.”
As that love developed over the decades, Cain said he knows that two teachers, John Terry at El Dorado High and John Pratt at Markham Elementary, were instrumental in nourishing his lifelong deep affection for the musical arts.
“John Terry would make me feel like I was the best in the world,” said Cain. “I fell in love with music and being around it. He also convinced me that music teaching is among the noblest of professions.”
Even if students don’t go on to make music their life’s career, Principal Lyons said the discipline and structure of music translates to other areas of life. And now, as second-generation students pass through the halls of Gold Trail, being exposed to the systemic presence of music there, Cain said he is quite moved when his efforts are recognized — not by the numerous awards he’s garnered over the years, but by a simple word in passing.
“Everywhere I go around town, like the kid waiting on me at a local restaurant, they say they remember me and thank me for the music,” said Cain, eyes once again bright with emotion. “Kids coming back from the military, all kinds of former students have taken the time to tell me how much they appreciated their education in music.”
“He’s helped them become who they are,” said Lyons, “valuable citizens and community members.”
Among the awards that take a back seat to kind words from former students are the prestigious Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association for Instruction in Music Theater at the middle school level. His jazz program was recognized by the California State Legislature by special resolution. Cain’s concert and jazz bands have won many competitions and been chosen for special performances at Disneyland, Pier 39 and the State Capitol. He has directed award-winning ensembles and honor groups. Just last year he was named the California Music Educators Association Music Educator of the Year for the Capitol Section.
Cain and the Gold Trail community will learn in December whether he will be in the top 10 finalists for the first-time Grammy honor. If he should win, he will receive the award during the 2014 Grammy ceremonies.
For the friends and neighbors whose children have benefitted from the music program, the contest is already decided, however.
“As far as parents like me are concerned, he already is the winner,” said Michelle Jones. “He’s the winner for building such a tremendous program for any student who is lucky enough to attend Gold Trail School.”