Photo caption: Eric Songer (pictured back row, 4th in from the left) with the 29 other CMA recipients and recording artists Little Big town, Lauren Daigle, War & Treaty, Caitlyn Smith and others.
Back in 2018, Eric Songer (UWEC Music Education, 1997) applied to “Give a Note”, a foundation that awards music educators who are innovators across the country, and was awarded a grant for his music program at Chaska Middle School West. A couple years later, a fellow “Give a Note” recipient encouraged Songer to apply to the Country Music Association Music Teachers of Excellence Foundation. “The process was pretty involved,” Songer recalls, “we were asked a lot of questions about philosophy, what I do in and out of the classroom, what I do to help further music education, film myself teaching, and supply letters of recommendation from administration, colleagues, and parents.”
In May 2023, the Chaska School administration informed Songer of his acceptance as one out of thirty recipients of the CMA Music Teachers of Excellence Award. Those 30 award winners are broken down to 10 recipients from Nashville, 10 from greater Tennessee, and 10 National award winners. With that award comes a $2,500 grant for Chaska Middle School West which Songer has used towards clip-on mics for the horn players in his school rock band, a new DJ controller for the DJ club, and other recording equipment that will be helpful in his program.
With this grant, award recipients also personally received $2,500 and were flown to the CMA Music Teachers of Excellence Ceremony in Nashville in September to be recognized in a ceremony celebrating music teachers - including full red-carpet treatment! Songer was accompanied by his wife, daughter, mother, mother-in-law, and his assistant principal. Along with the networking and professional development opportunities at the award ceremony, Songer and the other awardees were treated to live performances by country music legends such as Little Big Town, Lauren Daigle, Caitlyn Smith, War and Treaty, and others. “It was an amazing evening not typical of what an educator gets to experience,” expressed Songer, “it will forever live in my memory as a highlight of my career.”
Songer was additionally given a free ticket to the Country Music Awards in November; he, his wife, and 22 other CMA Music Teachers of Excellence awardees were given front row seats and during their recognition at CMA, Chevrolet announced they would be matching each award recipients’ $2,500 grant.
Eric Songer reflected on the CMA Music Teachers of Excellence Program application and what makes his teaching excellent. “I really love my job. I am very passionate about getting my students what they need, whether that’s music or whatever they need in their lives,” said Songer, “I teach life through music.” In a society where music education in schools oftentimes becomes stagnant, he feels strongly about the importance of adapting to a culture that is prevalently ever-changing. Songer accomplishes this through programming outside the typical music program make-up by including resources for 20 student-run bands, guitar and ukelele lessons, hip hop groups, pop ensembles, music production, film and video game score composition, and DJ club, just to name a few. Through his 27 years at Chaska Middle School, he has seen countless students significantly benefit from the inclusion of these opportunities within his modern music education program. His music program has grown to include two-thirds of his school’s student population. The CMA Foundation supports movements in alignment to Songer’s philosophy, so the honor of being recognized through the CMA Music Teachers of Excellence Program cannot be overstated.
Eric Songer graduated from UWEC with a Music Education degree in 1997 where he said that his time within the music department was integral to where his career is today. The department had a motivated and disciplined environment he wasn’t used to when he arrived as a freshman in 1991, and through the guidance of his trombone professor Rodney Hudson and experiences within the department, he learned how to build his drive to accomplish his goals. “Everybody cheered each other on,” stated Songer, “and there’s no way I would be where I am today without Rodney Hudson and the other staff and students there.” In Fall 2023, Songer’s son, Caleb, began his music education degree journey at UWEC where Songer acknowledged that the culture he experienced still continues today by faculty who preserve the tradition of greatness, kindness, and hard work.