Annie Ray, a music teacher and orchestra leader from Annandale, Virginia, has been named the winner of the 2024 Music Educator Award. The prestigious honor, presented by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Museum, recognizes Ray’s contribution to music education.
Ray, who teaches at Annandale High School, said she encourages her students to strive for excellence and go beyond what they think they can do. She also said she wants students to be vulnerable and make mistakes so that they can get better.
“You have to be very loud and bold and be willing to make bad sounds before you learn how to make good sounds. So in my classroom, they learn confidence because they just have to shed their inhibitions, and just go for it,” Ray said.
And it’s a lesson her students embrace.
“I would say that also applies to any other category of life. You have to start out bad and you have to be working at in order for it to improve,” said Matt, one of Ray’s students.
Those qualities she teaches have significantly impacted her students from diverse backgrounds. Sosan Barakzai, who moved to Annandale from Afghanistan, describes Ray as a friend and mentor who is always available for guidance.
“She’s someone that opens her door of a small office all the time to talk about anything. She’s someone that talks to you as a friend,” said Barakzai.
Ray leads the Crescendo Orchestra, which includes a significant number of special education students from Annandale High’s diverse student body. She tailors her teaching methods to meet the unique needs of these students, including using techniques like color-coded strings and cardboard instruments.
“I knew once I started working with the Crescendo kids, there’s just so much more potential here of what it truly means to meet them where they’re at,” said Ray.
Ray’s impact extends beyond the classroom. Kevin Jaramillo, a former student, is now a collaborator in the Crescendo Orchestra.
Scott Engdahl, Kevin’s godfather and guardian, said it meant a lot to him to see him perform with the orchestra.
“We saw him at a concert for the first time. And it’s … he loves music,” said Engdahl.
As Ray prepares to attend the 66th Annual Grammy Awards, she looks forward to potentially meeting some of her musical heroes, including British singer-songwriter Jacob Collier. Ray shares a personal connection with Collier’s music, particularly the song “Little Blue,” which was released before a close friend of hers died.
“That song has been so defining to me,” said Ray.