By Claudia Mathis
CORTLAND — The air was crackling with excitement and anticipation on May 24 at St. Mary’s School. Children were wriggling as they sat on the gymnasium floor and their parents were filing into the room. They had come to hear country-recording artist Trisha Yearwood sing.
“I can’t believe she’s actually coming,” remarked parent Jessica Verfuss. “I listen to her music all the time — it’s phenomenal.”
Verfuss’s children, Peter and Allyson, attend preschool at St. Mary’s. She entered the school in the Campbell Soup Labels for Education contest. She had forgotten about entering the contest until two months later, when she learned that St. Mary’s had won the top prize, a visit and small concert from Yearwood. Its value is $20,000. “I couldn’t believe it,” Verfuss said. “I called them to make sure that it was true. I think it’s wonderful.”
The visit with Yearwood, who lives in Oklahoma, was a collaborative effort between Labels for Education and the GRAMMY Foundation. Labels for Education helps schools earn free educational merchandise like art supplies, sports equipment and classroom equipment. The GRAMMY Foundation, established in 1989, cultivates the understanding, appreciation and advancement of the contribution of recorded music to American culture.
At the beginning of the school assembly, Scott Goldman, vice president of the GRAMMY Foundation, addressed the students. He emphasized the importance of music education in schools and discussed careers in the music industry. “You could be the guy who works on the sound system, run the lights or be the manager of the artist,” Goldman told the young people. He then introduced several people who work in the music industry —music videographer and special effects artist Hadaya Turner and guitar player Johnny Garcia.
Before her performance, Yearwood, Garcia and Turner answered some questions posed by the students. Yearwood was asked if she is nervous when she performs. The statuesque singer replied, “Yes, every time.” Yearwood told the students she was just five years old when she realized she wanted to be a singer.
Garcia replied with an answer of “71” when asked how many guitars he owned.
Turner explained why she enjoys her job. “The best thing about my job is that there are no boundaries or limits to my position,” she said. “I edit, photograph, travel and meet new people. There’s constant excitement and it is most rewarding.”
The audience was spellbound as Yearwood, dressed in jeans, sang her 1991 hit, “She’s in Love With the Boy” and the classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Johnny Garcia accompanied her on guitar.
After singing, she encouraged the children to follow their dreams. “Whatever it is that you want to do, pursue that, and enjoy yourselves,” Yearwood advised.
Third grader Martin Monroe was enraptured with Yearwood’s performance. “It was awesome,” he said. “It was the first famous person that I’ve seen up close and it was a special moment because I sat next to my two close friends.”
Yearwood’s itinerary at the school that day included a panel discussion on music education and music careers. Yearwood and the artists who accompanied her spoke to the school’s fourth, fifth and sixth graders. Fourth grader Kaylee Florczyk was very excited after attending the discussion in which the artists told the students how they had gotten started in the business. “I was inspired by her [Yearwood] because she never gave up,” said Kaylee.
Kaylee said that she and her classmates had been studying country music and Yearwood’s and Garcia’s musical career in their music class prior to the artists’ visit to the school.
A native of Georgia, Yearwood has won three Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1999.
“It’s a great honor to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry,” commented St. Mary’s general music teacher, Pamela Palmer. “It’s based on their overall performance and their rapport with their fans.”
Palmer believes that Yearwood’s visit made a lasting impression on her students. “I think it’ll be something that they will remember for the rest of their lives,” she said.