The SBO+ 2024 Student Essay Contest Winners

Sponsored by the NAMM Foundation, Alfred Music Publishing, MakeMusic, Hal Leonard, Yamaha Corporation of America, Sweetwater, Adam Audio, and Focusrite.

We asked students to tell us about a music teacher who has changed their lives. What was it about them that had an impact on you? How did their teaching, personality, or actions differ from other good teachers?

Students will receive $1,000 courtesy of SBO+ Magazine and the NAMM Foundation. Teachers will receive $1,000 worth of products from each of these sponsors: Alfred Music Publishing, MakeMusic, Hal Leonard, Yamaha Corporation of America, and Sweetwater. They will also receive one pair of ADAM Audio – TSV Active Studio Nearfield Monitors and the 4th Generation Focus Scarlett 212 Studio.


Eva Badgujar, 3rd Grade, Current Teacher: Clifford Burden –  Basis Austin, Austin, Texas
In the magical world of music, I have a hero, and his name is Mr. Clifford Burden. He’s not just any music teacher; he’s like a wizard who turns every song into an adventure filled with joy and inspiration. Allow me to weave the tale of this enchanting maestro and his magical impact.

Mr. Burden, with his guitar, is like a friendly sorcerer guiding us through the enchanting tunes of songs like “Lean on Me.” Each note feels like a warm hug, and he teaches us not just to play the right notes but to feel the magic of music in our hearts. What makes Mr. Burden extra special is how kind and encouraging he is. When life gets tough, he reminds us that every melody has its own beauty, and he becomes more than just a teacher – he’s a friend cheering us on in every musical journey.

His personality is like sunshine on a cloudy day. Mr. Burden’s positivity makes everything bright, and he shares stories of resilience that show us, just like in music, life has ups and downs, but with a positive attitude, we can conquer anything. He teaches us to believe in ourselves, be kind, and find joy in every note.

In this magical symphony called life, Mr. Burden is a hero who changes lives with the magic of melodies and the power of positivity. I feel lucky to have him as my teacher, and I’m grateful for the music he brings to my world.


Lily Do, 3rd Grade, Current Teacher: Christopher Kimball –  Mary Marek Elementary, Pearland, Texas

Cooking With Music – My name is Lilly Do and I am eight years old. I first met my music teacher, Mr. Kimball, when I was five years old. Mr. Kimball has changed my life because he taught me the meaning of music. Wonderful music helps with my emotions when I am cooking yummy food.

When I was younger, I did not like eating vegetables because of the yucky taste and crumbly texture. Now, I listen to music while I am cooking because it makes me relaxed and happy. As a result, delightful music makes my vegetables taste delicious. Music increases my confidence in cooking, and now I can cook vegetables much faster. Now, I can eat all kinds of vegetables like carrots, corn, peas, lettuce, cucumbers, broccoli, broccolini, green beans and onions.

Thank you, Mr. Kimball, for teaching me about how music influences my daily life in cooking. I love music and I enjoy cooking and eating my favorite vegetables. I wonder how else amazing music can change my life.


Bhavagna Thumbeti, 6th Grade, Current Teacher: Emily Anderson – Chippewa Middle School, Shoreview, Minnesota

Ms. Anderson was the best orchestra teacher I have ever had. I loved orchestra because 1: It was right smack dab in the middle of math so I got to miss most of it (but I only missed one day’s worth of math a week). And 2: Ms. Anderson was THE MOST funniest, silliest, craziest, insane, bonkers, hilarious, fantastic teacher I have EVER had. (by the way, the list goes on forever. 🙂 For me, the only way that you learn is Ms. Anderson’s way. Everyone in the orchestra gave her crazy potatoes with faces on them, and she put all of them on her desk, but when they started to rot, we would hold a funeral for each and every potato. Ms. Anderson was a HUGE part of my orchestra career. At my last orchestra concert with Ms. Anderson, we played the Star Wars theme song, and put glow sticks on our bows, but we had to memorize the whole song, and it was really amazing. I hugged her and cried when we got home because I would most likely not get to see her again. Thank you, Ms. Anderson, for being the best orchestra teacher in the Multiverse.


Abigail Shipley, 6th Grade, Current Teacher: Conner Smith – Omar Bradley Middle School, San Antonio, Texas

Every day I look forward to my band class because it keeps me in an upbeat mood for the rest of the day. My instructor’s positive approach motivates me to continue playing the clarinet, which is why I’m sharing my experience.

Mr. Smith goes above and beyond to keep the class engaging. He believes by working together and supporting one another, we can successfully achieve the goals we set up individually and as a group.

One of the things that makes him stand out is his encouragement to communicate between us and ask questions no matter how silly they may seem, especially when we struggle mastering challenging music. He lightens the mood by joking about our mistakes, lifting our spirits. His cool and energetic personality creates a relaxed learning atmosphere for us.

Mr. Smith is also a fun person. To make fundraising events exciting, he gives us goals with corresponding rewards. This year he dressed up as Ken from Barbie and wore the famous dinosaur inflatable costume!

On another occasion, he invited parents to join us at our concert by learning a few notes and playing them before our performance. It was hilarious to hear them play out of sync but the purpose was to show everyone what it is like to be in our shoes and how much we have accomplished. The spectators’ energy changed from previous ones, sounding more delighted with our music. This is why I consider my music instructor outstanding for his hard work.


Julia Herstein, 7th Grade, Current Teacher: Stacey White – Noblesville West Middle School, Noblesville, Indiana

Introduction, paragraphs, conclusion. First the draft, then the editing process, and lastly the final essay; a product of hard work and dedication. As I sit at the piano, looking at the unfamiliar notes flitting across the page, I repeat the process. I learn the notes, improve my technique, and add dynamics. Then, I perform the piece. This process takes a lengthy amount of time to perfect, as well as my teacher. Mrs. Phoenix remains the one person I turn to throughout my musical journey and she has helped me effectively learn and play multiple pieces. 

Draft. The beginning of a new piece. I divide the piece into sections, learning and understanding the notes. Mrs. Phoenix helps me, teaching me new methods to improve my skill. I work on a section, learn a new one, and piece them together with her help. 

The editing takes time. I incorporate more dynamics to make the piece interesting, using the techniques I was taught. I run through the passages over and over again, getting rid of the mistakes. Mrs. Phoenix guides me, patiently pointing out my mistakes throughout the piece. She helps me understand the feelings behind the notes and encourages me to understand what I am playing. 

The conclusion is the most important part of the journey. It brings together all my efforts throughout the entire piece. The true goal is to gain more experiences with both pieces and essays, and to get a little bit closer to the music and words.


Lukas Tokarczyk, 9th Grade, Current Teacher: Kevin Longwill – Abington High School, Abington, Pennsylvania

My music technology teacher, Kevin Longwill, is the founder of Abington High School’s music industry program, M3. Because of him, I’ve learned about the modern band dynamic, including preparation, time, and equipment needed to produce a professional concert. This program shows how to attain a music career and has given me exposure to performances at several different venues. I look forward to practices, since M3 offers opportunities to play in touring bands and start bands with friends who have similar goals and interests. Mr. Longwill is an excellent leader and exceedingly qualified to shape aspiring musicians. Not only is he an expert in every part of our program, but he excels at teaching us the ins and outs of every piece of equipment he provides for us. His supportive and charismatic nature inspires our group in any decisions we make as artists and leads us to make improvements in our projects. I realize the odds of becoming an actual rock star are slim, but he constantly gives us confidence and support as we pursue our passions. I know even if I don’t become “the next big thing,” there are many music-related careers I can pursue. Mr. Longwill has given all his students the confidence and support to chase our dreams. I hope one day I can inspire future generations like he has. I don’t know how to begin to thank this amazing leader who has given his students so many opportunities while encouraging us to be ourselves.


Sierra DiMare, 11th Grade, Current Teacher: Cameron Pruett – Mohave High School, Bullhead City, Arizona

In 2017, I auditioned for my first musical (Sound of Music) when I was 10 years old. The music director, Mr. Cameron Pruett, decided to take a chance on me and give me a supporting role; I guess he saw potential. After the show, I started taking singing lessons from him and eventually joined his choir when I got to high school. Six years after my first musical, he picked me to be Donna in our production of Mamma Mia this year. The day the cast list was posted, Pruett pulled me into his office and gave me a hug while he told me how proud he was of me. He explained that I had worked hard for the role and “deserved a big kid role.” I’ve always been on the younger side in choirs or musicals so hearing him say that meant a lot to me. 2017 was not only the year I met my choir teacher, but it was also the same year his first daughter was born. Since I spend so much time in the choir room and on the stage, Mr. Pruett is basically my second father and is more of a friend or a parental figure than a teacher. Mr. Pruett helped me become more confident and has given me life advice more times than I can count. That’s what sets him apart from other teachers.


Elise Gaspar, 11th Grade, Current Teacher: Ellen Chmura – J. J. Pearce High School, Richardson, Texas

“Take a deep breath, Elise. You can do this.” 

There I stood, staring into a sea of kids. Freshman year, new school, new state. It was my first day of summer band, and I was scared out of my mind. I walked into rehearsal and met my teacher, Ms. Chmura. Over that year full of firsts, she created an environment where I would grow as a musician, marcher, and later, a leader.

My sophomore year, after her encouragement, I auditioned for drum major. She helped me prepare, shared tips and critiques, and gave me confidence to step into the audition room. She saw something in me I didn’t completely see in myself, and I was selected.

Throughout my junior year, she spent countless hours investing in the drum major team. We learned to conduct, but also to lead our peers and establish a positive culture of excellence. 

On senior night, the graduating drum majors were being recognized on the field. As the only junior, I was left alone to lead the band. I stood on the center podium, again staring into this sea of kids. Only now, these kids were my friends, and instead of being afraid, I was confident. Ms. Chmura climbed the side podium and nodded to me. She paused, waited for my cue, and followed my lead as we conducted.

True leaders identify future leaders, help them grow, and then let them lead. That is what my director did for me, and I am grateful.


Madison Karan, 12th Grade, Current Teacher: Jaron Cox – Falls Lake Academy High School, Creedmoor, North Carolina

When I graduate this spring, I’ll wear a golden pin, the symbol of the Tri-M honors society and the memory of how I fell in love with music. I began middle school with the notion that band was an obligation; now I end high school with plans to major in music.

I owe this to my music teacher, who introduced me to percussion. The influence of good teachers I’ve had only reached as far as the classroom walls, but his went further, impacting the trajectory of my life itself. He was supportive, listening to my barrage of musical questions without fatigue, always honest in critiques but still pointing out the good of a performance. During the early years of high school when I felt alone and unsure of myself, I found refuge in the variety of percussion and marimba performance; there’s always something new to learn. Even after I left for another school, he supported me through the college audition process. 

He always put the needs of others first and never hesitated to help someone out, be they student or peer. Someone to aspire to be like. Someone who, though I was a sophomore leaving for the School of Science and Math, gave me the honor of being in Tri-M and the pin that normally only seniors receive. 

Now, I hear his influence in the lullabies of marimba and the ferocious precision of snare drum music. 

I, like the pin, will wear it with pride.


Diego Rodriguez-Trejo, 12th Grade, Current Teacher: Ramon Rivera – Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, Washington

The music teacher who changed my life must be my Mariachi Teacher, Mr. Rivera. He not only made me the guitarist I am today, teaching me chords, rhythm, and following with a group performance, but also who I am outside of music. He must be the most positive person I know. Not overly positive where there is a need for constructive criticism, but positive of always improving. I remember one time I had an upcoming solo to perform for the song we were practicing called “El Cascabel.” I was unsure of myself because I thought my solo wasn’t good enough and I should let someone else take it. Mr. Rivera, however, ignored and completely disregarded every little bit of negativity I said about my “would be” performance for he really believed in me. He knew what I was capable of and had no problem pushing me to this uncomfortable position of playing in front of all these people when I couldn’t even imagine going up there in fear of embarrassment. While other teachers did care about me, there was always something they would say about me that could go wrong (like not trying hard enough, not studying), but Mr. Rivera would only say what could go right. I smashed that solo switching from different paces of strumming and mixing chords from the correct note. This teacher taught me a mindset to go past my limits and to look towards the next positive step in improving instead of always fearing failure.


Special thanks to the NAMM Foundation, Alfred Music Publishing, MakeMusic, Hal Leonard, Yamaha Corporation of America, Sweetwater, Adam Audio, and Focusrite for sponsoring this year’s essay contest.

SBO+ congratulates these fabulous students and their teachers! Look for the 2025 announcement in the fall!