Positive Climate and Culture. Photo of Ben Bernstein

James Madison University (JMU)’s School of Music selected Ben Bernstein, strings teacher at Charles J. Colgan Sr. High School, for the 2023 Outstanding Music Educator Alumni Award. Bernstein was recognized at the annual Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA) conference in Richmond, Virginia as a part of JMU’s School of Music reception. This distinguished award is presented to a “JMU undergraduate or graduate music education alumnus or alumna who has taught for at least 10 years who exemplifies JMU’s commitment to musicianship and pedagogy.”

Bernstein expressed, “I am very honored to receive this award. It means a great deal to me, especially being recognized by JMU, which is regarded as a well-respected music school around the state of Virginia.”

For Bernstein, his passion for music came at an early age. From second grade, he pleaded with his mother to sign him up for private piano lessons. His desire to learn how to play every instrument continued as he grew older, leading Bernstein to learn how to play a wide variety of instruments, including the cello, clarinet, and French horn. Music allowed Bernstein to express himself and his interest became more profound when he began writing his own music in elementary school. Bernstein’s interest in writing music has continued ever since; he premiered his latest piece “Return of the Heroes” with his students in the Colgan High School Philharmonic Orchestra at the VMEA conference.

When asked why he felt it was important for students to have access to and/or take music classes, Bernstein shared, “I know that orchestra is one subject where many students feel their most comfortable during the school day. They are able to be physical [playing an instrument], work with their classmates, express emotions, and be a part of creating a work of art for others to enjoy.”

To keep his skills as a musician current, Bernstein participates in several musical endeavors both inside and outside of school hours. He is the sponsor for an afterschool extracurricular activity club called the “Colgan Symphony Orchestra,” whose goal is to meet at least once a week in the month leading up to a concert performance. He is also highly involved in Colgan’s theater department’s spring musicals, serving as a conductor or even as the lead keyboardist. Outside of PWCS, Bernstein is a member of the Manassas Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors and makes the most of any opportunity that comes his way to serve as a guest conductor or adjudicate other orchestras.

Bernstein’s clear dedication to music, his students, and his career is evident in his concluding statement, “I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such high-level student musicians across the six orchestras we have at Colgan. At any given time, I rehearse and prepare around 20 orchestra pieces with my students. This gives me tremendous opportunity to broaden my current repertoire and skills as a conductor/director. I also continue to write music as much as I can, in my limited free time.”