2023 James Madison University VMEA Music Awards

Dr. Gary K. Ritcher Outstanding Service in Music Education Award

Gary Fagan headshotWe present this award to an individual who has provided outstanding leadership and service through:

  • Excellence in leadership in music education at the local, state, or national level
  • Recognized service to the JMU School of Music and its music education program

Gary Fagan is a Maryland native. He completed his undergraduate degree at Bridgewater College in Music Education in 1973. He attended James Madison University where he received a masters degree in music education in 1975. In 1973 he became a band instructor in Albemarle County, Virginia where he taught band for 36 years. He retired in 2009 and is currently serving as a University Supervisor at James Madison University and has also previously been an adjunct faculty member there teaching Arranging.

In 1989 Mr. Fagan was elected Central Virginia Outstanding Middle School Teacher by the University of Virginia Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa. In 1999 he received an Outstanding Educator Award from the Virginia Governor’s School for the Visual and Performing Arts. In 2001 he received the outstanding educator award from the Piedmont Council of the Arts. He has also been twice listed in “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. He is active in the National Association for Music Educators and the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association. He is also a member of A.S.C.A.P., the Percussive Arts Society, Phi Beta Mu Bandmasters Fraternity, and the National Band Association. He is a percussionist with the Charlottesville Band and is Assistant Director of that organization. He is active as a band clinician and adjudicator in addition to composing and arranging for band and Orchestra. He has over 1015 compositions published for Concert Band and String Orchestra.

Outstanding Early Career Music Educator Award

Erin Dixon HeadshotWe present this award to a JMU undergraduate or graduate music education alumnus or alumna in years three, four, or five of his or her teaching career and who exemplifies JMU's commitment to musicianship and pedagogy. Additional criteria include:

  • Effective, comprehensive, innovative teaching
  • Service to and emerging leadership in the profession of music education
  • Continuing relationship with and support of the music education program at JMU

Erin Dixon is privileged to currently serve as the choir director at Hanover High School just outside of Richmond, VA. She graduated magna cum laude from James Madison University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Music degree in music education. She was music director of JMU’s premier award-winning upper voices a cappella group, Note-oriety and served as choir manager of The Madison Singers, JMU Music’s advanced auditioned choral chamber ensemble. She also marched alto saxophone for The Marching Royal Dukes for two years. In 2019 she was awarded the Joy Hollar Costello Endowment in Music Education Award and in 2023, the Titan Tournament of Choirs Outstanding Music Educator award.  

She taught elementary music in Chesterfield County for one year before joining Hanover  in the fall of 2021. Since then her choirs have had the opportunity to perform for the Hanover County School Board, at Disney’s Imagination Campus in Disney World, and have also recorded and produced music at In Your Ear Studios in Richmond, Virginia. She believes that every student should feel safe and encouraged to express their true selves through singing. She hopes they leave her classroom ready to engage with and change the world with skills and culture given by the universal influence of Choral Music Education. She currently sings with the Richmond Symphony Chorus and enjoys traveling, Taylor Swift, and trips to Target in her spare time.

Outstanding Music Educator Award

Ben Bernstein HeadshotWe present this award to a JMU undergraduate or graduate music education alumnus or alumna who has taught for at least ten years and who exemplifies JMU's commitment to musicianship and pedagogy. Additional criteria include:

  • Excellence in music teaching, including the development of comprehensive, innovative programs and curricula
  • Service to and sustained leadership in the profession of music education
  • Continuing relationship with and support of the music education program at JMU

Ben Bernstein is currently the Director of Orchestras at Charles J. Colgan High School in Manassas, VA where he teaches over 200 students in five string orchestras and one symphonic orchestra. Before he began teaching high school orchestra in 2016, he taught elementary and middle school strings for 14 years at several different schools, all in Prince William County. He received his bachelor’s degree in music education from James Madison University where he studied advanced conducting with Dr. Robert D. McCashin, and advanced composition/arranging technique with Robert W. Smith. He received his master’s degree in music composition from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., under Dr. Andrew Earle Simpson.  

Mr. Bernstein’s orchestras have consistently earned numerous accolades and Superior ratings at District Assessments. The Colgan Philharmonic Orchestra received an invitation to perform at the Virginia Music Educator Association’s annual conference in both 2018 and 2023. Since opening in 2016, Colgan High School has hosted the All-VA Band and Orchestra event, two Regional Orchestra events, Regional Orchestra auditions and the Prince William County All-County Orchestra event, as well as a performance by The National Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Bernstein was recently awarded the 2021 Seefeldt Award for arts educator of the year for Prince William County. Mr. Bernstein is a composer/arranger of orchestral music and has been commissioned by Manassas Symphony Orchestra, Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra as well as several middle and high schools. His orchestral works have been premiered at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, James Madison University, the Richmond Convention Center, and George Mason University’s Hylton Center for the Performing Arts.

Dr. Alice M. Hammel Inclusion in Music Education Award

Caroline Levy HeadshotThis award is named for Dr. Alice M. Hammel in honor of her rich and varied contributions to fostering inclusive music experiences through which all learners can be supported, challenged, and grow. The award is presented to individuals who consistently demonstrate commitment to supporting and facilitating music learning and music making among persons in often-marginalized populations through:

  • Developing adaptive, accommodative, and flexible pedagogical practices to support all persons
  • Pursuing scholarly inquity into issues of difference, diversity, and inclusion that positively impacts the lives of all persons
  • Engaging with and in music learning and making communities to advocate for accessible and meaningful musical experiences for and with all persons to create, perform, and respond to music

Caroline Levy is currently the Orchestra Director at Swanson Middle School in Arlington Public Schools. She has taught at Levine Music where she was Chair of the Suzuki String Department, served as a middle school orchestra director in Fairfax County Public Schools and served as a clinician and guest conductor for Baltimore County Public Schools.

Caroline holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music History from Vassar College where she studied modern and baroque violin. She received a Master of Music in Violin Performance from the University of South Carolina where she served as Graduate Assistant to Robert Jesselson in The String Project. She has extensive training in the Suzuki method and has trained in and taught Music Together and Music Mind Games, all of which inform her approach to reaching students through any means possible.

Caroline was hired to teach public school orchestra following 20 years of private and community teaching experience. She obtained her teaching license through the alternative licensure route, taking graduate classes at the University of Virginia. During her first year teaching in a public middle school, she was asked to attend an IEP meeting. She went to the meeting because she didn’t know what an IEP was.

Since that day, Caroline has taken many classes and workshops in special education, attended the Kennedy Center Very Special Arts (VSA) Conference, and made it her mission to understand and ensure that all students feel welcome in her classroom and find a path to connection and joy with music. The student whose IEP meeting she attended brought home a soloist award from an orchestra assessment that spring.

As a disability advocate, Caroline served as President of the Arlington Special Education PTA (SEPTA) - the first SEPTA in the state of Virginia - which represents students receiving special education services across the entire Arlington Public Schools district. During her tenure as SEPTA President, Caroline brought in clinicians to work with arts educators and general education classroom teachers, particularly focusing on cortical vision impairment, inclusion and universal design. She presented a workshop to the Virginia PTA to instruct other districts on how to create their own SEPTA. Caroline was recognized as an Arlington Honored Citizen in 2018 for her sustained commitment, service and unique contributions to Arlington Public Schools.

In addition to performing in Washington DC’s top baroque ensembles, Caroline maintains a bustling private violin studio which offers financial support, and accommodates visual impairments and all learning abilities.

Outstanding Mentor Award

Melissa Harper headshotWe present this award to an individual who has provided outstanding service as a cooperating teacher for JMU music student teachers through:

  • A sustained record of excellence in mentoring JMU music student teachers
  • A sustained record of interfacing and communicating with JMU student teaching supervisors
  • A model of excellence in classroom teaching, recognized at the local and/or state level

Melissa Bushong Harper graduated from Shepherd College (now Shepherd University) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education and a Masters in Music Education from James Madison University. She has taught music from PreK to 12th grade ranging the full gamut of music classes from general music, choir, musical theater, band, marching band, jazz band, and orchestra. In addition to her position as band director at Pence, she is active in Valley Wind Ensemble, Mason Street Brass Quintet, and is the director for Harrisonburg Rockingham Concert  Band. In her free time, Mrs. Harper enjoys spending time with her family and finding as many beaches as possible.

Previous Award Winners

Dr. Gary K. Ritcher Outstanding Service in Music Education Award (previously named Outstanding Service to JMU and the Music Education Profession)

  • Mary Wagner (2012)
  • Melvin "Jim" Harmon - posthumously (2013)
  • Curtis Nolley (2014)
  • Earl E. Shaffer, Jr. (2015)
  • Moe Turrentine (2016)
  • Dr. Gary Ritcher (2017)
  • Dr. Jeffrey Bush (2018)
  • Dr. George Sparks - posthumously (2020)
  • Linda Gammon (2021)
  • Dr. Eric Ruple received an Honorary Award for Leadership and Service (2021)
  • Dr. Robert McCashin (2022)
  • Dr. Lisa Maynard received a special service award for her years of work as JMU MUED faculty prior to her retirement (2024)

Outstanding Early Career Music Educator Alumni Award

  • Laura Lazarevich (2013)
  • John Mills (2014)
  • Anna Matijasic Hennessy (2015)
  • Ethan Murphy (2016)
  • Maggie Hagy (2017)
  • Megan Hendrix (2018)
  • Michael Parker (2019)
  • JP Riley (2020)
  • Carly Sokol (2021)
  • Nicoletta Moss (2022)

Outstanding Music Educator Alumni Award

  • Joy Anderson & Keith Taylor (2012)
  • Laura Mulligan Thomas (2013)
  • Wendy Whitford (2014)
  • Thomas Tutwiler (2015)
  • Dr. Polly Sibert (2016)
  • Jo Lynn DeGolia (2017)
  • Allen Hall (2018)
  • Carrie Finnegan (2020)
  • Austin Nicholas (2021)
  • Kirkland Jackson - posthumously (2022)

Dr. Alice M. Hammel Inclusion in Music Education Award

  • Dr. Alice Hammel (2017)
  • Corey Koch (2018)
  • Claire Leeper (2020)
  • Kathleen Jacoby (2022)

Outstanding Mentor Award (previously named Outstanding Cooperating Teacher Award)

  • Greg Thomas (2013)
  • Robert Curry (2014)
  • Gregg Oaks (2015)
  • Joan Kenney (2016)
  • Angela Clemens (2017)
  • Don Brubaker (2018)
  • Nathan May (2022)

College of Visual and Performing Arts Distinguished Alumni Award

  • Brian Balmages, Class of 1998 (2016)
  • James Moye, Class of 1996 (2017)

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