AWARD WINNER Warren Central choir teacher ‘Outstanding’

Published 11:44 am Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When Daniel Vernon joined the faculty at Warren Central High School in 2009 as a first-year music teacher, he knew he was joining an award-winning department.

“I was searching for a job and got a call from Nancy Robertson about applying for a position there,” said Vernon. “I knew how successful the choir program had been. It just really appealed to me.”

Now Vernon is the one with the award, having been named the 2012 Outstanding Young Music Teacher by the Mississippi Music Educators Association. The award was given at the group’s annual in-service conference in Jackson Thursday night.

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“He is an outstanding choral director,” said Robertson, the longtime WCHS choirmaster whose choral groups were consistent competition winners. She became the district’s Fine Arts curriculum coach earlier in this school year.

Robertson is also vice president of the MMEA’s high school division, and nominated Vernon for the honor, awarded annually to a teacher with one to three years’ experience.

“He inspires,” said Robertson. “He is such a joy for the kids to work with. He makes it fun and exciting — he makes it real.”

“Mr. Vernon is the definition of what a teacher should be,” said WCHS junior and Madrigal member David Mathes. “He makes me think, ‘Oh, I want to do that!” — meaning, be a music teacher one day.

“He has taught me to not give up (but) just keep working at it,” said Mathes, who also plays trumpet in the band.

Vernon, 28, said he knew about the nomination but had no expectation that he’d come away with the award. Being recognized by his peers is an honor of which he is very proud, he said.

“It was a surprise,” he said Friday from the conference in Jackson. “I work hard at what I do and I’m glad to be doing it.”

Dr. Elizabeth Swinford, Vicksburg Warren School District superintendent, said Vernon pushes his students, too.

“He’s demanding,” she said. “He makes them work hard but he tells them why. He just inspires them to want to do it. We get no complaints about those kids having to work too hard.”

“He gives everybody a chance to really learn their music whether it be through practice after school or one-on-one time,” said junior Tomarius Myles. “He has taught me to be a better student and singer. Also, encouragement and respect.”

Vernon teaches five choirs at Warren Central — the elite, a cappella Madrigals; the show choir, Total Sound; varsity choir; and women’s and men’s choirs. He also teaches advanced placement music theory.

“Even as an assistant to Nancy Robertson, he showed true dedication to his students and a real passion for music,” Swinford said. “He has a genuine love for kids. And he doesn’t just teach. He creates artists. He molds his students into artists that love music.”

“He makes me ask the question, ‘how can I better myself vocally?’” said senior Asheley Fitzgerald, another member of Madrigals. “He’s an awesome teacher and has been such a blessing to us. His mixture of fun and professionalism as head director has been wonderful.”

Fitzgerald said she is planning to study music education at the University of Southern Mississippi, just like Vernon did. He earned a bachelor’s in music education and master’s in choral conducting there.

“I’ve been really blessed to grow up in a family of musicians,” said Vernon, a Gulfport native. Both his parents are music teachers — his father teaches high school band, his mother middle school choir — his brother is working on a master’s degree in music at Kansas University and his sister worked with musicians at a Gulf coast junior college and is working on a professional singing career, he said.

Vernon also takes his talent out into the Vicksburg community. He and his wife, Mary, are members of Crawford Street United Methodist Church and sing in the choir there. He’s also volunteered with the Vicksburg Theatre Guild, most recently directing the musical “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” in September.

“Whatever you want in life with music, he will try his best to get you there,” said Myles, who plays marimba in band, sings in Madrigals and plans to study music at Jackson State University.

The Mississippi Music Educators Association is an affiliate of the National Association for Music Education, dedicated to keeping music education part of the core curriculum offered by schools.

With 75,000 current, retired and preservice music teachers, the national body is one of the largest arts associations in the world.

Staff photographer Melanie Thortis contributed to this report.