Strictly speaking, Eastside Memorial High School band director Alan Guckian is not up for a Grammy. More like Grammy-ish. He is one of 25 semifinalists for the 2016 Music Educator Award from the Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation.
But still, a hardworking band director — is there another kind? — takes what he can get, especially if it brings recognition to the program he leads at a school that was not long ago at risk of being closed by the state and is now, Guckian said, “turning into a hip place where it’s cool to go now.”
Local inspirational musician SaulPaul, who nominated Guckian for the honor, said Guckian was an obvious choice.
“The bottom line is, he’s awesome,” the Houston-born performer said. SaulPaul, who met Guckian a few years ago during an educational visit to Eastside Memorial, said he was impressed with how Guckian interacted with students.
“He has a natural passion for it,” he said. “They’re always the unique ones, the ones who go above and beyond.”
When Guckian asked to collaborate with him, SaulPaul said it was easy to say yes. “He knows his craft.”
SaulPaul said he has performed with Guckian at South by Southwest events and at HAAM Benefit Day functions. But as impressive as he is musically, he said, Guckian has earned a lot of love from the Eastside Memorial community.
“Parents love him; they show up for band performances in force — that communicates how great he is,” he said. “I’m glad he’s getting some recognition, but he doesn’t ever do it for the recognition.”
SaulPaul’s nomination was among 4,500 names initially suggested. Then Guckian made it to the quarterfinals, with just over 200 names, and now he’s in the running for real.
The winner of the 2016 award gets a trip to the Grammy Awards, a $10,000 honorarium and a $10,000 grant to his or her school. The other nine finalists will receive $1,000, and each of the finalist schools will receive matching grants.
“I told my kids we’d have a pizza party, and I said not Mr. Gatti’s,” Guckian said. “I look at the bios of these other people and I’m humbled to be in that crowd. Knock on wood, keep my fingers crossed. I’m thrilled as ever.”
Guckian, 40, was in the middle of rehearsing with the school’s blues band — which he says might be his favorite part of the program — when he got the call saying he made it to the semifinals. The top 10 will be announced in December.
As is the case with so many like him, Guckian decided on a music education career after being influenced by several teachers. One of his high school band directors “was a father figure,” he said, and his former choir director “taught me to be a musician.”
In his senior year, hanging around the band hall more often than not, “I thought, ‘Man, how cool would it be if I could stay here all day?’ Now I get to do that and I get a paycheck, and it’s ridiculous.”
If Guckian does claim the proverbial enchilada, he’s prepared a spot on the mantle of the home he shares with his wife, Nikki Guckian, who already has a little special something in the place of honor. Now theater arts director at Vandegrift High School in Leander, she won an Oscar for her and her team’s sound editing work.
“Honestly, I don’t like to talk about the accolades,” Guckian said. “This one I just have to get used to. The most important thing is, this is another positive thing for our school and the kids. It could be anyone with their name up there, but it’s Eastside, and it’s because of the kids.”