California choral director awarded Grammy Music Educator of the Year

Chosen from more than 3,300 nominees, the winner of the Grammy Music Educator of the Year presented by The Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation is Keith Hancock. He is the creative force behind the choral program at Tesoro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller. 

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 Keith Hancock  

CBS News

Affectionately called “Mr. H” by his students, Hancock tells CBS News that along with the music, there’s a message for all these young minds to absorb.

“It’s family, it’s love, it’s pain, it’s human experience. The music that we sing ranges from the ecstasy and the joy of life to the deep pain and sorrow that we experience… but knowing how to live life through the midst of all that is really, you know, important,”  he said.

For 15 years this music man has been translating songs sung in 26 different languages so his students understand the stories behind the music.

“We have the beautiful ability as choral musicians to have the great texts, some of the best poems that have ever been written, and we take these and I find a way for the students to connect it to their own lives,” Hancock said.

When Hancock, who as a teen discovered his passion in music through choir, first launched his program in 2002, he had just 35 students. Today, he leads 225.

“Would you say that Mr. Hancock is what made high school for you?” Miller asked former students, Connor Spencer and Erin Theodorakis. 

“100 percent,” Theodorakis said.

“Yeah,” Spencer said. “I mean every lunch I ate in the choir room.” 

Spencer and Theodorakis are among close to 1,000 former students who are still in touch with Hancock.

“He connects on a personal level with everyone, every single one of his students,” Spencer said.

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“I got such an amazing musical experience in his classes that it inspired me to go on and do what he does. So I want to become a choir teacher someday,” Theodorakis said.

“Sounds like what he does is, through choir, he brings life into context,” Miller said.

“Absolutely,” Spencer replied.

“Totally. It makes music so important,” Theodorakis said.

Along with giving students a deep understanding of music, Hancock hands out a list of life lessons, something he calls “Hancock’s Laws.” These include “live your life with passion” and “don’t put anything on your credit card that you can’t pay off in a month.” 

“I went into teaching, thinking that it was all about the music. And I quickly realized after that, that music is just an avenue to teach them how to live their lives,” Hancock said.

These days, Spencer is a minor league player with the New York Yankees. Newly engaged, he revealed how one of Hancock’s Laws played a part.

“That was the one thing I was thinking about, ‘OK, well, Hancock Law. I need to see her all four seasons of the year.’ But we dated two and a half years before I just recently popped the question,” Spencer said. He said Hancock will be officiating his wedding.

Images of the thousands who have participated in his award-winning program cover the walls. Through the years, the Tesoro choirs have performed in concert halls, cathedrals and castles around the world. And his students have gone on to success in every facet of the music business.

“This is a calling for you?” Miller asked.

“Oh, for sure. I always tell people that this profession called me. I didn’t choose to be a choral music educator. This was something I just, I had to do,” Hancock said.

From sacred to secular, there’s no limit for Hancock and the students he inspires. The music educator and his school will each get a $10,000 check from the Grammys. As if that’s not enough, Hancock will be seated with music’s biggest stars on their biggest night.