TOWN OF VERONA, N.Y. — Soft rock music icon Barry Manilow recently presented Heather O’Connell, music and vocal teacher at Oneida High School, with his Manilow Music Project Teacher Award at the Turning Stone Event Center.
Manilow presented O’Connell with the award the night of his concert in a special backstage ceremony. He also gave O’Connell a $10,000 award consisting of $5,000 cash and another $5,000 in “Manilow bucks” to purchase musical instruments for Oneida’s music program. O’Connell also received a meet-and-greet pass and VIP tickets to Manilow’s concert at Turning Stone.
“They sat me in a special designated seat and I was expecting to be honored during the concert,” O’Connell said. “Manilow took the time to talk about the award and the importance of music education in schools.”
O’Connell said the $5,000 instrument money is going to her colleagues to purchase instruments for the students. She is keeping $1,000 Of the other $5,000 and the other $4,000 is going directly back to the students at the high school.
“We have a beautiful community outreach program here in our school that I can help to feed and clothe and help kids in our community,” she continued. “Some students don’t have coats or boots for winter, or sometimes no food on the table. I have a salary coming in. They sometimes have nothing.”
Turning Stone employees helped the Manilow Music Project by nominating deserving music teachers in their area for this award. The Manilow Music Project then selected 10 finalists and opened up voting online to name the winner.
The Manilow Music Project Teacher Award recognizes an outstanding music teacher who helps bring music to life for their students. O’Connell received several nominations from Turning Stone employees, including Dezaire Collins, Turning Stone Bingo Supervisor.
“Honestly, she was the first person I thought of; she is truly an amazing teacher,” Collins said. “Now that I’m a parent and think back to the joy she brought to my life in music, and now she’s giving it to my kids as well. It’s quite amazing the impact she’s made in our district over these past 30 years.”
The Manilow Music Project has given away over ten million dollars worth of funds and music instrument donations.
“It is wonderful to partner with our concert venues to identify schools and music teachers in their neighborhoods that deserve this small token of my gratitude,” Manilow said. “Many school music programs have either been terminated, or their funds have been severely depleted. I always want to do my part through The Manilow Music Project to keep music in schools.”
Barry Manilow’s career includes virtually every facet of music, including performing, composing, arranging, and producing. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002.
Manilow received a Grammy in 1978 for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “Copacabana,” an Emmy in 1977 for Outstanding Special for “The Barry Manilow Show,” and a special TONY Award for “Barry Manilow on Broadway.” He has also been nominated for an Academy Award.
Having sold more than 85 million albums worldwide, Barry Manilow is one of the world’s all-time bestselling recording artists. He’s had 50 Top 40 singles, including 12 #1s and 27 Top 10 hits, and is ranked the #1 Adult Contemporary Artist of all-time, according to Billboard and R&R magazines.
“Barry is a really good guy,” O’Connell said. “He’s tall, about six feet. He’s also 80 years-old. He played for an hour-and-a-half! We spent seven or eight minutes then he got onstage. He was anxious to get onstage and start playing.”
O’Connell said the passion for music and the ability to share it with her students is the most rewarding part of her job.
“I love it when I help a student find their musical gifts,” she said. “They may not be confident, or shy, but if I can get them to sing it is amazing. Some students may not do well in other areas of school, but I can at least help them develop their musical gifts.”
O’Connell has taught at Oneida for 30 years. Her duties include teaching music appreciation, music theory and directing two school choirs. She directs and produces the yearly school musical and accompanies the Oneida Area Civic Chorale on piano.
O’Connell has seen the importance of music in a district that she said has gone form graduating 180 students a year to between 110 and 130 students.
“Often when students leave the budget gets cut and music and art programs are the first to suffer. I want to thank the Oneida Indian Nation for bringing big acts like Barry Manilow and making this possible. It’s a really incredible gift,” O’Connell said.
Barry Manilow Music Educator Award presentation. In this picture are two Turning Stone employees and former students who nominated O’Connell. From left to right: Dezaire Collins, Barry Manilow, Heather O’Connell, and Griffin Smith.