KENMORE, N.Y. (WIVB) — Phil Aguglia, the band director at Kenmore East High School, has been named a semi-finalist for the Music Educator of the Year GRAMMY Award for the second time.

His first shot at the award was in 2015, the second year of the award’s existence. He said he was a little more timid and nervous the first time around, but this time, he’s all-in.

“It was so new, I didn’t know what to think about it and I was very nervous about it, so I didn’t want to talk about it too much, I didn’t want to jinx things, I kind of kept a lot to myself,” Aguglia recalled. “This time through, totally different experience. I’ve really involved the students more, I’ve made this a ride for us all to be on.”

Aguglia said he is embracing the journey this time around and credits his students for their support.

“No one rises to this occasion without the support and participation of all the people around them,” he said. “By myself, I could never do all the things that we’ve done.”

The award means much more to Aguglia than just the recognition, however. He is proud to highlight Kenmore East’s diverse music program and the work of not only himself, but his students. A large part of Aguglia’s teaching style is finding fun and lively new ways to keep kids engaged.

“My energy, my ‘batteries’ are the students. Everything I do all day long, that energy and enthusiasm, comes from seeing a smile on a kid’s face. I’m not here to breed the next philharmonic musician. I’m here to give 100% of these kids a positive experience that they will then want their children to enjoy.”

Phil Aguglia

“As an entertainer, my job is to make people smile, right? Make you reflect on your soul in some way,” he said. “So when kids come to the band room, I want them to have that experience of smiling, of feeling something. And so any way we can elicit some type of a positive feeling, and be able to transfer that to the rest of their day, it’s important.”

Throughout the pandemic, even when things were locked down, Aguglia found creative ways to keep his students involved with music and give them opportunities to showcase their talents.

“I was thinking about all these other kids in Western New York and around the world who were losing that junior/senior year opportunity to perform in honor bands and honor orchestras and so on that would normally be there as resumé pieces, as important parts of their development and who they meet,” he said. “And so I created the Rising Star program for those kids so they at least had something.

Teaching at the high school is not the only way Aguglia gives back to the local music community, however. He is also the Second Vice Chair for Western New York-based nonprofit Music is Art, which helps create opportunities and access for local musicians.

“As I learned more about Music is Art and their function in our community, what (founder) Robby Takac was trying to do, I started to think, ‘There’s more that can be done with this organization because of the flexibility within the organization and with Robby’s vision.”

To learn more about the Music Educator of the Year Award, click here. To see more about Aguglia’s mission as band director at Kenmore East, click here.

Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.