This is the latest in a series of emails designed to help you reconnect with everything that makes the Sumner Academy Experience a great one for the whole family.
THIS WEEK’S SPOTLIGHT TEACHER: THORNTON CLINE
How many students can say that they have a Grammy-nominated musician for a music teacher? Sumner Academy students can. This week, the spotlight lands on Thornton Cline, Sumner Academy’s award-winning music teacher. From his studio at Sumner Academy, Thornton nurtures young talent, teaching group lessons during the school day using the Suzuki Method, as well as private lessons on violin, piano and guitar.
Like many music teachers, Thornton knew at a young age that he wanted a career in music, and he sought out the best teachers to guide him. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in music education with an emphasis in strings, violin, guitar and piano from Virginia Commonwealth University, Thornton earned a Master’s in music education with an emphasis on strings from the University of Illinois, then headed east to the University of Rochester where he enrolled in the famed Eastman School of Music and completed coursework for his Ph.D. in music education. It was there he met and performed with many notable musicians, including composer Aaron Copeland, Peter Salaff (Cleveland Quartet) and Howard Hanson, all Grammy winners. Thornton also studied with Anastasia Jempelis, the assistant to Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, the founder of the Suzuki Method, a teaching protocol Thornton had long admired. He then had the good fortune to meet with the master himself when he took a day-long workshop with Dr. Suzuki in Miami.
For Thornton, the Suzuki method is perfectly aligned with his teaching philosophy. “The program teaches a love of music by emphasizing ear training and memory first, and music reading later,” says Thornton, a Certified Registered Suzuki teacher for Books 1 – 5 of the Suzuki Method. “I believe that every child can learn how to be talented—to play an instrument at a high level of ability and enjoy it throughout their lifetime.”
A prolific songwriter, Thornton has had 150 of his compositions recorded by major artists. He received a Grammy nomination for his song “Bottom of the Fifth” a few years ago and, in 2013, he was nominated for a Grammy Association Educator’s Award. He was twice honored as “Songwriter of the Year” by the Tennessee Songwriters’ Association for his hit song “Love is the Reason” recorded by Engelbert Humperdinck and Gloria Gaynor, and he has been nominated for several Dove Awards. “I believe in being a teacher first with everything else supporting that,” notes Thornton, who takes his status as a role model very seriously. “I believe that teachers should model what can be done with what you’re teaching.” That’s why he remains an avid performer on violin, guitar and piano, often performing as part of a quartet. It’s also why he has authored two books on music education and is in high demand as a clinician and keynote speaker.
Thornton loves his music and his role at Sumner Academy. “Everyone—from students and parents to faculty and staff—are all one family,” he adds. “This is rare to see in today’s schools, and that’s what makes Sumner Academy so special.”
Try It This Week: If you know someone whose children are enrolled in a school that has cut back on their music program, tell them about Sumner Academy. Invite them to accompany you to campus to observe teachers like Thornton in action. Small gestures like these can play a big role in helping people learn about Sumner Academy’s innovative approach to education.