Austin native earns top music honor; Brenda Ehrhardt recognized as one of 50 top music directors in US by magazine

Published 11:05 am Thursday, February 9, 2017

By Christopher Andersson 

North County Outlook

MARYSVILLE, Wash. — Music teacher Brenda Ehrhardt of Marysville, Washington, got a surprise this December when she learned she was recognized by the national band and orchestra magazine SBO as one of the “50 Music Directors Who Make A Difference.”

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Ehrhardt, an Austin native who graduated from Austin High School in 1973, teaches music at Sunnyside Elementary School in Marysville and was Washington state’s representative in the School Band and Orchestra Magazine for their annual award.

She was the only teacher on this year’s list that currently teaches at an elementary level.

“There was a whole lot of emotions,” said Ehrhardt. “The first one was like ‘What, me? How can that be?’ “

“It was a group of students that had nominated me and it just made me so happy,” she said.

Ehrhardt started her music career in junior high school in Austin. She said Austin’s music program was “incredible.”

“I hear that it is still going strong,” she said. “I played the French horn in band and orchestra and the two music teachers who had the most impact on me were Paul Heltne and Ken Jensen. Mr. Heltne was the orchestra director and Mr. Jensen taught music theory. Both were wonderful teachers.”
At Bemidji State University she majored in music and began teaching afterward.

Her first job was overseas at a U.S. Department of Defense school in Germany.

“They put me in an elementary classroom and that was it. I realized that was what I wanted to do,” she said.

“You just find your home. You find your spot in life and that was music for me. I’m just fortunate. I think that I have the best job in the whole world because music is just an incredible thing for me and I try to make it incredible for the kids too,” she said.

She has been teaching music for 31 years now and been in Marysville for 12 years.

“She goes above and beyond to let students access their full potential with music,” said Sunnyside Elementary Principal Brynn Marcum.

“Most teachers only have to know their 25 kids, but she has a relationship with 530 kids,” said Marcum.

Ehrhardt teaches both a vocal choir and an instrumental choir at the school. “And an instrumental choir is something that not all elementary students even have access to,” said Marcum.

Her choir has been invited to perform the National Anthem for the Everett Silvertips hockey team many times, and just last year was invited to sing for the Seattle Mariners baseball team.

For the past few years Ehrhardt has also brought her fourth-graders to play with the Seattle Symphony. As part of the program, kids learn their part of the music on recorder and can participate with the symphony.

“So many of my kids would never get to go to Benaroya Hall and get to see a world-class symphony,” said Ehrhardt. “And not only do they hear them play, they get to play with them,” she said.

Local kids are able to participate in that program because of Ehrhardt, according to Marcum.

“She goes after grants. She gives her own time to write them,” said Marcum, and that includes grants to get the transportation to go down to Seattle.

“That’s the kind of opportunity we couldn’t present to our kids if she wasn’t so dedicated,” she said. “Every student should have a teacher like Mrs. Ehrhardt.”

Ehrhardt said she was very grateful for the recognition and said that she has enjoyed her time in Marysville.

“The kids are the best kids I’ve had in my 31 years teaching,” she said.

After she was selected, SBO asked her what was the most important lesson she could teach.

“I want every child to know that music crosses all boundaries. No matter where we come from it has the power to reach us in unique ways … I want them to find the joy that comes from working hard and participating in a successful performance. I want them to realize that music is a gift.”

Austin Daily Herald reporter Deb Nicklay contributed to this article.