January 15, 2023

One of ten finalists for the GRAMMYs’ Music Educator Award, NYC public school teacher Alice Tsui (STEINHARDT ’12, ’13) shares more about her journey as a musician, scholar, activist, and educator.

Alice Tsui

This year, more than two dozen alumni are nominated for the GRAMMY Awards that will be presented on Sunday, February 5. With a stated mission to “recognize excellence in the recording arts and sciences, cultivate the well-being of the music community, and ensure that music remains an indelible part of our culture,” the Recording Academy celebrates musicians in several areas, beyond just “Music’s Biggest Night.” As part of GRAMMY week in early February, they will also announce the annual Music Educator Award, which recognizes current educators who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the music education field and demonstrated a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in schools. From more than 1,200 nominations received for the Music Educator Award, Alice Tsui (STEINHARDT '12, '13) [she/her] is one of ten finalists.

Tsui is nominated based on her work as the Founding Music Teacher and Arts Coordinator at PS 532 New Bridges Elementary, an arts-integrated public elementary school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As a lifelong New Yorker and alum of the NYC public school system herself, she is passionate about “decolonizing, anti-bias, anti-racist, abolitionist public music education and empowering the individual and collective voices of youth through music as expression.”

As she celebrates this well-deserved career recognition, Alice shares more about her journey as a musician, scholar, activist, and educator—roles that have all been deeply impacted by recent events, specifically a focus on social justice and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Congratulations on being named a 2023 GRAMMY Music Educator Award™ Finalist! Can you tell us about your work as a music educator and what this recognition means to you?

Thank you! I am truly humbled by this honor and recognition. My work as a music educator is rooted in amplifying student voices and centering joy in musical experiences in and outside of my public school music classroom. For me, this recognition is a platform for sharing the importance of listening intently to our students’ voices, needs, dreams, and musical aspirations. As an amplifier of youth voices, I will continue to hold the microphone up to my students who will share their identities, whole selves, community stories, and joy with the world. It is my hope that the global community will see, hear, and feel the joy, and will be impacted to create equitable change as well.

What or who inspired you to become a musician and how did you develop your skill and love for music into a career?

There are many influential music educators who have inspired my own love for music, including my professors during my time at NYU: Miyoko Lotto, José Ramón Méndez, Ira Shankman, Nancy Shankman, and Susan Davis. My love of music came from my own upbringing filled with music surrounding me in Brooklyn, NY, and having music on in the apartment mixed with my mom singing Chinese opera while cooking and my dad listening to American pop music through the decades. Jamie Jacobs Baumgardt, who taught at NYU as well, was my middle school orchestra teacher. Through her unwavering belief in my seventh grade orchestra and what we could do together as a team, I knew that I wanted to create that sense of community and joy in my own future music classroom. 

As an alum of NYC public schools, can you tell us what it’s like to now teach in the same school system as an educator (as the Founding Music Teacher and Arts Coordinator at PS 532 New Bridges Elementary in Crown Heights, Brooklyn)?

It is incredibly meaningful for me to serve as a NYC public school music educator. I have always believed that public music education is a birthright, and that all students should have access to music in school. Creating a music program from the ground up has been a joy for me, and it has been essential for me to meet my students through culturally responsive and sustaining practices that center who my students are at their core. 

What makes you excited about going to work each day? 

In prioritizing my students, I am most excited to see how students engage with music as a means of self-expression each day. How a student chooses to sing, rap, play instruments, and most importantly, share their voice in community with each other, is truly bold, innovative, and creative. Even though I am the teacher, I am really the learner and am always learning about life from my students.

What are you most proud of and what’s one thing you haven’t tackled yet that’s still on your to-do list, short- or long-term? 

I am most proud of my students being able to speak to the power of their voices through music. Through many issues that students have faced in our world, including but not limited to Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, and immigration policy, students have unapologetically created music to express their feelings and shared their thoughts through music in community and public spaces. I hope to amplify my students’ voices on different international platforms in music education and education overall. I believe listening to and empowering our students’ voices are essential in all spaces where youth are discussed and impacted.

Would you please share your most memorable moment(s) from NYU?

My most memorable moments at NYU include performing piano in the many NYU venues, learning how to play janggu with NYURI (NYU Rhythmic Impulse, a Korean traditional drumming club), and performing in parades in Koreatown and Washington Square Park. I also loved writing for Generasian, a media platform and publication dedicated to fostering dialogue and promoting stories of Asian American Pacific Islanders at NYU, and serving as president of the Chinese Student Society, where I co-created DYNAMICSS, an annual benefit showcase that included student and guest performances that centered culture and community. DYNAMICSS continues to this day!