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Kenny Grundy, Jr.

Mathematical Maestro

By Nate Fisher

“Music is
who I
am. Even
if I’m not
teaching it.”

In one corner, a student hesitantly practices scales on a piano. A trombone is accidentally dropped, yet no one reacts to the noise as the tubas tune in unison. Sweat. Wood. A clarinet wails above the clangor. Kenneth “Kenny” Grundy, Jr. raises one eyebrow in time with a snare hit. This may be the band room for students at Meridian, but it’s home on earth to Kenny.

“Music is who I am,” he says. “Even if I’m not teaching it.” Kenny assists the band program at Meridian as an aide, leads the choir, teaches general music at the elementary school, and somehow has time to teach math as a substitute. He’s been juggling these roles with a distinctive style for seven years, and Kenny plans to expand his role in our students’ lives further and continue his unique approach to music education here. He’s close to completing a bachelor’s degree in education from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. From that point on, he explains, it’s only a matter of choice between one of his two specializations: music or mathematics. Music and math are the twin tines of Kenny’s cerebral tuning fork. He finds a natural connection between the two, numbers and music going “hand in hand.” The impact of his presence here is a melodic blend of music, mathematics, mentorship, and a deep-rooted connection to our community’s tendency to favor outstanding character in faculty.

Kenny’s relationship with the students at Meridian is built on a foundation of mutual respect and familiarity. “I’ve known most of the students’ parents before they were even born,” he says, highlighting the bond that helps this connection extend beyond the classroom. Kenny describes his mission as imparting knowledge and nurturing the “core” person. “I want them to overcome their fear,” he emphasizes. “I want them to come out of their shell.”

Music education has been a lifelong apprenticeship for Kenny. He admits a cast of thousands has inspired him, most notably his mother, his neighbor Deborah Houston, and multiple band teachers throughout all levels of his educational journey, including his current instructors at SIUC. The reason he loves music is that it still surprises him. “My first day going to SIU, I was listening to this jazz group play during orientation,” Kenny says, shaking his head in amazement. “I was hooked. They played one song, and I turned and was like, ‘Y’all listening to this?’” Music is memory, he explains. “Sometimes when I hear music, it takes me back to a certain point in time, you know, that I can just relive, and I feel like it just happened yesterday.”

Kenny wants to pass on this time machine to his students and send them a clear message that music opens the door to incredible opportunities. As a mentor, Kenny emphasizes the value of perseverance and dedication. “Band and choir can get your tuition paid for,” he repeats as often as they will listen. He outlines his own steps throughout the years that brought him to this place in time, from his first audience playing piano at church, then his tour in band and choir at Egyptian Senior High School, to his journey towards a full scholarship to play drums at Shawnee Community College, even though percussion wasn’t his primary instrument at the time.

His approach to music education is innovative and empathetic. Kenny understands the transformative power of music, not just as a subject but as a tool for personal growth. He instructs his junior high and high school choirs with different methods. He maintains more structure in the junior high choir due to the larger group size. For the high school choir, Kenny adopts a more informal tactic. He simply brings in a microphone and encourages the students to sing. This technique is part of a broader plan to help them conquer their fear of singing in public. Kenny even occasionally integrates other classes as test audiences, allowing student performers to experience singing before an audience in a controlled setting. This gradual exposure aims to build their confidence, especially since they face the challenge of performing at larger events like the Christmas concert. Kenny is devoted to helping them grow beyond their fears and become more confident performers. “This year, I let the kids play around on a drum set,” he smirks, “They were so excited, and I said your teachers have to come in and play too, so I had to teach it to everybody.” The all-inclusive lesson was an absolute hit, as there was no shortage of jokes between the teachers and students at their varying abilities. “I try to make stuff fun like that.”

Dry-erase marker squeaks across the board, leaving a trail of that odd dust always found on whiteboards. A few students sigh as if their brains are melting from a particularly difficult math problem. Pencils frantically scribble on paper. Kenneth “Kenny” Grundy, Jr. steps back from the whiteboard, where he’s written a series of examples of fractions, decimals, and ratios for today’s lesson. “Math is a waste of time, we’re never going to use it,” a boy clowns in the front row. Kenny raises an eyebrow in time with the period bell. “Oh yeah?” He grins. “You ever listen to music?” This may be math class for students at Meridian, but it’s transformative business as usual for Kenny.

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