Valley Alum, Grammy Finalist Elizabeth Bennett: Music ‘Connects The World’ And ‘Unifies Us’

Valley High School alumna Elizabeth Bennett firmly believes that music enhances our lives, helping us become the best version of ourselves to then share with others.

“It’s this wonderful way that connects the world, unifies us, and makes us more empathetic together,” she said.

And on Thursday, nearly 20 students from around central Iowa earned the opportunity to work with the Class of 2000 graduate as part of the South Central Iowa Regional Honor Orchestra.

Bennett returned to Valley at the request of Valley Orchestra Director Phil Peters to serve as a guest conductor for the ensemble’s Thursday evening performance at the Staplin Performing Arts Center.  Of course, it was a no-brainer for her to come back to West Des Moines and the high school that grew her into who she is today: An orchestra director and fine arts coordinator at Buffalo Grove High School in Buffalo Grove, Ill.

“Phil Peters is my mentor and my hero during that time. He’s why I went into music,” Bennett said. “The school has really morphed and changed. I think that’s incredible. It says so much about the community, because the community and tax dollars support such a change and such growth in it. It’s not possible without that.  It really shows how much the community supports the arts being that the Staplin Center is such a pinnacle area not only for the school, but for the whole community and the surrounding area.

“It’s really thrilling.”

Photo of Elizabeth Bennett

Elizabeth Bennett, a Valley High School Class or 2000 graduate, instructs musicians on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, at the Staplin Performing Arts Center.

The other fun fact about Bennett: She’s no stranger to Grammy Awards fame.

Bennett was a senior when Valley was honored as the first-ever Grammy Signature School in 1999. Earlier this year, she was nominated for the Grammy’s Music Educator of the Year Award, finishing inside the top 10.

“The Music Educator Award was established to recognize current educators (kindergarten through college, public and private schools) who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools,” Grammy Awards says on its website.

For being a top 10 finalist, Bennett received a $1,000 honorarium. Her school matched the grant, the Des Moines Register reported, adding how Bennett plans to utilize the funds with a new summer music-and-nutrition program.

“I still have my medal from Valley from when we won that Gammy,” Bennett said. “It was just really special to go through that now on the other side of things.”

On Thursday, Bennett introduced herself to the honor orchestra performers. Participants hailed from Valley, Hoover, Indianola, North, Pella, and Roosevelt high schools. The group learned more about each other during rehearsals and went over their materials for the evening’s concert.  Bennett later invited the young musicians to throw around their ideas, discussing their futures and how music would still play a part in their lives.

She also gave the five Valley students in the ensemble extra tips on how to tease Peters, Bennett quipped.

“It’s been so fun,” she said of the Valley return and serving as a guest conductor. “The amazing thing about music is that you can come together with people you’ve not met before and not say a single word, yet you can connect with them through music. And for these students—that’s them. They certainly know at least another person in the group, but not anyone knows everyone in this group and this orchestra has never existed before.

“The fact that they can come together and create music in such beauty and share that tonight is really incredible.”

Valley & Valley Southwoods Students Part Of South Central Iowa Regional Honor Orchestra

  • Kristin He
  • Shreya Joshi
  • Min Hyuk Lee
  • Nick Meyer
  • Keyah Van Zee
  • Elaine Wang
  • Christina Yu