The first time I met Mickey Smith Jr. was after a performance at Lafayette's Brass Room. If you've never heard Mickey play his saxophone then you're truly missing a treat. Mickey Smith Jr. speaks a different language with an instrument in his hand but I'd be willing to bet it's not his on-stage performances of which he is the proudest.

At this year's Grammy Awards Smith was honored with the Music Educator Award for his efforts at Maplewood Middle School in Sulphur. It's in the classroom setting that you can really see Smith's passion for music and people come alive.

Smith has been leading that musical ensemble in Sulphur Louisiana for the past 15 years and his students will tell you it's no ordinary band class. Smith himself will tell you he spends very little time on the podium while conducting his students.

He chooses to spend that time walking in and around his students. This gives him a better personal connection with each child and allows him a chance to offer one on one instruction even in the confines of a group setting.

How effective is Smith's teaching technique? Well about half the students at Maplewood Middle School are in the band. They're learning music. They're learning the value of practice and preparation. They are learning how each small part of the song makes the entire song better.

They are learning the value of hard work combined with passion. And they are so very fortunate to be learning those lessons from an inspired educator who is making kid's lives and their futures brighter simply by allowing them the freedom to pursue the sound of their own unique song.