A Yellowknife music teacher is in the running to receive an award from one of Canada’s leading music education charities.
The MusiCounts Teacher of the Year award was first established in 2005 to help recognize exceptional music teachers across the entire country. Canadian music teachers are eligible for this award if they have at least five years of teaching experience, and have received a grant through the MusiCounts Band Aid Program. The award winner will be given a $10,000 prize, a contribution to their school’s music program, and a JUNO Award statuette.
This year, five nominees were selected across the country, and for Yellowknife, they have chosen Stephen Richardson from École St. Joseph School.
Stephen first got into music when he was 21, and quickly felt that he was too late, as he had always heard that musical talents are something that one has to begin developing at a young age. With an undergrad in English L.A. and Creative Writing, he began putting those skills to work by writing lyrics in Halifax. With encouragement from friends to simply keep working on his skills, Stephen was regularly appearing at and playing music at barbeques and parties, where he would also ask any other present musicians for any advice they might be able to share.
His developing skills eventually got him into special music classes in college, which in turn, eventually got him to a teaching position for high school band classes.
“I realized, the opportunities for kids to share music and have so many instruments around that you can explore at a young age, I just wanted to give them everything. My school didn’t have a music program, so I wanted to give them all the stuff I kinda missed.”
When it comes to the process of teaching, Stephen says that one needs to be adaptive the student’s needs.
“You have to really differentiate for different types of students. Even from when I started teaching, it’s a completely different world. Attention spans are different, social media was just coming into play when I started, so that’s changed everything. Even their interest in music. People consume music in a different way then when I was growing up. We had albums and CDs and everything like that, and now everything’s streaming and music is more in the background because of TikTok videos and Instagram reels. They view it differently so you have to be aware of that, you can’t really go with the old, more Europeanized format of just the band program.”
He added that the school offers students several ways to practice music. Since the weather in the North often requires indoor recesses for younger students, a good way to use that time can be to head down to the choir and songwriting clubs during the lunch hour.
When asked what he finds the most rewarding about teaching, Stephen said that he tells his students that music can be one of the deepest and most meaningful relationships in their lives, as long as they are willing to explore it.
“Especially during COVID, how it really helped students get their feelings out. They were looking to adults to see what’s going on here in the world, and as adults, I don’t think many of us knew what was going on either. So it was a way for us to hang out together and put our feelings into these songs.”
The MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award will be announced on the 53rd Annual JUNO Awards live broadcast from the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, NS on March 24th.