Skip to content

Yellowknife music teacher honoured with third Juno Award nomination

Stephen Richardson, a kindergarten to Grade 12 music teacher at Ecole St. Joseph School in Yellowknife, will be heading to the Juno Awards ceremony in Halifax in March after being honoured with his third Juno nomination for MusiCounts Music Teacher of the Year. Photo courtesy of Strut Entertainment

Yellowknife music teacher Stephen Richardson is playing a happy tune after receiving his third Juno Award nomination.

The Ecole St. Joseph School educator is up for the MusiCounts Music Teacher of the Year award at this year’s Junos being held in Halifax on March 24.

“Music has given me kind of a blessed life, so it’s pretty cool to be nominated again,” Richardson said. “And it’s really great because it’s back home in Nova Scotia. I lived in Halifax for over 10 years, and went to university for my undergrad there.”

MusiCounts is a Canadian music education charity that provides grants and resources to help establish music programs.

And as a grant recipient for his inspiring work, Richardson was eligible to become a Juno nominee for Teacher of the Year for the third time.

This year, five nominees were selected from across Canada, including Richardson, who MusiCounts describes as a teacher who “celebrates the Northern music scene by preparing students for a lifetime of music using technology, song writing, performance and production opportunities.”

For Richardson, applying for and receiving the grant also meant he could then repair many of the instruments they had at the school without having to send them south at great expense — one of the unique and expensive challenges of running a music program in the North.

Playing to beat the band

This school year has been a busy one for Richardson as he continues to re-establish the band program now that Covid restrictions are lifted and, more recently, after everyone returned from the wildfire evacuations.

“But it’s starting to go pretty good. And we’ve gotten back into piano,” he said.

“I have a piano keyboard lab with 30 keyboards that we got a couple of years ago. So we use xylophones first with the younger grades, and then we transfer them over to the new keyboards.”

While the students were able to play guitar during Covid, Richardson said they are quite excited to be able to play band instruments and sing in choir again.

Recently, his choir, consisting of students in grades two and five, sang and filmed a Dene counting song for children that Gloria Gaudet, another teacher at the school, and singer/songwriter Leela Gilday wrote for a CBC song challenge, he said.

“She (Gaudet) came down to listen and she was pretty happy to hear it,” he said. “She got visibly upset because she found it pretty cool that we were doing her song.”

Getting in the groove

Richardson said music is a very important part of his students’ lives, and it was even more so during the uncertain times of the pandemic, when they were isolated from the familiarity of their friends and school.

“So they spent a lot of time — like, kids I never saw really get into the song writing and stuff — they were just writing and writing all their feelings for these Covid raps that we did,” he said of the music style they created when they couldn’t sing in the choir.

“And now, a lot of them will come down to the music room at lunch, it’s kind of a safe spot for them to hang out. I’ve had a couple of kids come down this week and say, ‘Can I just play the piano in your hall?’

“That seems to be because they’re dealing with all kinds of feelings at this age and as they get older, and they don’t know where the outlet is to put them. Some place them in sports, some place them, thankfully, in music, and then unfortunately, if they don’t have an outlet, some place them in other ways that might not be as productive,” Richardson said of the importance of finding a creative outlet such as music.

He said understanding how vital it is to have a vibrant music program in school is incredibly important.

“A lot of times music is seen as a kind of tack-on or an add-on extracurricular thing, and not as important as it is. There’s so much research that’s come out to show the polar opposite of that. It really can be the centre of the school.

“You can get into all the things that it helps: the science, the multitasking, the ability to work in teams and cooperation stuff. But for me, I just love music and I love really getting involved in this,” he said.

“I tell the students you can really probably have one of the deepest relationships of your life with music if you really let it, and it’ll teach you more about yourself and about others than you really realize.”

Meanwhile, whether he does or doesn’t come back home with a Juno Award in hand, one thing for certain is that Richardson will continue with his winning ways in helping students thrive and excel in music.

—By Jill Westerman