YELLOWKNIFE, NWT: A former resident of Grand River, now living in the Northwest Territories, has been nominated for a national teaching award.
Stephen Richardson, who teaches music at École St. Joseph School in Yellowknife, was nominated for the Music Counts Teacher of the Year Juno Award.
Richardson said Music Counts donates musical instruments to schools in need, and years ago, he applied to the program.
“I fixed all our band instruments, but a few years back, you used to be able to order all the different parts, and they kind of changed that at a lot of the stores, so that you can only order the parts to fix these instruments if you’re a technician inside the store,” he recalled. “That made it really difficult.”
With instruments that hadn’t been professionally serviced for up to 15 years, Richardson said the school was awarded a “substantial grant” from Music Counts to fix all the broken instruments, buy new ones, and to get new music books.
As a result of the approval, Richardson said he was told by Music Counts that he was eligible to apply for their teacher of the year award, presented by the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation.
After a video was released making his nomination official, Richardson watched it with one of his Grade 6 guitar classes, which was unaware he’d been nominated.
“I applied one year, and I guess they have quite a few people apply each year, so I didn’t hear back,” he recounted. “We heard back about three months before the Juno announcement for the nominees, and we weren’t allowed to talk about it until the official video came out.”
Richardson graduated from St. Peter’s District High School in 1992, attended Saint Mary’s University, lived in Halifax for about 10 years, then went back to school at StFX University.
“I decided to go back to try jazz guitar, and then I combined my two teachables of English lit and guitar to teach high school and elementary music and high school English,” he explained.
After graduating, he moved to Vancouver to teach at private school. He then applied for a position in Yellowknife, and arrived there in 2007.
Richardson taught in the Northwest Territories for three years, moved to Ottawa for a year to teach, then returned to the North where his band (made of teachers and a carpenter from Cape Breton) was located. During his first three years in the Northwest Territories, he said his band was playing 100 gigs a year, started recording their own music, then started recording and mentoring other bands and artists.
“When I first moved up, it was really, really good for a live music scene. That was a little bit less when I came back, but just before COVID, it was really building up again,” he recalled.
Although he spent every summer in Cape Breton, that wasn’t the case last year, but Richardson is hopeful he and his wife (who is from PEI), will be approved soon by the Government of Nova Scotia to return.
“We put in our application three days ago, so we’re just waiting to hear back,” he told The Reporter on March 30. “I believe we would be because we have land back there.”
Richardson recalled that the pandemic has been difficult on teachers, students and parents, especially last year when it was done virtually. Upon returning in September, he was unsure music education would be offered at all, and all band activities were cancelled. Eventually, Richardson bought guitars and focused on hand drumming to stay within public health protocols.
“I just kind of took it as a year to really go deeper in to music and give them something that they’ll always have; something that they can always turn to no matter how they feel to make them feel better,” he noted.
The winner of the award will be announced live during the broadcast of the Juno Awards in May. A “significant contribution” will be provided to the school of the winning teacher, Richardson added.
“It’s fantastic,” Richardson said of the nomination. “I’ve been in contact with high school teachers I haven’t talked to in 30 years, texting me. That part has been really cool. The StFX Jazz Department, they put it up on their website, I took jazz guitar there. Just talking to people I hadn’t heard from, different band members, I hadn’t heard from in forever, it’s really cool.”