“Gatekeeping does not belong in Music Education”: Stephen Richardson

mars 12, 2024

Meet Stephen Richardson, 2024 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award, Presented by Anthem Entertainment, Nominee


There are a lot of unspoken duties as a modern-day music teacher. Not only is it about teaching music, but you need to act as an event manager booking gigs for your students, a public relations and marketing representative to advocate for your music program, as well as be a role model for other music teachers to look up to who are entering the field for the first time, and much more. This career is not a straight path, as we have discussed with Zeda Ali’s journey. These are all the elements Stephen Richardson learned along the way that make up a music teacher in this day and age.

As a younger man, Stephen believed that music’s highest purpose was as art. It was when he moved to Yellowknife and watched a performance of Dene Drummers and Inuit throat singers that his perspective broadened. The vibrant music he heard in his childhood home, given his father’s English & Scottish roots and his mother’s Puerto Rican background, was not reflected in the Western music curriculum, which didn’t include the mixture of cultural genres he listened to as a kid the or Indigenous music he was growing to love. He realized that music is multi-dimensional, and serves & resonates with people in various ways, including ceremony, community, and mental health.

As Stephen solidified his philosophy as a music teacher, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into his plans. That didn’t stop him from adapting his music programming virtually by engaging with his students with “COVID raps” — an alternative to singing — drumming, and songwriting. In times of isolation, Stephen was able to make his students feel a sense of community and belonging through music.

Music education doesn’t stop outside of school. Stephen also makes himself available beyond the classroom, working to make sure his students and colleagues have extraordinary opportunities. He offers mentorship to educators who may be new or lack music experience to combat the isolation so often felt by music educators. Just as Élisabeth Bouchard Bernier and Sarah Comerford mentioned, an important aspect of being a music educator is being able to unite the professional community together. It doesn’t stop there ― Stephen wants to elevate his training into a YouTube channel and website so his teaching resources can be accessible by more Canadian educators.

As if that weren’t enough, he assists the Yellowknife Catholic and French school boards in establishing their band programming and using his own class bands to fundraise. Stephen also held the title of the city’s professional guitar teacher! He works closely with Music NWT on advancing the music scene in the Northern territories of Canada, and operates a local music studio to nurture aspiring musicians. Stephen contributes to music articles, album reviews, even textbooks like the recent publication by Darren Hamilton (2022 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year recipient!). He’s a man of many talents, just like fellow nominee Robert Bailey.

Music brings people together no matter how far away or isolated they feel, whether student or teacher. As Stephen says, “gatekeeping does not belong in music education”. Music is for everyone, and every kid deserves to experience some form of music education.


Stephen Richardson of École St. Joseph School in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories is one of five inspirational educators nominated for the 2024 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award, presented by Anthem Entertainment. The award recognizes an exceptional music teacher with a $10,000 cash prize, a generous donation to their school through the MusiCounts Band Aid Program, 2-3 MusiCounts Legacy Grants made in their name, and a JUNO statuette.

The MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award was established in 2005 to recognize and honour an exceptional Canadian music teacher each year. This award is generously presented by Anthem Entertainment. To date, this award has celebrated the accomplishments of 18 music educators across Canada who strive to preserve the livelihood of music education in their school and community.

The MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award is presented by