Western News – Western alum uses music education to teach social justice
Becoming a music teacher was never part of Darren Hamilton’s previous career aspirations. But no matter how far one strays from one’s destiny, the universe always finds a way for the stars to align.
Even after graduating from York University in 2005 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in music, Hamilton was beginning to establish a career in the financial industry. But he soon realized he had a gift for teaching. In fact, he excelled at it.
“I have been teaching for 14 years now. And I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Hamilton, Mmus’16, this year’s recipient of the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award, presented by the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation.
Receiving the award was a very special experience for Hamilton, as it was announced live at Canada’s biggest music awards show, the Junos, with some of Canada’s most accomplished music artists.
“I’ve watched the Junos on TV before, so seeing it in person was like a dream,” said Hamilton, who attended the awards ceremony held on the Budweiser Stage in Toronto on May 15. may. “It’s just a surreal moment to be able to attend for the first time as a nominee and then receiving the Juno Award for MusiCounts Teacher of the Year was such a great experience.
The National MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award recognizes the impact of an inspiring Canadian music teacher on students and music education.
Describing Hamilton as a “maverick music educator”, MusiCounts President Kristy Fletcher said high school music teacher David Suzuki “models what inclusive, innovative and celebratory music programming can look like”.
Hamilton uses his music to educate students about social justice. He co-authored #BlackMusicMatters: Hip Hop and Social Justice in Canada, a learning resource for grades 7-12 teachers who want to explore black culture, history and creation through the lens of hip-hop music. The goal is for students to engage with Canadian hip hop, while learning about social justice themes.
The development of the learning resource is an offshoot of an article Hamilton wrote for the Canadian music teacher journal titled #BlackMusicMatters: Dismantling Anti-Black Racism in Music Education.
“My role as a teacher is not just to teach music to students in the classroom, but to be able to see some of these gaps that existed in music education, and how me, as a music teacher who has these research skills that I developed through my graduate studies at Western, I can use those skills and apply them to advocate for curriculum change,” Hamilton said.
Impact on the class
Hamilton is recognized for his work promoting diversity not only in his music classroom, but also in the music program at David Suzuki High School in Brampton, Ontario. It’s work that started three years ago and is just beginning to bear fruit in the classroom.
“One of the things I noticed (when I started), especially in my instrumental music class, was that there was still no representation of black students taking the class. instrument, even though they had a black music teacher. And so I started to worry about that,” Hamilton recalled.
With the help of some of his music students, Hamilton launched a survey in 2019 specifically aimed at black students asking them what their musical preferences were and what would motivate them to take music lessons at school.
The results provided Hamilton with insight into how to engage more black students in music lessons and data to influence the school principal to add diversity to the music curriculum.
“Based on the survey results, hip-hop was the top genre of music that students expressed interest in, and R&B was the second most popular. So, I suggested to the principal that we start this class. R&B and hip hop. And we’ve added data, representing student voices, to show that it’s what students say that matters to them,” Hamilton said.
The school supported the new curriculum and, through MusicCounts’ Band-Aid program, secured a grant to purchase DJ consoles for the new hip hop and R&B course.
The program launched in September 2021, with approximately 18 students taking the course.
“Considering we were online for the previous school year and didn’t really have a lot of time to promote the course between May and September, we were really happy with that number,” Hamilton said.
He noted the diversity of students who enrolled in the new class.
“We had black students enrolled in the course, but we also had students from all cultural backgrounds represented. And what it showed me is that hip hop music is a genre of music that appeals to a lot of young people, regardless of their cultural background,” Hamilton said.
The high number of female students – about half of the class – taking the course is also pleasantly surprising, he said, noting that the trend suggests that hip hop is becoming less of a male-dominated genre. Even the Junos seem to recognize it when Haviah Mighty won Rap Album of the Year for Sotck exchange – making her the first woman in Junos history to win in this category.
“I think it speaks to the trend we’re seeing where hip hop and rap music is no longer dominated or designed specifically for male artists,” Hamilton said. “Now we see female artists and artists from other genres gravitating and engaging.”
When not teaching, Hamilton is heavily involved in gospel music, both in the community as director of the Waterloo Region Mass Choir and in his doctoral studies at the University of Toronto, where he is pursuing studies. gospel music.
His passion for gospel music began when he was a graduate student at Western’s College of Music.
“When I was at Western, I had the opportunity to do independent study in gospel music, specifically gospel choir pedagogy,” Hamilton recalls.
This independent study led him to meet “fictional” teacher Karen Burke, founding director of the York University Gospel Choir, who observed and documented his gospel choir program. Burke has since become an inspiration and mentor to Hamilton and would influence his career progression.
Hamilton said one particular course that impacted him at Western was Professor Patrick Schmidt’s course on policy and program education.
“This course transformed my life in that it taught me how to navigate making curricular changes in the education system,” he said. “So a lot of the work that I’ve done since I left Western when I graduated, really, I can relate to this course that was so impactful.”
In addition to teaching high school music, Hamilton also teaches a gospel music course at the University of Toronto.
Hamilton is the first black music teacher to win MusiCounts’ Teacher of the Year award, and it’s an honor with enormous significance.
“Winning this award is so important and impactful to me because it really helps show racialized students that there is definitely opportunity in music education and in the music industry in general.
“In this area, being a racialized music teacher or musician is something that I think is so important for our racialized students to be able to see themselves represented, in terms of myself as a music educator, being in the classroom space, teaching them music, and then also being able to see themselves represented in terms of what’s actually taught in the curriculum, where the curriculum is diverse and they have access to explore the music of various cultural backgrounds.