2019-20 Teaching Award Winner: Hannah Darroch


Published: 17Jun2020

Congratulations to Dr. Hannah Darroch, winner of Schulich’s 2019-20 Teaching Award in the graduate instructor category!

Over the course of the year, Hannah’s work in preparing future-ready musicians has not gone unnoticed. Her revision of the course material for MUPG 414 (Woodwind Orchestral Excerpts) brought students many new experiences, including a demonstration in making studio recordings, guest presentations in performance psychology, blind mock auditions, a simulation of how to rehearse with a pianist at an audition, and woodwind section reading sessions with conductors. The impact of these updates was evident in her students’ letters of support, which praised Hannah for going above and beyond as a teacher and mentor, her ability to adapt to different levels of experience, and her interactive classes. With such strong teaching principles and a creative approach, it’s clear why MUPG 414 saw an increase in attendance and why Hannah is being presented with this award.

In celebration of this achievement, we asked Hannah to elaborate on her teaching philosophy and why she decided to experiment with the structure of the course.

Why was it important for you to increase the collaboration between departments this year?

Collaboration is a key element of being a working musician - a career in music doesn’t just happen in a practice room, and it doesn’t consist of only working with people who do exactly the same thing as you! It was important to me that students experienced the scope of interactions that happen out in the industry.

When you’re embedded in the music school environment it’s easy to take for granted what a gift it is to have skilled professionals in research, psychology, performance, composition, conducting, sound engineering, pedagogy, and music technology all working under the same roof. Schulich’s recent strategic plan has a large focus on breaking down departmental walls – which can be a challenge in large institutions – so including small collaborative efforts in my course outlines this year was a way of showing how these could continue to develop over time.

I was in the unique situation of being a graduate student, faculty member, and staff member at the same time this year – as well as finishing my doctorate and teaching I was responsible for communications involving the Music Research department. On multiple occasions I encountered faculty members who told me I must not be “in music” because I also work in communications. This attitude certainly inspired me to make collaborative changes where I could, as the portfolio career across multiple disciplines is a much more likely reality for this century’s music graduates.

What are some elements that are important to your teaching philosophy?

MUPG 414 is a course for any undergraduate-level student, on any woodwind instrument – from those just starting their journey with orchestral excerpts, through to those who’re winning auditions for NYO Canada and graduate programs. Regardless of where a student’s at, it’s key to foster a sense of growth mindset –a belief that skills can be endlessly developed and that the hard work is worth it. This is something that stays with students far beyond the classroom walls of MUPG 414.

Another element that’s really important to me is a two-way dialogue – teachers can learn just as much from their students when information flows in both directions. In an interactive studio class environment there are a range of different strengths and weaknesses, which is also the case in a professional orchestral setting, and any other work or social setting!

Something that’s also been very central to my teaching philosophy at McGill is keeping a sense of creativity, spontaneity, and flexibility. In MUPG 414 sometimes this meant surprising the class with a blind-audition screen and audition numbers to pull out as they walked into class, or getting others in the class to join in and sight-read section parts with someone who’s presenting a solo excerpt. I also had a pianist come to the class and pretend to be an assigned audition accompanist – we got creative and pre-planned places where he’d play different rhythms and wrong harmonies etc. to give students the chance to work through how they might deal with these things in a limited rehearsal time pre-audition. If we’re wanting to train the next generation of innovators, teachers have to be leading by example with innovative approaches to learning.

What does a future-ready orchestral musician look like to you?

It’s not lost on me that I’m teaching a class of undergraduate students that’s larger than the number of woodwind orchestral jobs currently vacant around the world. This should be enough of an indication that within the music school we have a real responsibility to foster a range of key transferable skills. From my own experience in professional orchestras, you don’t win a job and then just get to play the flute for the rest of your career. The job might include teaching at a range of levels, attending sponsor functions, speaking in front of a crowd, touring, playing chamber music, performing solo recitals, doing interviews for radio, writing grant applications for projects, doing video recording – tasks requiring a number of skills beyond your instrument.

A “future-ready” orchestral musician also needs to have a very good sense of the world around them – it’s important that as musicians we’re able to reflect and serve the communities we live in, so to me, this idea of awareness and empathy has to be part of training in music schools. Given the unique challenges of the orchestral audition, trial process, and job itself, there’s also a need for a particular maturity and resiliency that develops over time.

I approach teaching MUPG 414 as not only training woodwind players, but shaping the next generation of arts advocates and problem solvers. It’s our responsibility as educators to equip students with a wide range of analytical, interpretive, creative, interpersonal, and time management skills that all transfer into a wide range of professional situations.

About the Schulich School of Music Teaching Awards

Each year the Schulich School of Music recognizes faculty members and student instructors for their outstanding contributions. The Schulich School of Music Teaching Awards recognize excellence, commitment and innovation in teaching, and the importance of these qualities in the academic experience of students at McGill. Prizes are awarded annually to each winner at Spring Convocation.

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