“We teach students first, content second.”

“We teach students first, content second.”

Member Spotlight: Keith Hancock 

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 Teaching Music. 
By Stephen Holley

Keith Hancock’s journey into music education was long in coming. After the summer of his sophomore year in high school, he had the unique opportunity to perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Hancock recounts, “After that incredible experience, I knew I had to pursue music and, specifically, I knew I wanted to teach high school choral music and provide great musical experiences for the next generation.” Fortunately for the students of Tesoro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, Hancock developed a philosophy of high expectations, a culture of family, and a laid-back, student-centered approach to teaching, bringing his journey full circle to help a generation of students pursue their dreams.

choral director
Keith Hancock, Choral Teacher, Tesoro High School, Rancho Santa Margarita, California. Photo: Steve Wylie.

Keith Hancock’s teaching philosophy helps to create well-rounded musicians—and people.

With fast-paced rehearsals and students practicing throughout, a typical day for this winner of the 2017 GRAMMY™ Music Educator Award winner is nonstop. Hancock reveals, “We might simultaneously have a student running an art song with me in the choir room, a rock band rehearsing in the studio, the second sopranos rehearsing repertoire in the practice room, and the contemporary a cappella or vocal jazz ensemble rehearsing in the hallway.”

Keith Hancock and artist Aloe Blacc. Courtesy of The Recording Academy®/WireImage.com/photo by Jesse Grant ©2017.

As for vocal ensemble rehearsals, students start the day with warm-ups and from there transition to compose entries in their daily music history journals. “Through a student’s four years in the program, I take them through a curriculum where they watch videos of music performances covering classical, choral, art song/aria, vocal jazz, opera, world music, musical theatre, and contemporary a cappella.” Afterwards, the students identify key musical features in the example, give their personal opinions on the music, work on additional music theory exercises, and study sight-singing examples. Only after this groundwork has been laid do they begin rehearsing their music. It’s a dilemma all music teachers face: How can I cover the basics and rehearse my group(s)? Hancock has succeeded in developing this “holy grail” of music performance coupled with education, and it’s paying huge dividends to his students.

“Teaching is a noble and important profession.”

The vocal music program at Tesoro High School is extensive, with Hancock directing over 250 students in nine ensembles. In addition, the school offers instruction in band, orchestra, guitar, AP music theory, and commercial music. Hancock desires for his students to be well-rounded musicians through exposure to a variety of styles, periods, and cultures. In addition, he nurtures a sense of making good decisions in music as well as in life. And despite his newfound recognition, this attitude applies to Hancock as well, who takes every opportunity to better himself through performance, directing music at his church, observing colleagues, and attending numerous conferences each year.

Keith Hancock and his choir. Photo: Steve Wylie

What additional advice does Hancock have for aspiring and veteran teachers alike? “Teaching is a noble and important profession. You have the potential to be one of the most significant adults in the lives of your students, and you need to treat that responsibility seriously. We teach students first, content second. Students will be much more interested and passionate about music if they know you care about them, value and respect them as humans, and get to know them and who they are outside your classroom.”

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