Replacing hesitation with passion

New music director reflects on his path to SPU

Julia Battingshill, News Editor

Christopher Hanson, Seattle Pacific’s new Director of Music Education and Orchestral Activities, did not originally intend to become a teacher. Instead, he discovered through experience that he was always meant to be one. 

Starting his first year at SPU, and his ninth year of teaching, this September, he said he cannot imagine his life any other way.

Prof. Hansen pictured in his office. Blake Dahlin | The Falcon

Prior to being hired here, Hanson taught music in public schools. Listening to him talk about it, one would never know that he hesitated to jump into music education. 

“As an educator, I don’t ever stop working, because it’s not work. I love what I do,” Hanson said. “I love being a musician, an artist, a teacher — all of those things are a part of who I am. I feel very blessed.”

But Hanson was not always so enthusiastic. He stumbled into his love affair with the violin and music education. 

“Every time that something entered my mind as an obstacle, there was absolutely a way that God would shift my thinking or change my resources so that I didn’t have a choice,” Hanson said.  

Hanson grew up in a “pretty bad neighborhood,” as he described it, on the southwest side of Houston, Texas. According to Hanson, his mother, a single parent, wanted him to find a productive after-school activity that would keep him inside — and she was willing to do whatever it took to help him find one. 

She played classical music, hoping that it would ignite enthusiasm in Hanson. “Years later, I found out [that it was] quite subversive,” Hanson said with a laugh. 

Her plan was successful, and Hanson quickly fell in love with the violin by listening to Antonio Vivaldi play from his mother’s boombox while he swam in the local pool.

“By the end of that summer, I was begging to get a violin and learn,” he recalled. “The first year that I was in the orchestra was in sixth grade … it’s all I wanted to do, it was absolutely transformative.”

His infatuation with violin and learning continued through middle school and into high school, where his passion for music flourished with the more challenging materials. 

When it came to choosing college majors, however, he thought he should aim for a major with a clearer career path, leaning towards political science or social justice instead. But he was not accepted to any universities as a political science student. 

Encouraged by his high school music teacher, he auditioned for and was awarded, a violin scholarship to study music at Texas Southern University.

“It was this weird sort of turn of events — from my perspective as a person of faith, it really was God’s providence,” he said. Feeling as though there was no other logical choice, Hanson accepted. 

In college, Hanson came to recognize how vital his public music education had been. Becoming interested in trying to help others in the same way, he started volunteering in schools and quickly learned that there are many challenges involved in teaching at a public school.

In the spring of his senior year at TSU, he had a choice to make: pursue teaching or graduate with his BA in music composition. He chose composition and started applying to graduate programs. 

Despite good grades, he was not accepted anywhere as a composition student. However, he did get accepted to Texas State University’s music education program, although he had not applied.  

He reluctantly accepted, telling himself he would get around the ‘education’ facet by studying educational theory instead of going into public teaching. 

He worked toward his master’s degree in composition and music history while getting more involved in local music education programs. 

“I started a community orchestra, started supporting music programs in public schools, telling myself ‘I’m not gonna teach, it’s not gonna happen.” 

When the school where he had started an orchestra lost its director, he reconsidered his stance for the first time. He decided he might try teaching for one semester if it meant helping a program he was so dedicated to.

Eight years later, he was still teaching music in public schools, with no plans to stop. 

“I was ready to spend my entire life as a public school teacher, I loved what I had the opportunity to do in public schools,” he said.

In his nine years of teaching k-12 he worked in three schools and loved every single class. His tumultuous journey to education, he said, gave him the opportunity to expand his background in music and ultimately made him a better teacher. 

Last year, Hanson started to consider the potential benefits of going into higher education. He fell in love with the concept of teaching other future music teachers.

He started applying to jobs at universities and found a job opening for a position at SPU. He was shocked at how perfectly the job fits him and his aspirations. 

“I think I will forever remember the moment. I had just put my kids to bed, my wife was on the couch watching tv … I was standing right behind the couch reading it and thinking, ‘this is amazing, this is everything I could want in a job.” 

Now happily settling into Seattle, he can hardly contain his anticipation for the first day of the fall quarter. 

“I have been — it makes me emotional — so incredibly overwhelmed by SPU,” he said with a smile. “It has just been incredible. I knew nothing about SPU and then all of a sudden there it was, just this amazing opportunity to serve in many ways that I didn’t even know I could serve.”