Sean Kelly has an impressive list of credits as a rock guitarist and he’s passing on his love of music as a teacher in Toronto Catholic schools. Photo courtesy Sean Kelly

A musician honours his gift from God

  • March 18, 2022

When Sean Kelly is not on stage ripping away on the guitar in front of thousands of fans, you can find him in a classroom with his students or at home with his wife and two young sons.

Lead guitarist for award- winning Canadian songstress Nelly Furtado, Kelly is founder of the Toronto-based rock band Crash Kelly and has toured with acts as legendary as Alice Cooper. But he is also a music teacher at both St. Timothy’s Catholic School and Canadian Martyrs Catholic School in Toronto where he instructs Grade 7 and 8 instrumental and vocal music for kindergarten to Grade 6. Though it might seem like a double life to some, for Kelly it’s all part of who he is.

“I think I’m honouring a gift,” said Kelly. “I do believe that. I think music is a gift from God and I do feel that I have to honour that the best way I can.”

He’s been enamoured with the sound of rock and roll music since his days growing up in North Bay in the 1980s. With a pawn shop guitar and an old amplifier he was given for Christmas in 1984,  he began trying to emulate his favourite artists such as Van Halen, Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe. Growing up he found comfort through music in many forms, from performing in his church choir to playing rock and roll with his friends. Like many adolescents he battled insecurities and through music found a sense of  belonging amongst others who shared his passion.

The calling to teach snuck up on him. He studied music at the University of Toronto and began playing with some bands, landed some record deals and started touring. He  decided to take a break from touring to go to teachers college. His plan was to be a substitute teacher to supplement his music career, but he ended up “falling in love” with it. He started teaching in 2000 and for the past 22 years has been in the classroom, taking time off for touring gigs here and there. He’s also spent time teaching the music business to high school students on First Nations reserves and mentoring young artists.

As an educator, Kelly ultimately tries to show his students that music is a universal language with the power to create a sense of community and belonging for all regardless of the superficial differences used to divide people. Throughout history, he teaches, music has been a tool of unity. From racial segregation in North America and beyond, music has brought people together and helped to show that inside all human beings are essentially the same.

“I think ultimately I’m called to be a teacher based on my experiences,” said Kelly. “I’ve seen a lot in my life. It’s funny, I’ve been talking (to my students) about African-Canadian and African-American musicians and artists. I tell them about how jazz music was one of the major sources of unity by bringing black musicians and white musicians together. What a vehicle for social justice that was and how many barriers that broke down where politicians failed, and society failed. I find that music is a way to speak to our greater humanity and is a great connective strand.”

Balancing his life as a teacher, husband, father and rock musician has been a synergistic dance throughout the years. Keeping his family first has been the key that has kept him anchored. These days, raising his seven- and 10-year-old sons keeps him around as much as possible. A family affair, his wife and children are also music lovers and his kids take piano lessons.

More than a profession, Kelly says music is still his favourite hobby. He has amassed an impressive guitar collection over the years and after a long day, tinkering around on the guitar is still his favourite way to unwind. It’s a time to reflect on the experiences throughout the day and allow the energy of the music to reverberate through his fingers. Since childhood, music has always been about fellowship, friendship and connecting spiritually.

“In church, music is a form of prayer,” said Kelly. “I wonder if maybe it’s always been that (for me). If you’re always trying to honour the gift that God gave you, maybe it is a form of prayer. Interesting thought.”

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