As the 2018-19 school year starts up, Jack Yonce is feeling a little conflicted.
For the last 21 years, he’s been the band director and a music teacher at Cheyenne Mountain High School. Prior to that, he was at Gateway High School in Aurora for seven years.
But this year is different.
“It feels funny, being retired,” he said. “I always planned on retiring as soon as I could and freeing up my schedule a bit. But I love teaching and not doing it feels funny.”
Yonce, who officially retired in May, said he definitely plans to stay connected to the world of music and teaching, but perhaps in different ways.
“I plan to do some clinics with young teachers, helping organize things and providing my perspective on things,” he said. “I still really love the work and I still want to work with kids. But just not doing it for 10 hours every day. That will be good.”
For the students Yonce has influenced through the years, his devotion to his profession is especially appreciated. Just this summer, dozens of former students from his early days at Gateway staged a surprise get-together and potluck dinner in his honor.
He also was honored this summer by the 400-member Bandmasters Association of Colorado, which presented him with its prestigious Hall of Fame Award. He has served the organization in a variety of capacities through the years, including a term as president, and he is currently the chairman of the concert band committee.
“Mr. Yonce recently retired from Cheyenne Mountain H.S. in May after an extremely successful teaching career,” wrote Dr. Ed Cannava, the CBA’s executive secretary, in a citation that accompanied the Hall of Fame Award. “This honor is given to just one Colorado band director each year. Mr. Yonce is only the 43rd music educator to receive this award since 1976.”
During his tenure at CMHS, Yonce directed the band during a number of memorable occasions, including three concerts at Carnegie Hall and a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
“We played all over the place,” he said with a smile, remembering the time in 2005 the band toured Japan. Other notable venues for the high school band included the Pikes Peak Center, The Broadmoor and several opera festivals.
For students who have not taken band classes and are thinking about avoiding exposure to music in school, Yonce has this advice:
“Think of your day where you go from class to class, sit at a desk and get lectured to. Then when you come here (band), you’re participating, you’re playing, you’re moving around being artistic and thoughtful. It’s hard work but all those things come back to help you be a better student and a better person.
“Exploring art and music is an important part of the human experience.”
He also pointed out that playing music, unlike some athletic pursuits such as football and tennis, is something people can always do when they get older.
“For adults, there are some great opportunities in Colorado Springs that are geared to getting people back into music after they’ve taken 30 or 40 years off,” he said.
Yonce said he is especially thankful for the opportunity to work and teach at CMHS and in School District 12.
“The Cheyenne Mountain community is really supportive of their schools, and the parents want students to get the best education they can,” he said. “Everyone in the school district is there to do what is best for the kids, and that makes it a great place to teach.”
So what’s next now that he’s retired?
For one thing, Yonce, a trombone player, plans to keep playing with the Academy Jazz Ensemble, which is composed mostly of teachers from throughout the city. In the non-music sphere, he’s got several plans in place.
“I don’t do good sitting still,” he said. “I really enjoy working with my hands, and I’ve got a woodworking shop set up in our barn (on property in Black Forest) so I’m looking forward to doing more projects.”
But more importantly, he plans to spend more time with his wife Donna and “hanging out” with their two children, ages 11 and 9.
“Honestly, that’s the main reason I retired when I did, to spend more time with my family” he said, noting that his teaching/director responsibilities kept him busy 10 hours a day instructing two jazz bands, three concert bands and helping the junior high school students for one period each day.
“I want to be around my family more without sacrificing my job. And I’m looking forward to not having the grind … getting up at 5 a.m., going to the school at 6 and staying every day until at least 3:30 or 4 p.m. Please don’t get me wrong … I loved teaching and still do.
“But now, I’m looking forward to setting my own schedule.”