Educator Spotlight – Matt Yonkey, Kettle Run High School

MattYonkeyJanuary 2012, Educator Spotlight: Kettle Run High School and Band Director, Matt Yonkey

Thanks to my supportive school and band boosters, we have, on occasion, had nationally-recognized composers and clinicians work with my ensembles. As many music educators will agree, once a student hears the same comments and suggestions from a new face, they grasp the concept immediately. Collaboration is one of the most efficient means to improve – period.

Matt Yonkey, Band Director at Kettle Run high school in Nokesville, VA leads a successful and well-rounded music program comprised of a marching band, wind ensemble and symphonic band, jazz band, and indoor percussion and guard group. His ongoing goal is to maintain a “second to none” program, and he strives to expose his students to as many musical opportunities as possible, in what he sees as an ever-evolving field. Student Estefania Gimon shares that among her favorite experiences in this music program have been, “Marching in Disney World, attending the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy, and leading our marching band to success as the first female drum major for my school.”  Student Christian Toms says that a love of the saxophone, a goal to be “as good as possible” and the challenges of a competitive program all keep him engaged.  The young Kettle Run High program has won many awards and looks forward to increased opportunities for new music collaborations. Director Yonkey explains, “Thanks to my supportive school and band boosters, we have, on occasion, had nationally-recognized composers and clinicians work with my ensembles. As many music educators will agree, once a student hears the same comments and suggestions from a new face, they grasp the concept immediately. Collaboration is one of the most efficient means to improve – period.”

CSIC interviewed Kettle Run High Band Director Matt Yonkey in January of 2012.

CSIC: Please tell us a little bit about your band program and share a few highlights of the program.

Matt: In its fourth year, the Kettle Run has laid the ground work for a band legacy.  In each of its four years, the bands have earned the distinction of ‘Virginia Honor Band’ the Virginia Band and Orchestra Director’s Association’s highest honor awarded in the Commonwealth.  To earn Honor Band, the marching band must earn a ‘Superior’ rating in the fall at the VBODA State Marching Assessment and a ‘Superior’ rating in the spring of same academic year at the VBODA State Concert Assessment.  Only two other schools in the Commonwealth have earned this distinction since opening.  Besides the Cougar Marching Band and Concert Bands, there is an active indoor percussion and guard group as well as jazz ensemble.

CSIC: Why did you decide to become a music educator?

Matt: When I was in grade school, I was very fortunate to perform with a number of top notch local, regional, state and all-eastern groups.  Saxophone was my life and love thanks to my fantastic public school band directors and private lesson teachers.  They instilled such a passion for the horn and love of music that I wanted to share with as many young people as I could.  I owe my successes to each of them.

CSIC: What changes have you seen in music education in the last ten years?

Matt: Technology has changed music education and education as a whole for better and for worse.  Technology has given students instant access to performances via YouTube, enhanced practice tools via SmartMusic, instant performance feedback via mp3 recorders, the list goes on and on.  Unfortunately, technology has also made teachers available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through email.  When was the last time we picked up the telephone?

CSIC: What are your goals for your band program?

Matt: Having a band that is ‘second to none’ is my overall goal.  Sharing with my students the same philosophies and teaching techniques I was given and trying to keep up with an evolving field is extremely important.

CSIC: Can you please share a few stories about your music students who have gone on to study music in college and/or have found success as music professionals (or maybe success as a professional where music has played a part)?

Matt: A number of my students have gone on to be successful musicians and that is my biggest professional accomplishment.  Most recently, one of my saxophone students graduated from Berklee School of Music a few short years after picking up the saxophone as a junior in high school.  He approached me with an interest in music one day during a lunch break and I told him that I would help him and it is never too late to get started.  Once he chose the saxophone, we would meet before school, after school and before long he was first chair in the local district band and earned scholarship money for college.  I am very proud of him.  Other students share similar successes and are contributing positively through the recording industry and pursuing music education degrees.  I am very excited for these kids.

CSIC: What do you see as the primary benefit for the students in an apprentice-type, professional/student relationship? What does it provide that a teacher/student relationship cannot provide? 

Matt: Students are most efficient with a variety of developed teaching tools and opportunites.  We are such ‘routine learners’ – change IS good!  Once the students are receptive of change, they really bite in and achieve.  Having a differentiated learning environment with an apprentice will provide yet another ‘out-of-routine’ learning experience.

CSIC: Has your band program collaborated with professionals in the past?

Matt: Thanks to my supportive school and band boosters, we have, on occasion, had nationally-recognized composers and clinicians work with my ensembles.  As many music educators will agree, once a student hears the same comments and suggestions from a new face, they grasp the concept immediately.  Collaboration is one of the most efficient means to improve – period.

CSIC: How does collaborating with outside music professionals affect your job as an educator?

Matt: Music is universal and regardless of what music we are performing, guests can listen, adjudicate and offer suggestions. 

CSIC: What kind of collaboration with a professional composer most interests you?

Matt: The customized piece of literature.  Having the opportunity to work directly with the composer allows for a catered piece to fit the current musical output of my ensembles.  Many times you will buy a ‘stock’ chart and there will be deficiencies in one area or another and as a director, you need to be very creative to overcome these.  A composition written for a particular ensemble will benefit the group and hopefully many groups for years to come.