Artist of the Month - June 2017
Written By Jim T. Gammill
Arts Council Menifee
For more than 40 years, Craig Yancey has been working as a professional musician and educator. Most recently, he has been selected as Arts Council Menifee’s Artist of the Month for June.
Born and raised in Hemet, Yancey attended colleges in Arizona and Nevada where he also lived
for many years. He started playing the clarinet, picked up the saxophone and majored in classical
flute in college.
“Woodwinds found me,” said Yancey, 61. “I really believe that everyone has a sound or musical
voice inside of them and when they are exposed to that sound it resonates or speaks to them; woodwinds do that for me.”
Yancey began working at Hans Christensen Middle School in Menifee when it opened in 2009. He was originally hired as a band director but soon took on the duties of choir director. He has been a music department associate faculty member at Mt. San Jacinto Community College’s Menifee Valley campus since 2002.
“In my opinion teaching is centered on assessing what skill level a student has, building their
technical foundations, helping them appreciate and develop the passion for learning and the joy
that comes with being successful,” Yancey said. “It doesn’t matter what age anyone is; our job is
to take them from where they are and open the door to where they can go. We as educators, and
in my case music educator, need to show and share our passion and joy in what we do to help
inspire the student in whatever field they are chasing.”
He mainly plays all the saxophones and flute but enjoys working on getting better so he can feel
more comfortable in any genre. He plays Selmer Vintage Tenor Mark VI and Vintage Alto Super Balanced Action (1952) saxophones as well as Yangisawa Soprano and Baritone saxophones,
LeBlanc Backun Clarinet and Armstrong Flutes and Piccolo.
“Being a teacher, we need to be able to cover a broad spectrum of music,” he said. “I feel it is very important for us to teach younger students standard literature in the element in which the
students are involved.”
As a music lover, he listens to jazz, rhythm and blues, Latin, classical – basically, all good music. Transitioning from performer to teacher to director on a regular basis is not a problem for Yancey.
“That is really one of the beautiful things about music,” he said. “We are all learning, performing
and directing our skill sets every day. I don’t teach my students anything that I don’t work on myself. If there is a question or something that is stumping any particular student, it’s my job to be able to know how to help that person by explaining and modeling. If I can’t, I learn how. I do that for myself every day when I practice.”
With the support of great teachers, successful peers and wonderful parents who encouraged him
to follow his passion for music, Yancey knew early on that music would always be an instrumental part of his life.
“My mother was a fine pianist. She stopped playing seriously when she started her family, however, I was able to convince her to get her ‘chops’ back up to accompany me on my senior recital and she was incredible,” he said. “My family has always and continues to honor what I
He worked on getting his teaching credentials while attending college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He felt it would give him more options and diversity down the line.
“The saying goes like this: ‘No gig is forever’ so long-term planning is difficult,” Yancey said. “I was a working musician in a great place to be employed as such – Las Vegas.”
The process of becoming a music teacher requires students to major in instrumental, vocal or
strings. Yancey enrolled and completed a program that required everyone to take method classes in all of the instruments.
“At the end of the class you had to prove basic proficiency to pass the class,” he said. “I actually
took vocal lessons and sang in the university choir to gain some of that knowledge.”
After getting married 39 years ago and having two sons who are now professional musicians,
Yancey felt it was important to find alternatives that made him happy but allowed him to also make a living so he started teaching. He feels fortunate that he was (and still is) able to also continue performing.
He said like most teachers, his biggest reward is “seeing lights go off in people and watching and listening to them get better because they want it. He often serves as an adjudicator/clinician for
music festivals in the community.
“I am lucky to work with all age groups,” Yancey said. “It is a great educational tool for myself because I really learn a lot when I work these events.”