Terry Jones: 31 years of music at North Idaho College

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LOREN BENOIT/Press Terry Jones, North Idaho College director of bands and music instructor, will be retiring this spring after 31 years at NIC. His last concert, “A Mother’s Day Concert in the Park,” will be held at 2 p.m. today in Boswell Hall Schuler Performing Arts Center. This event is free and open to the public with a special tribute to mothers.

Terry Jones is celebrating the finale to his 31-year music career at North Idaho College with one last concert.

"A Mother's Day Concert in the Park," which is free and will actually be held in the Boswell Schuler Performing Arts Center on the NIC campus, begins at 2 p.m. today. It marks the end of the school year, it serves as a musical tribute to moms everywhere and it will be Jones' closing performance after more than three decades as a dedicated music instructor and band director.

“It’s been a blast," Jones said. "I literally tell people, ‘I teach jazz and rock and roll for a living.’ And I work hard, I work really hard, but in essence that’s what I do. I’ll even tell people, ‘Oh, all I do for a living is snap my fingers and wave my arms.’ But, that’s the truth. I’m fortunate."

Jones came to NIC after graduating from Montana State and Eastern Washington universities and spending six years teaching music in kindergarten on up through high school. He said one early lesson he learned is to remember how differently children and adults see the world.

"One of the little girls in my class used to sit on my knee and kiss me on the cheek and say good night, and I learned that her dad had left them," Jones said. "Every student has a story, and we have to understand their story. I think that applies for whether it’s little kids or big kids."

From the beginning of his teaching career, Jones has had a heart for kids, a mission to share the magic of music and an appreciation for musicians of all kinds. He began his personal journey with music at a young age and has been playing the trumpet since he was 9.

"I know how to play them all because that’s part of a music education degree, but that’s the one I play the most," he said. "I didn't have a choice when I was a kid because we had a trumpet, so that's what I've played my whole life."

Although he's leaving NIC, Jones doesn't plan to slow down. He'll enjoy a little more rest and relaxation once he passes the baton to the next band director, but his students and colleagues need not worry because he intends to stay active in the local music scene. He already teaches beginning band classes at Sorensen Magnet School of the Arts and Humanities, plays in the Panhandle Symphony Orchestra and may someday go back to NIC.

"The band is my family,” he said. “I have people that have been in the band for the whole 31 years that I’ve been here. And I’ll bet more than half of the band has been here for at least 20. Not too many teachers on campus can claim students they’ve had for 20 years.”

• • •

You’ve been at NIC for 31 years. How did that come about?

“I finished two master’s degrees in two years at Eastern. I have a total of five years of college and I have a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees in five years of college. So, having said that, the gentleman who was conducting the band (at NIC) was going to take a leave of absence, so my first year here was as a filler for him. Then the college decided that I did all right and wanted to expand. I was here part time for a little bit, 70 or 80 percent or something, and then they moved the job to full time. They expanded the music department from two full-time people to three, and it took about a year or so. That’s what got me here. I was done with graduate school. I finished the ed. master’s degree the first year, and I did some interviewing then and as long as I still had things to learn I went back and finished my conducting master’s degree. This was just a, ‘OK, I can get some college experience, which looks good.’ It’s funny, at the time, when I got into music, my intentions weren’t to teach college. But things worked out that way.”

Have you enjoyed your time at NIC?

"When I first started, the program had 35 people in the band, and I couldn’t get enough people for a full big band for the jazz band. Now the jazz band’s of enough quality players that college kids have trouble getting in because the level’s too high. The wind symphony’s 100. We played easy high-schoolish music when I first got here, and now we’re playing hard college music. I literally snap my fingers and wave my arms. And the community band, and the jazz band, are such good people. It really is people you like to be around because they’re such good people."

Do you have something you’ve enjoyed most about being here? Is it cultivating a love of music, or helping them achieve their dreams?

"Music is a unique experience. I was a head girls basketball coach at one of the high schools. I’ve got five girls on the floor, if one of them doesn’t play well, I can substitute somebody else in. If I’m teaching a math class, I have five students who do well, we average those math scores and it’s a one-time shot — and you can do math no matter what your emotional state is — but when I put the band on stage, I’m letting people come and publicly view my final test. In a math class nobody else would see those scores other than the product at the end, whether that was an average or whatever.

I put my work, if you will, on stage in public and you’re going to judge that band by the worst player in that band because all it takes is one person to make things not good. In a math class, 90 percent is a really good grade. If we only play nine out of 10 right notes, it’s a horrible grade. The barometer for successful music is perfection, perfection-plus, because as you know, in order to do music, it’s not just about doing the notes and the rhythm’s right, there’s everything else that goes in with that.

In high school, I was a major basketball player, and I remember my senior year choosing not to play basketball because the basketball players would just as soon see something happen to me so they would have less competition. I had a couple guys in the band that really helped me become a much better musician, and I thought, ‘Who do I want to be with, people who would just as soon see me blow out an ankle, or do I want to be with these people who will help me?’ And those guys were smart enough to know that, ‘Look, he’s playing first trumpet, if he’s not playing well, we’re going to stink.’ That’s the uniqueness that people don’t realize oftentimes about music; everybody contributes to that. The age group in the wind symphony right now runs from 14 or 15 to about 85. Each one of those people equally contributes to the success of that group. I just don’t think that dynamic exists in anything other than music."

What are a few challenges you’ve faced along the way, here at NIC or in your career in its entirety?

“Back when I was in high school or shortly thereafter, in the pursuit of giving our more advanced kids more possibilities, we went to select choirs and wind ensembles that were a select amount of kids. I think what that did is we left a lot of people behind because they weren’t quite good enough, so as a result, they never experienced music, so when it comes time for their kids to have music — music, sports — it’s all the same, it’s just an activity. I come from a long sports line… we have a big sports family. The difference between music and sports is huge, and unless you’ve experienced what it’s like to be in a musical ensemble and perform well, then it’s hard for them to get past the kids nagging to quit practicing.

“I think that’s been my biggest challenge — how do you get people who haven’t experienced music to experience music? It’s different. Too many times it’s lumped in with ‘activities.’ We can go into all the things it does for the brain, the fact that it uses both sides of the brain and all that valid scientific stuff, but like I said, the work I’m doing at Sorensen now is with beginning band, trying to (let people know) that this is a different activity than what your kids are used to with all these other things. Music in that realm is unique in that commitment of things, that’s probably been the challenge. As the arts get pushed and they’re the first ones to go, it seems to be more important. That would be one (challenge).

A further goal for me, part of the reason I’m doing what I’m doing at Sorensen is because I think we have gotten — and I see it with my college kids, because they’re now old enough; most of my college kids have grown up in this ISAT testing mode — and so to them learning is all about finding an answer and it’s either right or wrong. Yet if you look at things that have been the most beneficial in terms of us as a society, a lot of times the people who made those things happen did so by making a ton of mistakes… I’m working with some projects that get kids to think outside of the box.”

Do you have any career highlights, like one moment that really stands out to you?

“I would point you to the Mother’s Day concert. One of the pieces we’re doing on the Mother’s Day concert is John Williams’ ‘Cowboys.’ When I look back, it’s the piece when the band quit being a high school band here and became an adult college band. That’s why I’m playing the piece. That was that pivotal moment when, ‘OK, now we’ve just gotten to that next level of playing,' and of course the size of the band had increased.

With 35 (musicians), if you miss three or four people, the rehearsal’s almost shot. At 55 and 60, that doesn’t happen. With 100, on any given night I’ll have half a dozen or more gone. That piece would be one of those pivotal moments where, ‘OK, now we’re in this next level.’ The piece is just really hard."

How does music move you or speak to you?

“It’s actually pretty cut and dry for me. My math aptitude was much higher than my music aptitude, but I felt like with music, I can achieve what that song (Chuck Mangione's "Children of Sanchez") says. Math, that’s a much more difficult process. One, you see music students usually even at the high school level for more than just a single class. Two, again, the investment that one has to make to make good music goes beyond spitting out a mathematical equation. And nothing against math, certainly, but I remember thinking, ‘If I want to show kids they’re loved, the best way to do that is music.’”

What are your plans for retirement?

“The very nice thing about being here is that I will make more money retired than I’m making now. The state retirement, PERSI, is great, and I set up what I was going to make years ago, and then I worked way too much, but I will literally make more money than I am making now.

“It opens the door to maybe doing some more art. I actually own a shakuhachi, which is a Japanese flute. I own an Irish flute, I own an mbira, which I’ve done some work on all of those things, so maybe work on some of that some more. I have to wait a certain amount of time — I might do an online class or two here. Or the nice thing is maybe it means I get to stay home with the puppies all day.”

Do you think you’ll miss NIC?

“I tell people, I’m not dying. After a year or so I’ll probably try to come back and play. I am playing in the Panhandle Symphony, so I see some of those people already … but the stuff I’ll really miss at this point in time doesn’t outweigh the stuff I’m not going to miss at all, which is the numbers game that colleges are playing, which I just don’t think has anything to do with education. I’ve fought for 31 years and I think that’s enough…

“The work I’m doing at Sorensen ties into the, ‘Let’s get kids to quit thinking A-B-C-D-E,’ and that’s a fight that’s equally as important as what we’re doing here.”


Age: 62

Born and raised: Helena, Mont.

Family: Two beautiful Belgian Tervuren shepherds, Ella and Sarah (after singers Ella Fitzgerald Sarah Vaughan); mom, two brothers and a sister, a few nieces and a nephew

Education: Bachelor of Arts in music education from Montana State University, Master of Arts in music education and Master of Music in instrumental conducting from Eastern Washington University

Favorite color: Blue

Favorite music genre: That’s impossible for me to talk about

Historical figures you admire: Jesus Christ and author Brennan Manning

Personal mantra or philosophy: Try to do the best you can every day

Hobbies: Hiking, playing in the Panhandle Symphony Orchestra

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