Cliff’s Story

Cliff Yankovich

I am 56 years old and was lucky enough to go to school when music played a fairly large part of public school curriculum. Here are some highlights of the teachers and programs that helped shape my life and appreciation of music.

Mr. Mooney was my teacher in 5th grade at University Heights Elementary in Tucson, AZ in 1968. We had him all day for the three Rs, but Mr. Mooney loved music. He incorporated singing into the day on many occasions. On Friday afternoons we would get to listen to records as a class. By doing this he exposed us to a wide variety of music. He would bring in classical, jazz, and popular music from his collection. But he did not limit our listening to what HE liked. University Heights was a very integrated school – in fact, those of us who were white were actually in the minority compared to the African Americans and Mexican Americans – there was a good number of Asians as well. Two of my strongest musical memories from this class are singing together a couple of times a week- everything from Christmas carols to patriotic songs to “Take Me Out to The Ballgame.” I also remember being exposed to music the other kids listened to – “Say It Loud” by James Brown sticks out in my memory. I got my first exposure to kids my age declaring their pride in who they were thanks to Mr. Mooney.

We moved and I went to Prince elementary for 6th grade. We had music classes twice a week and our teacher was a wonderful lady. She touched on music theory and led us in singing all kinds of songs. Her name escapes me, but I remember her putting together a musical program for the Spring. The theme was “It’s a Small World” and we sang songs and performed dances from ALL over the world. I can still remember doing a Celtic sword dance with a bunch of other guys using big wooden swords we made ourselves. Everyone in the 5th and 6th grade participated in some way. We performed it for two nights outdoors on a lit concrete stage.

How did these examples benefit me as a person and a student? The biggest benefit in my eyes was being exposed to a wide variety of music. Not only did I listen to and appreciate many forms of American music, but doing the program in 6th grade opened my eyes to the common global language that music represents. People all over the planet use music to express the emotions and to convey messages or just have a good time.

In Junior High, what we now call Middle School, I played the clarinet in the school band. Mr. Blickensdorfer ruled with an iron hand and expected us to work. The obvious benefit here was learning to read music and dip our toes in music theory. We learned how a room full of us could work toward the common goal of playing a song together. It is amazing to me that someone with Mr. Blickensdorfer’s musical talent could be patient enough to work with dozens of kids of various abilities. All the squeaks, squawks and missed beats must have driven him crazy. We got to march in Tucson’s Rodeo parade, which was a huge deal back then. I still remember all of us lining up in our white jeans, white shirts, cowboy hats with black bandannas around our necks. I have to believe the drummers had the best time in the parade. I probably played the correct notes 50-60% of the time; there were way too many distractions along the parade route – including keeping an eye out for the road apples left by all the horses in the parade.

Cliff on tympani.

Music has always been a big part of my life. For a few years I actually earned a living as a partner in a small studio that produced jingles and commercials. We even did an 8 song recorded program for a nature theme park in Northern Michigan that involved hiring a harp player, dulcimer player, sound effects, and doing a low budget “surround sound” mix. Thanks to a local junior college, I had the opportunity to play and record tympani. (Project Nature is now closed).

While selling radio advertising for country music station WITL, I supplemented my income by running sound for the WITL-ometers, a country-rock band made up of station personnel. I got the job when I went to one of their early shows and the mix was TERRIBLE. The vocals were lost and the board operator was a believer in turning everything up to 11. It was a hoot – we played all over mid-Michigan and opened for some pretty big acts because we would give them ads on the station if we got to play. I got to meet Johnny Cash when we opened for him at MSU once – didn’t want to wash my hand for days after I shook his!

Hunter got riddim
Cliff introducing Hunter to the skins.

In the last decade, I realized my dream of playing the drums. I traded an old pick-up for a set of drums a few years ago and happily bang on them as part of my daily morning routine. I am hoping to pass along my love of music to our grandson Hunter. I had him tapping the drums and cymbals from my lap at a very early age. Rock on Hunter! I also dabble in electronic music.  This piece is entitled “Mountain Glide.”

My point in telling you all this is to explain why I am involved in the Spirit of Harmony, not that I think I am any great shakes. I am very grateful for the big part music has played in my life and appreciate everyone who has been involved in my education and appreciation of music. If I can help provide the joy of music to kids in any way, that would be fantastic.

Todd n Cliff 2013 crop

Cliff Yankovich is a partner with his wife Julie Claire DeVoe at Chimera Design, a jewelry store in Lowell, Michigan since 2002 ( A Todd Rundgren fan since 1972, Cliff is thrilled to be a part of the Spirit of Harmony Foundation. His observations and opinions can be found on his blog:

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