AVON LAKE — As Bill Zurkey took a few minutes to talk about his long musical career with Avon Lake City Schools, he pointed to a simple philosophy that guided him all those years.
“I always wanted to make students feel comfortable performing and to create a love of music they could take with them,” Zurkey said.
After 36 years of devoting his professional life to sharing his passion for singing with students, Zurkey is retiring as choral music director at Avon Lake High School.
An informal concert and reception at Avon Lake High School on Sunday afternoon planned by Zurkey’s daughter, Megan, and other family members and friends, followed her father’s final school concert as conductor Thursday night in the high school’s Performing Arts Center.
Dozens of former students, parents and others turned out Sunday to thank Zurkey for his years of service and dedication to music, and the ways in which his passion for vocal arts helped shape their lives.
Among Zurkey’s former students who carried a profound love of music with them after high school was Annalise Dzwonczyk, a 2010 graduate now pursuing classical voice performer studies at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with an eye toward opera.
As the school’s first sophomore to ever be selected for the Merples, the high school’s elite vocal choral group, Dzwonczyk reflected how Zurkey “had such an amazing impact on my life.”
“I was at the end of my junior year before I realized I could major in music,” Dzwonczyk said. “I always thought I would be a doctor.”
But it was due in large part to the confidence and self-assurance she gained from ample solo opportunities offered by Zurkey that Dzwonczyk knew she could pursue a career in music.
“I was always timid and had stage fright but he taught me to conquer that through experience,” the soprano said.
Dzwonczyk knows a career in opera is no easy path.
“There’s no job security and lots of competition, but its something I’m really passionate about,” she said.
Jack Dill, a 2001 Avon Lake graduate, was also a member of the Merples as a baritone.
Dill recalled Zurkey as a teacher who “created a very comfortable and intriguing environment to be part of.”
A musician and photographer in the Los Angeles area, Dill credits Zurkey with broadening his musical horizons from a pop-rock background to one that also embraces classical music.
“He’s a dude, a great guy who finds common ground for people,” Dill said.
That common ground most notably saw Zurkey bridge the gap between athletics and music as he coached eighth grade football for 24 years in addition to serving as the high school’s choral music director.
And that mix of talents led to numerous athletes including football players, excelling under Zurkey’s vocal coaching.
“I laughed because I wasn’t used to having an eighth-grade football coach who was the high school choral director,” Superintendent Bob Scott said.
One product of Zurkey’s dual talents is graduating senior John Lancione, an offensive lineman and team captain for the Shoremen who will attend Yale University in the fall on a football scholarship.
While at Avon Lake, Lancione sang in various choral groups, including the Merples.
“He’s 6-foot-3, weighs about 280, and sings like a bird,” Scott said.
Though he’s retiring from the school system, Zurkey will continue to share his passion for vocal music as director of the Cleveland Pops Chorus.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.