On a snowy, icy November evening, Colorado Academy’s longtime Vocal Music Director, Cindy Jordan, directed her final performance inside Froelicher Theatre.
A pensive Jordan watched from the wings, as Dr. Jan De Sal, Director of Visual and Performing Arts, opened the performance with a reminder of Jordan’s long service to the school.
“Colorado Academy has a legacy of choir music,” De Sal said. “It’s a legacy of excellence, and that excellence is synonymous with one name—Cindy Jordan.”
One life decision
One life decision can sometimes change the trajectory of an entire career. And in the case of some exceptional individuals, that single life decision has a ripple effect—changing the lives of thousands of individuals.
When Cindy Jordan—then known as Cynthia Sheppard—graduated from Hastings College in 1976, she had two offers. She could accept a position performing in Kansas City or one with the Central City Opera Company. She went to Central City—and that choice led her to Colorado Academy where, in June 2019, Cindy Jordan will retire as Vocal Music Director after 43 years. She is the longest-tenured faculty member in the history of the school.
“Not to be here on the first day of school next year—that is going to be really hard,” Jordan says. “There has never been a time when I missed the first day of school since I was five years old! The third trimester this year is going to be hard too, because everything we do will be the ‘last time.’ Even this Senior class is special to me because they are my last Seniors.”
The early years: ‘Good! Get More!’
At Central City Opera, Cindy met legendary choral director Duain Wolfe, who had just been hired at CA to build a fine arts program. When the summer opera season ended, Wolfe (who is now the Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and the Colorado Symphony Chorus) offered her a part-time job conducting one Middle School choir and one Upper School choir. Her first Upper School choir had a meager 12 students in it. “I was only 22 years old,” Jordan says. “So I was only four years older than some of my Senior students!”
In those early years, long before the gig economy was commonplace, Jordan worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. In addition to teaching at CA, she directed an adult choir at a church, taught private lessons, served as Assistant Director for the Colorado Children’s Chorale (founded by Wolfe on CA’s campus), and she waitressed.
Her early choirs met in the old Jane Hamilton Music Center in the heart of the campus where Schotters Music Center now stands. In 1985, when her daughter Zoe was born, Upper School Principal Terry Macaluso suggested that Cindy bring her baby to school, so she put a crib in her office, and students would help babysit. Two year later, the crib was filled with her second child, her son Ryan. “Talk about on-campus day care!” Cindy laughs.
She “loved to open the windows” for fresh air—but the music rooms would fill with bees and moths from all the vegetation outside. Faculty walking across campus would hear choirs singing through those open windows—and over time, the sounds of Jordan’s music program grew as she launched a choir for Grades 4-5 and more Upper School students signed up to sing.
“One year I had 92 students in Concert Choir!” Jordan remembers. “They were literally sitting on top of the piano while I was conducting. I told [then Head of School] Chris Babbs about it, and he said, ‘Good! Get more!’”
By the early aughts, it was obvious that CA’s music program had outgrown its home. “I was here the day they knocked down that old building,” Jordan says. “I absolutely cried because of the memories of students who had come through there—but I am thrilled to have Schotters!”
Growing the program
Under Jordan’s direction, the growth of the choral music program at CA has been intentional, with a focus on meeting students’ developing needs. When the Concert Choir became so large that she didn’t feel she could best help students develop skills, she redesigned the structure of vocal offerings. Students can now enroll in Mens and Womens Choruses for Freshmen (and upperclassmen who sign up), as well as the Chamber Choir for upperclassmen who audition. She also offers three groups that meet outside school hours: Sorella (for women), Fratelli (for men) and Chanteurs (mixed).
Jordan also stayed involved with the Colorado Children’s Chorale and Opera Colorado for many years, and she has served as the Metro Governor for the All-State choir, supervising auditions on CA’s campus for more than 2,000 Colorado students every year.
Outgrowing Froelicher Theatre
In much the same way that razing the old music building brought her to tears in 2005, mention of the Froelicher Theatre makes her cry today. She remembers when the theater was built. For years, her choirs performed every concert there. It’s the place where she directed musicals for decades with Angel Vigil, Chairman of the Fine and Performing Arts Department, and now with Steve Scherer, starting with a long-ago Middle School production of The Wizard of Oz.
“I remember many late-night rehearsals when I was still raising my own two little children,” Jordan says. “It was wonderful, because CA students would go to school, head to after-school sports, and then we would just enjoy the camaraderie of working on a musical. Serious athletes would come and sing with me at night!”
About 10 years ago, CA started to move choir concerts off campus, because both the choirs and the audiences had outgrown Froelicher Theatre. But during Jordan’s final year, the Fall Concert moved back to the Froelicher Theatre, and the Spring Concert will be an outdoor event on the steps of Schotters. “I started on campus, and I want to end there, even if we are jam-packed,” Jordan says. “It’s home, and CA students should perform at home.”
During the second trimester of her final year, Jordan will devote her energies to raising money for building the Performing Arts Center, which is the final phase of the See it Through campaign. “Many students come to CA because they are interested in performing arts—they dance, they sing, they act, they play instruments,” she says. “They deserve a first-class venue to learn, rehearse, and perform. We are long overdue for a new facility.”
Why didn’t she ever leave?
It will come as no surprise that Jordan had offers to leave CA through the years—but she always declined. She says she listened to her colleagues at other schools and compared their stories to her experiences at CA under the three Heads of School she worked for in 43 years. “No matter who was leading the school, if I said ‘I want to do try this, I want to do more,’ the answer always was ‘Yes, great, let’s do it,’” she says. “The administrative and parent support I have had is beyond my dreams. It’s the perfect school.”
But the number one reason she has stayed at CA is “the kids.” Of the thousands of students she has taught, many have been naturally talented singers, but many walked through the door of her classroom with no interest in singing. She talks about one boy who came in as a Fifth Grade student and swore he would never sing. By the time he had graduated, he had taken choir his entire Middle School career, throughout Upper School, and he had sung in Fratelli and Chanteurs. She also remembers a young woman who was so passionate about music that she auditioned for everything with not much luck—until Senior year, when she sang in CA’s specialty groups, made All-State Choir, and got the lead in the musical.
“I tell students you will not be graded on your talent,” Jordan says. “Instead, I say ‘It will come, you will get it.’ Those students who have the drive, put in the effort, and never give up have kept me here so long.”
Jordan has a plan to get through the first day of school next fall. She’s going to leave the mainland—and take her first trip to Hawaii, where she plans to spend time with her family. And on that day, back at CA, singers will again gather in the Choir Room at Schotters Music Center and warm up their voices, many still singing because Cindy Jordan never gave up on them.
In response to many inquiries, the Colorado Academy Alumni Board is inviting the community of CA alumni and their parents to take part in a challenge to raise enough dollars to name the entrance plaza of CA’s soon-to-be-built Leach Center for the Performing Arts in Cindy’s honor.