With a Song in His Heart, Music Alumnus Creates a Safe Space for Students
Jon Timmons ‘07 found success singing professionally, but he embraced the admiration he held for his mentors. Now he’s helping others realize their potential and advocating for queer students and teachers.
Jon Timmons credits his music teachers for saving him. Growing up a gay teen in the 1990s and early 2000s was not easy. There was no gay-straight alliance to join, no high school pride week. But there was music to bring him joy and there were teachers who gave him the space to be himself.
“I remember eating lunch in the band room every day in high school,” he says.
Timmons, who graduated from York College of Pennsylvania in 2007, is now one of those teachers giving space to his students who are just starting to figure out who they are. He’s the choral director for Souderton Area High School and a queer advocate for students and teachers alike, leading seminars to help teachers learn to support their queer students and co-workers.
And yes, easily 30 kids eat their lunch in his classroom daily.
His music teachers at York College gave him the guidance, care, and nurturing to follow his dream of professional singing and teaching. His mission now is to pay all that forward to the next generation.
A dream realized
Timmons found a family in the York College Music program.
“I felt the sincerity of the Music faculty at York College,” he says. “There’s a genuine concern and compassion. I feel like I was nurtured into becoming a young musician and to follow my path and to follow my dreams.”
After Timmons graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music, those dreams led him to earn his Master’s degree in Music-Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from the University of Delaware, where he first experienced singing in a professional choral ensemble, traveling to places such as China and Salt Lake City to perform. After moving to Philadelphia, he earned a place with the Philadelphia Singers and became a member of the Resident Chorus for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
It didn’t happen every time, but when the stars aligned and the singers all clicked, it was an incredible experience. “It almost is celestial or spiritual—it’s beautiful,” he says. “There’s few things in life like that.”
Following his heart
Timmons had success working multiple gigs to make it as a semi-professional singer. But after a while, the work felt grueling. He thought of moving to New York City, where there might be more opportunity, but Philadelphia was his home.
“That’s not where my heart was leading me,” he says. Instead, he followed in the footsteps of so many people he admired and became certified to teach music.
Finishing his seventh year of full-time teaching, he says he’s found his stride.
“It’s so important to follow your heart, listen to your gut, and listen to yourself and be authentic,” he says.
Paying it forward
One of Timmons’ most influential professors at York College was Dr. Grace Muzzo, Associate Professor of Music and director of Choral Studies and Music Education.
“She left an immense impression on me,” he says. “Her kindness, her compassion, her technique, her skill.”
He recently reconnected with her, inviting Dr. Muzzo to be guest conductor for the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association District 11 Chorus Festival, which he was hosting, featuring students from Bucks and Montgomery counties.
“It was incredible to bring a piece of York College and have that come full circle,” Timmons says.
“I remember meeting Jon Timmons many years ago, and upon hearing his beautiful baritone voice and his innate musicality, I knew he was in the right profession,” Dr. Muzzo says. “I am immensely proud of all that he has accomplished and have enjoyed working together with him as a colleague. Jon has made York College proud.”
Bringing visibility to the classroom
Timmons is proud of what he’s accomplished, and he hopes that is evident to his students.
“To be a positive, successful gay role model is something I want my kids to see,” he says. “I feel like I was led to what I am doing because I don’t want a kid to ever feel like they don’t belong, that they’re not seen, that they don’t have anyone they can talk to.”
Timmons knows firsthand the importance of music for his students, especially the ones struggling.
“It bridges all sorts of gaps,” he says. “When we’re singing together we are one, and all of that other stuff melts away.”