The year was 1980, and music teacher Craig Bond’s newly formed high school vocal jazz ensemble was competing in Reno. “We got slaughtered,” he recalls. “We came in dead last.” Undeterred, Craig persuaded the teens to accompany him to vocal camp that summer to polish their skills. The next year they returned to Reno, walking away with top honors. “We went from worst to first!” he says. It is one of Craig’s many fond memories after 40 years of teaching music in St. Helena, California, and it speaks volumes about who he is.
Craig developed a reputation as a strict teacher who set high expectations for his students. “They appreciated my teaching style, even though some admitted they were a bit afraid of me then,” he says. Beloved by the thousands who have taken his classes, Craig is still known as “007.” The shared last names and synchronicity between his teaching career and the launch of James Bond films were enough to make the affectionate moniker stick.
Music is his passion, but Craig’s commitment to his students set him apart. Every week, he bounced from an early morning high school chorus practice to choral classes at middle school, then a lunchtime jazz vocal group, followed by Disney medleys with the elementary kids and a return to high school for advanced choir. In the evenings, he made room for musi- cals with the drama teacher and practices with the Grace Episcopal Church choir and the St. Helena chamber music group.
“Teaching the same kids over a ten-year period was a real gift,” he says. “I was able to connect with them emotionally and watch them grow. For some, I became a surrogate father or a best friend.”
Even though the majority of students came from economically stable families, they weren’t free from the challenges of growing up. Many faced tough times—parental divorces, the death of loved ones—and Craig was there to provide continuity and guidance.
Hundreds of his students stay in contact as a result, including one young woman who almost missed the opportunity to join Craig’s class. “At first I turned her away because the classroom was full,” Craig recalls, “but when the school counselor explained she had just lost both parents in an accident, I immediately made space. She was one of the most outstanding students I ever had and went on to win many awards. I am truly grateful I made room for her, or she may never have discovered the gift she had. She has become a wonderful friend of mine.”
Craig discovered his own love for music at nine after joining a boys’ choir. His uncle Don and aunt Ardis, both music teachers, inspired him to take that first step. “It was an almost instant discovery that music was to be my life,” he says. “Barry Mineah, my instructor, was an amazing musician and tremendous disciplinarian, but also one of the kindest and most loving people I have ever met. He expected only the best from everyone, and I have become the same type of teacher and person.”
Music also led Craig to the love of his life, his wife Carolyn. Although they grew up in the same town, sharing schools, dentists, and teenage haunts, it wasn’t until they both joined the College of Marin choir that the two met. The rest, as Craig says, is history.
At age 69, Craig continues to stay busy in retirement. He formed the nonprofit St. Helena Choral Society in 2007, where he directs the St. Helena Children’s Chorus, Teen Choir, Jazz@7 Vocal Ensemble, the Chamber Singers, and Orchestra. Last year, “007” attended a reunion with his prize-winning jazz students. “I am most fulfilled when I see a student grow from being shy and insecure to confident and capable,” he says. “I love bringing the joy of music to people. To see them grow and change in positive ways through singing inspires me.”