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Remembering David Yondorf: stage combat master, Bounding Main vocalist dies at 43

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CHICAGO (CBS) -- David Yondorf, a singer with the celebrated vocal ensemble Bounding Main and a longtime teacher in the Theatre Department at Columbia College Chicago, passed away this month.

Yondorf died on Wednesday, May 17, after a battle with cancer. He was 43.

David Yondorf David Yondorf

Born Oct. 16, 1979, Yondorf grew up in the West Rogers Park neighborhood. He graduated from Roycemore School and Lane Tech High School before studying stage combat at Columbia College – building on both his martial arts training and his natural stage presence.

"[Yondorf] came to us as a second-degree blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do wanting actor training. He took to the art of fake fighting with delight…. He started teaching at the High School Institute at Columbia College in 2005, [and] joined our adjunct faculty in 2010…. He was with us [at Columbia] teaching up until midterms of this year," David Woolley, Columbia Theatre Department Stage Combat program coordinator, was quoted by the school. "His love for his students, his art form and his audience were unparalleled. We have lost an outstanding man too early."

As noted by Columbia College, Yondorf had been a certified stage combat teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors since 2010, and had been violence design artist-in-residence at City Lit Theatre Company since 2018.

Yondorf served as the stage combat and violence director for numerous productions – including Noel Coward's "Private Lives," Edward Albee's "At Home at the Zoo," J.M. Synge's "The Playboy of the Western World," and an adaptation of Lope de Vega's 17th-century drama "Fuente Ovejuna" by Columbia faculty member Terry McCabe, among many others. Yondorf also staged combat scenes for shows by several other Chicago theatre companies – including the Polarity Ensemble Theatre, the Side Project, and the Promethean Theatre Ensemble, Columbia noted.

In addition to stage combat, Yondorf also taught voice for the actor at Columbia College.

When he wasn't teaching or coordinating stage fights, Yondorf was off touring the region – and the world – singing baritone, and sometimes bass, with the maritime-themed a cappella ensemble Bounding Main. Yondorf performed ballads and sea shanties with the group for 20 years – alongside Dean Calin, Christie and Gina Dalby, and Jon Krivitzky. A sixth member, Maggie Hannington, retired from the group in 2010.

Bounding Main, 2011. David Yondorf is seen on the far left. Bounding Main

Such a musical endeavor came naturally to Yondorf – as noted on the Bounding Main website, with a hint of Yondorf's trademark wit.

"David learned an appreciation of folk music singing along on road trips with his mother, a folk-music aficionado who is a big supporter of our shanty shenanigans. When he wasn't joining his family singing in the car (Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Kingston Trio) he was busy belting out rock songs in his bedroom (Metallica, Guns N Roses, Nine Inch Nails). Perhaps his family preferred the road trips," Yondorf's Bounding Main bio notes. "Despite a near-allergic reaction to anything on moving bodies of water, David is delighted to continue singing near ships and about ships for as long as his Dramamine stores hold out."

Yondorf was part of a vocal group Calin put together for the Cotswold Renaissance Faire in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in the fall of 2002. Bounding Main was officially formed a few months later, on Jan. 19, 2003.

"The quintuplet, much to their surprise, had an incredible and unique blend of men's and women's voices," Bounding Main notes on its website. "Dean had a particular vision for Bounding Main and introduced the group to songs of the sea: maritime songs, ballads, shanties. Songs in this musical genre expressed the complexity that surrounded an old-time mariner's lifestyle and its amazing breadth of emotions: excitement, danger, bravado, loneliness, greed, lust and, well, drinking."

Over the years, Bounding Main performed at an assortment of venues and events all around the Midwest – including the Chicago Maritime Festival at the Chicago History Museum, Tall Ships Chicago, the Bristol Renaissance Faire, the National Geographic Real Pirates Exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, and the Door County Maritime Museum Pirates Exhibit and Wooden Boat Show, among many others.

But Bounding Main's tours took them far beyond the shores of the Great Lakes. They also performed at numerous events in Canada and Europe over the years.

"We were honored to spend the last 20 years creating music and memories with 'our David.' We spent countless hours around the table rehearsing and telling stories. We discussed every topic under the sun, some serious and some not, and we learned how David experienced the world. We sat scrunched up together in cars, vans, trains, planes, and boats, as we traveled to perform throughout the Midwest, and internationally in Canada, France, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, and the UK," Bounding Main wrote. "We reveled in the adventures of live musical performances (it's either a good show or a good story!) and laughed and giggled at one another during shows too numerous to count. We became a family in a way we could never have anticipated when we met for that first time on a cold day in January 2003."

Bounding Main also produced six albums – "Maiden Voyage" (2004), "Lost at Sea" (2005), "Going Overboard" (2007), "Kraken Up" (2011), and "Fish out of Water" (2016).      

In a Facebook post, Bounding Main honored Yondorf's trademark wit that made him the life of every party he attended.

"We will keep David close to us as we learn how to do this without him. Whenever we see a movie, we'll think of how David would have reviewed the film. We'll order bacon recalling that it should be 'extra crispy,'" Bounding Main wrote. "We'll salute whenever any of us says the word 'general' in any context, at any time. We'll hear his impressions of Christopher Walken advising us, Gilbert Gottfried shouting an inappropriate joke, Cartman from South Park instructing us to 'respect my authority,' and the echo of a softly voiced 'ladies' following an innocuous comment."

Watch: David Yondorf sings lead on "Green Eyed Girl," which he wrote for Bounding Main, in this 2020 video.

Bounding Main's Green Eyed Girl by Bounding Main on YouTube

The surviving members of Bounding Main performed at the Janesville Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin on May 21 – an event that Yondorf loved and at which he had wanted the group to perform this year. Bounding Main honored Yondorf with ribbons made from his costume.

It happens that Yondorf was also a lifelong personal friend of the author of this story. From playing one-on-one basketball in our families' backyards to singing Beatles songs a cappella together to pass the time as teens, and from family New Year's Eve parties when we were high school- and early-college-aged to a few of our own wild parties when we were a little older, we shared many, many good times.

Yondorf is survived by his mother, Lisa Yondorf; sister, Miriam Arlin; brother-in-law, Ilan Arlin; nieces, Atara and Tikva Sara; and nephew, Betzalel. Yondorf's father, city planner and devoted Chicago River advocate Eric Yondorf, passed away in 2012.

A celebration of life is planned for later this year.

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