Celebrating Three Decades of Music and Ministry

by Brianne Martin ’13

The University Choir and Orchestra (UCO) celebrated more than 30 years of ministry with a reunion concert that honored the group’s history with a nostalgic look back and an inspirational look forward. More than 1,500 friends, family, alumni, and others who have loved and enjoyed the renowned group’s musical performances over the years gathered at Yorba Linda Friends Church on April 9 to hear more than 300 past and current UCO students sing, play, and worship together.

“The reunion enabled all of us who were in UCO to relive the amazing experiences we shared together and reconnect with friends,” said Kristi (Klapinski ’01) Hawkins, alumni relations events and chapter coordinator, and a former UCO member who planned and participated in the event.

Michael Cathey ’99 reflected on the unique opportunity the gathering provided him and other past UCO members. “The music and being able to rehearse and perform with each other set the concert apart from other reunion experiences,” said Cathey. “We weren’t simply reminiscing, we were actively engaged in the ministry and music we accomplished in the past, and that made for an incredibly moving and spiritual time.”

Alumni traveled from as far as Germany to perform songs like “I Stand Amazed” and “He Gives Me Joy.” Former UCO directors Al Clifft, M.Mu. ’86, and Rod Cathey ’75, M.Mu. ’91, DMA, participated in the event along with the choir’s current director, John Sutton, DMA. “One of my favorite moments from the evening was when we honored the former directors,” said Hawkins. “We had the opportunity to write them thank you notes and tell them how much we appreciate them and their influence on us.”

Highlighting UCO’s impressive history, some of the most memorable moments include three sold-out concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, two NBC Christmas specials, and a nomination for a Grammy Award. While some UCO alumni went on to prestigious graduate schools such as The Julliard School and Yale University, some chose to pursue their love for music by choosing careers as teachers or performers. “This group has a legacy,” said Sutton, UCO’s director for the past three years. “Part of that legacy has to do with our music, but more importantly, UCO is known for gathering people together, worshiping God, and sharing the Good News of Jesus. In that way, God uses UCO to change lives and accomplish His purposes.”

During the reunion concert, Clifft asked the alumni how many participate in music ministry at their churches. “About three-fourths of us raised our hands,” said Hawkins. “That moment demonstrated that our involvement in UCO influenced us and continues to shape us as Christ followers.”

Sutton plans to build on that legacy in the coming years. His vision includes an expanded support partnering with the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations, which will work to ensure that parents and past UCO members stay connected by keeping them updated on news and upcoming events. This relational aspect of UCO, the hallmark of the group’s years of powerful performances, signifies the purpose and philosophy of its leadership. “I want to instill in students a passion for excellence that has an effect on all aspects of their life,” Sutton said.

Brianne Martin ’13 is an editorial intern with the Office of University Relations. bmartin09@apu.edu