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Cooks finish combined 85-year BJU career

The Cooks met at BJU and have been married for 43 years. Photo: Lindsay Shaleen

After almost 85 years of combined work at the University, music faculty Dr. Warren Cook and Mrs. Jean Cook are retiring from BJU.

The Cooks have been at BJU since starting their undergraduate degrees. Jean Cook came in 1972 as a student and graduated with a master’s degree in piano in 1978. Warren Cook said his parents, despite not being alumni, pointed him toward BJU starting when he was three years old. After coming to BJU in 1974, he met Jean Cook in the dining common. They were married in 1978 and have three children.

Cook completed a bachelor’s in music education and a master’s in sacred music at BJU before earning his doctorate in music performance with a focus in choral conducting from the University of Columbia. He first worked at BJU as a sound engineer in 1980 before becoming faculty in 1983. Jean Cook joined the faculty in 1978 and transitioned to adjunct faculty two years ago.

The Cooks embrace after their final BJU concert on April 23. Dr. Cook directed Chorale and Mrs. Cook accompanied on the piano. Photo: Bradley Allweil

Cook has served as the director of choral activities at BJU, leading two University choirs, Chorale and the Chamber Singers. He has taught both undergraduate and graduate classes. Jean Cook taught piano and has accompanied choirs at BJU, including performances her husband directs.

Kristin Rutledge, senior music education major and Chorale member, said Cook has been one of her biggest supporters. “In my time at BJU, Dr. Cook has been more than a teacher to me and my classmates,” Rutledge said. “He’s always the first to crack a joke in difficult rehearsals and encourage us to keep going. He made us think about what we were singing and why, and that really makes a difference.”

“Dr. Cook’s wit and humor [were] always part of each rehearsal,” said graduate student Caleb Woo. “Dr. Cook wasted no time helping us hone our skills as musicians, encouraging us as students, and motivating us in our performance. Mrs. Cook echoed his encouragement and motivation.”

Cook said his biggest challenge teaching has been maintaining a full performance schedule of concerts year after year, though the experience was rewarding. His favorite memories of BJU have been leading songs and hearing thousands of voices sing the praises of God, as well as traveling with the BJU Chorale to the World Choral Festival in Seoul Korea to be the United States representative. He also said in his time at BJU, the best change has been Dr. Steve Pettit’s fresh vision for student life and spiritual health, student recruitment, and opportunities for students to build and enjoy community.

The Cooks met at BJU and have been married for 43 years. Photo: Lindsay Shaleen

The Cooks served in church music ministry from 1978 to 2015. Cook said they intend to look for opportunities to serve in a local church after they retire. The Cooks also direct the Rivertree Singers and plan to continue to do so. The Rivertree Singers is made up of collegiate choral group alumni from South Carolina. They offer five concerts every season and host a choral festival each summer.

Cook said he will miss the people of BJU the most: colleagues and students who he said constantly challenged his perspective and encouraged his vision for Christ’s work. The Cooks held their farewell concert on April 23 in Founder’s Memorial Amphitorium, a Chorale concert titled “So Many Joys and Wonders.” This concert concluded 33 years of the Cooks’ work with Chorale.

At the concert Dr. Michael Moore, chair of the Division of Music, said Chorale has gained regional, national and international acclaim under the direction of Cook. “Warren and Jean both have pointed us to Christ, not only in the beauty of their chorale artistry, but in the way they go about making music,” Moore said. “Together they have been an inspiring example of what we call redemptive artistry in action – yielding themselves and their gifts to the Lord and wielding those gifts for His glory and the good of others.” Moore also quoted a favorite phrase of Cook: “We don’t use people to make music. We use music to make people.”