For the past school year, 17-year-old Joseph Iriye and his father Herman Iriye have been loyal fans, followers and supporters of the University Choir and Orchestra at California Baptist University. What started out as a life-giving experience for the Iriye duo became a connection and friendship between them and the members of UCO.
Joseph and Herman Iriye have attended nearly every concert and rehearsal since their first experience with the group last semester whether performances were down the street or on a mini-tour in Arizona.
After being diagnosed with autism at a young age, Joseph Iriye has always had an immense love and passion for music. At any UCO rehearsal or concert Joseph Iriye can be found conducting, along with the director, from his seat.
One student in particular, Marin Deasy, senior communication studies major was strongly impacted by Herman and Joseph Iriye’s dedication to the group. Since their first encounter, a strong friendship has grown between the three of them.
“When I first met them, I could tell that they had been going through struggles. Herman said that UCO turned things around for them. It seemed like he really needed that passion and that fire,” Deasy said.
The two of them have made it a priority to not only be present at rehearsals and concerts but also to connect with the students and the directors of the group.
“It’s very clear that music is something that really helps Joseph. He enjoys music in general and music just helps him stay focused on a daily basis and the fact that it’s Christian music is even better,” Deasy said. “He really loves to talk about music. He is a vault of information on music and instruments and history.”
UCO came together for their regular rehearsal on March 29, but also had a special surprise for Joseph that Thursday. Over the span of a few weeks, Phillip Ndowu, sophomore biology major, asked members for donations to go toward buying Joseph Iriye brand new Beats headphones and a special surprise for his 17th birthday.
From his first encounter with the group, Joseph Iriye has always conducted along with the director from the audience. Knowing this, Joseph Iriye’s birthday surprise was perfectly crafted. The surprise was that he got to conduct a song of his choosing for UCO.
“He knew all the parts and words and cues. He put so much passion into it, I was crying. It was really beautiful,” Deasy said.
Herman Iriye said Joseph’ Iriye’s eyes lit up while he conducted and his family was proud and full of joy.
“We were so touched, for him and by the love that was shown him. He was as if he was walking on air after that,” Herman Iriye said.
Throughout last semester, UCO went through a number of changes, including a change in directors.
This transition was hard on a lot of the members and the continuous support and love from Joseph and Herman Iriye went a long way.
“When we lost sight of why we do what we do, Joseph was our muse. He had been there from the beginning and just a constant encouragement. At that point they weren’t coming to be fed, they were coming to support us,” Deasy said.
“They’re a part of our family now. They came to us at a hard time and now they’re helping us through a hard time as well.”
Herman Iriye said he felt God was trying to give him new perspective on his struggles and through UCO he has seen God’s grace and love.
“Through worship, I found strength, comfort and purpose as well as healing, joy and God’s presence particularly in the midst of the storm,” Herman Iriye said.
The Iriyes and UCO members have had an equally life-giving experience with one another, leaving memorable impact on all parties involved.