Volunteer Of The Month: Joe Cristina

Six years ago, professional musician Joe Cristina had a conversation with himself.  He asked, “How does a Christian artist, musician and person of faith function in the secular world and make an impact and grow in their faith?”

Our December 2018 KidWorks “Volunteer of the Month” heard God’s answer, and he hasn’t slowed down since.

Joe decided to apply his 39 years of experience in composition, arranging, orchestration and production to help KidWorks’ students learn to express themselves musically.  That year, he formed KidWorks Avanti Music, a vocal and instrumental music program and part of our STEAM curriculum.

Soon, a small group of seven original members joined the class.

Today, 27 students are enrolled in KidWorks Avanti Music, and the program’s alumni regularly return for musical instruction and guidance. 

“KidWorks Avanti Music is designed to guide serious, college-bound students to reach their artistic goals by gaining performance and theoretical experience by working with music industry professionals,” Joe says.

Among those KidWorks Avanti Music youth are Yaretzy, Jocelyn and Evelyn.  They express their gratitude for how Joe has made music such a meaningful part of their lives:

“Joe is like my second father; he has done so much in my life and for my family,” Yaretzy says.  “Whenever I go to Avanti class on Saturdays, I never feel stressed.  If it weren’t for Joe, I wouldn’t have learned guitar.  Joe has a guitar that has been passed down from generation to generation in his family and he lets me use it to practice.  That shows me how much he believes in me.”

“Joe is an extremely caring person and he’s been a great mentor to me,” Jocelyn says.   “He’s helped me discover my passion for music.  I was very shy when I started with Avanti but being in the program has really helped me become more confident and to discover my voice.”

Adds Evelyn, “Joe has helped me grow as a person and as a musician.  I am thankful for all the time, work and love he puts into helping me and the other students in the program.”

“Joe has had a life-changing impact on many of our KidWorks Avanti Music students; he has helped many of them discover their passion and talent and in so doing he has also been a tremendous mentor and listening ear in their lives,” says Lisa Gels, our Associate Development Director.  “For many, music has also been an emotional release from the stresses of school and the additional pressures and issues that come from growing up in an at risk-community.”

“Joe takes his deep love for music and expands it into meaningful service to our community,” says Rachel Cervantes, Program Leader at our Dan Donahue Center.  “Our kids deeply appreciate Joe because he generously brings the rare combination of music, love and sanctuary.”

Joe grew up in the Bronx, right next to Yankee Stadium, with the sound of the national anthem reaching his ears before the game’s first pitch.  After moving to California, he attended California State University, Fullerton, focusing on music (trombone was his specialty) and then continuing at the Grove School of Music in Studio City.

Over his nearly 40 years as a professional musician, Joe has worked as a session trombonist, recorded with Atlantic Records, composed arrangements for television shows through MTM Productions and worked with legendary jazz bassist, Stanley Clarke and his fusion super group, Return To Forever. 

In 2016, Joe recorded an album of original material written by himself and colleague Victor Cajiao.  He also served for two years as composer-in-residence for the Orange County Symphony and Wind Symphony. 

“I am blessed to have worked alongside some of the best musicians in Southern California,” Joe says. “They have played for major artists such as Gloria Trevi, Luis Fonsi, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Jackson, Linda Ronstadt, Tori Kelly, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Many of them have supported KidWorks Avanti Music.  That is the true gift--to be in companionship with such a group of luminaries and expert musicians who are willing to bless our kids with their talents and mentorship.”

Joe says that Avanti Music “is a way for my students to find their voice.”  He adds, “What they discover is not just a musical voice, but also an avenue for creative expression.  My long-term goal is to integrate the musical world and the world of faith.  Santa Ana, it is such a beautiful, vital, challenged, vibrant place and I think the residents have something to say.  Music is one way to do that.” 

Joe is on staff at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, a strong supporter of our music program and of KidWorks as a whole. He is also an adjunct professor in the music department at Vanguard University, teaching music production and technology.

When not leading a KidWorks Avanti Music class, Joe also enjoys other interests. “I’m sort of a geek and I love technical things,” he says.  “I have a deep passion for military ships, aviation and space.  I love reading, mostly history, technical, science fiction and theology.”

If you’re at KidWorks’ Dan Donahue Center on a Monday afternoon, don’t be surprised if you see the musical stars of tomorrow playing an instrument, singing scales or composing an original song--all under the accomplished and talented guidance of our December 2018 Volunteer of the Month—Joe Cristina.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer