CalArts lost one of its much-loved members this past spring. John Choi (Music BFA 13) lost his nearly four-year-long battle with cancer in March, leaving a void that has been felt across the Institute’s community of artists.
Choi was a versatile musician with a range of experiences. In 2017 he played clarinet and tenor saxophone in the “Bayou Blues Tour,” a collaborative theater piece written by fellow alumnx Shaina Simmons (Theater MFA 17). While still a student, Choi performed as part of the Eros Orchestra, which specialized in an eclectic range of musical genres, from Balkan music to jazz to pop. Prior to his passing, Choi had been working at Jasmine Sound Studios in San Clemente, California.
A memorial was organized on campus, at the Langley Patio, in May by fellow alumnx Zach Schwartz (Theater BFA 13) and Sam Rosenblum (Theater BFA 13). The event offered fellow alumnx, faculty, staff, and friends an opportunity to gather and share their memories of Choi. A slideshow of images was collected and shared at the event as well as a letter from Choi’s parents, Michelle and Martin Choi. An outpouring of support and remembrances from those who knew him were also shared on Choi’s Facebook page.
In the letter, Choi’s parents said that their son frequently expressed to them that the happiest moments of his life were spent at CalArts and that he looked forward to visiting campus when he returned home from treatment in South Korea. “We are very sure that his spirit is with you today,” they wrote in the letter.
Choi’s parents also noted that on his way to the hospital for the final time, unable to speak, he played this video clip as a means of illustrating the gratitude that he felt for his family and friends who loved him and experienced joy with him throughout his life.
“To me, John Choi was not only a friend but someone who challenged me on my beliefs and ideas,” Schwartz said. “He was very passionate about social justice issues and wanted to do more for the world. He would come to me with his ideas, and we talked quite a bit during quarantine when he was struggling with his cancer treatment.”
Choi’s authenticity seemed to ingratiate him with his peers.
“He was always keeping everyone updated on Facebook with his feelings, even when they were dark,” Schwartz said. “He was an open book, an amazing musician and producer, and a loving friend.”
“John was loving, he loved CalArts, he loved his friends, he loved sharing his heritage and culture with everyone,” said Jahcobie Cosom (Film/Video BFA 12), a fellow alumnx and one of Choi’s friends. “He was a beautiful person. John Choi represented CalArts in so many beautiful ways and I am so grateful that he was in my life.”
Choi made an outsized impression on those who knew him. And his presence was not an easy one to forget.
“I have many fond memories of conversations and interactions I had with John at CalArts,” Schwartz said. “Some of which are my favorite memories of my time at school. It’s the people who make a school great, and John was always a staple of the community. It feels like a part of us has passed with him, but he will always be in our hearts.”