Christopher Sweeney: A legacy to be celebrated

On Jan. 28, the UAA music department will be holding a celebration of life for Christopher Sweeney, former associate professor of music and chair of the department. Sweeney died on Nov. 15, 2017 after an eight-month battle with cancer.

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Chris Sweeney . Photo credit: UAA Music Department

After receiving his bachelor’s degrees in music education and music therapy from Duquesne University in Pennsylvania, Sweeney obtained a master’s degree and Ph.D. in music education from the University of Miami.

Prior to working at the university, Sweeney served as an assistant professor of music at a college in South Carolina and worked with bands all over the United States. In 2004, he moved to Alaska, beginning his career at UAA.

Mari Hahn, professor, and Linn Weeda, adjunct professor, in UAA’s music department, are organizing the memorial for Sweeney in cooperation with other faculty members.

“We have decided to make it more of an informal kind of event, because this is probably what Dr. Sweeney would have appreciated and wanted,” Hahn said.

Sweeney was not only involved with university affairs during his 13 years in Anchorage, he also had strong ties to the city’s music community and the Anchorage School District.

“Chris had a very vibrant and outgoing personality. He was very good at outreaching to the community,” Hahn said. “He was very well-regarded and very popular with everybody because of his incredible charisma and sense of humor and generosity.”

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For many years, he served as the principal trombonist for the Anchorage Symphony as well as the orchestras of Anchorage Opera and Anchorage Concert Chorus.

“Beyond his activities in Music Education, he was a fine performer on trombone. With myself and adjunct professor Cheryl Pierce, we formed a brass trio [the Chugach Brass] that toured extensively and commissioned new works,” Weeda said.

In addition to his work as a performing artist, he coached members of the Alaska Youth Orchestras in Anchorage. As UAA’s music education professor, he trained and mentored many teachers in the Anchorage School District.

The music faculty is very appreciative of Sweeney’s personality and the vision he brought to the department.

“As a colleague and friend, he was witty and quick, and always considerate. He beautifully maintained the balance between high standards and empathy,” Weeda said

Hahn described him as an excellent leader during his time as chair of the music department.

“He was really dedicated to leading our department and helped get us through… tough times. We all miss him tremendously and we’re trying to carry on his legacy,” Hahn said.

As a professor, he was popular among his students. Louisa-Marie Knapp, physical education major and gymnast, enjoyed taking one of his music appreciation classes.

“He chose interesting ways to teach his class and to make us appreciate music more,” Knapp said. “He was always involved in our discussions.”

At the memorial, a program of speakers will share the impact that Sweeney had on the community. Surrounding those speakers will be music, featuring members of UAA’s Music Department faculty, outstanding students as well as members of Anchorage’s music community.

Hahn will be singing accompanied by Mary Weeda, a violinist from the Anchorage Symphony. Other performances will include those by John Lutterman, associate professor of music and faculty cellist, as well as Associate Dean for the Fine Arts, Timothy Smith.

Approximately 35 trombonists from the Anchorage area will perform a work for large trombone ensemble in honor of Sweeney. After the program, the attendees are welcome to meet in the lobby for refreshments.

Hahn encourages people from UAA, both students and faculty members, as well as people from the community to attend the celebration for the accomplished trombonist.

“We’re hoping that people will feel very welcome to come to the memorial, even if they did not know him personally very well. His legacy is certainly one to be celebrated,” Hahn said.

The celebration of life begins at 4 p.m. in the UAA Recital Hall, Fine Arts Building Room 150.