Cheryl Morita Van Ornam

1956 -

Cheryl Morita Van Ornam lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she serves as the Music Ministries Coordinator at the Patterson Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church, coordinates music for the traditional worship service at The Redeemer Lutheran Church, and is an adjunct faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she accompanies in the vocal department, and is active as a teacher and accompanist in the community. 

Throughout her career she has been an active member in chapters of the American Guild of Organists, including those in Chicago, Boston, and Richmond, where she is presently sub-dean of its AGO chapter.

Cheryl was born in Corvallis, Oregon, the oldest of four children of James and Nancy Morita. She recently wrote about the important role music played in her early years:

My mother was an organist, pianist, and music director in our home churches, and my father sang in the choir, where he met mother.  Her parents were Okinawan musicians who sang and played on the traditional instruments for friends and family in Hawaii.  My grandfather taught himself the violin in his 90s!

We children were expected to play the piano, one string instrument, one wind instrument, sing in the choir, and play in the school band and/or orchestra.  Music filled our home from early in the morning until very late at night. All of their grandchildren play instruments. Music has been a blessing to generations in our family!

Cheryl began her professional career as an accompanist for the California Boys' Choir, when she was fourteen years old. Her three-year term included work with the New York City Opera, recordings, studio work, and West Coast tours.      

After graduating from Glendale Academy in 1974, she attended Pacific Union College, where she pursued a degree in Elementary Education, with a minor in music, studying organ with Del Case. While at PUC she served in a local church as the organist and accompanist.

Following graduation from PUC in 1977 and marriage to Robert Van Ornam in August of that year, she taught elementary school at San Diego Academy and worked in local churches as a substitute organist until they moved to Santa Rosa in 1981. While living there, she received an M.A. in Education from Sonoma State University (Reading emphasis) in 1972, taught a class in Reading Education at PUC, taught piano at Rio Lindo Academy, began the Kindergarten at Redwood Academy, and played in area churches.

In 1983 the Van Ornams accepted positions as missionaries at Maxwell Adventist Academy in Nairobi, Kenya, where she taught elementary school and music.  During that time, she was the accompanist for the Nairobi Music Society, a group of about 200 singers, which sang major works, such as The Messiah, Israel in Egypt, The Passion According to St. Matthew, and others.  She also played oboe in the Nairobi Orchestra.

Upon their return to the U.S. in 1987, she taught piano and organ at Rio Lindo Academy, and served as organist for area churches.  At this time Cheryl completed an A.S. in piano pedagogy and a B.A. in piano at PUC in 1996, studying with Lynn Wheeler and Lois Case.

In 1996 they moved to the Chicago area, where she taught piano at Hinsdale Academy for five years.  During this time, she completed an M.Mus. at Northwestern University in 2001, studying with Maggie Kemper, Doug Cleveland, and David Craighead. 

Cheryl served as Music Director for several area churches in the Chicago area, and was the accompanist for the Chicago Archdiocesan Boys Choir, “Cantores Minores.”  She also worked as the editorial assistant for the journal Music Perception for four years, and served as the Secretary for the Chicago Chapter of the AGO.

In 2001 the Van Ornams moved to Massachusetts, where she served at a local church as the full-time Music Director, directing traditional and contemporary music ensembles.  She also worked at the Atlantic Union College Church as music director for a year and was active with the Boston Chapter of the AGO, serving on the Board and overseeing the production of the annual Yearbook.  She studied organ during this time with James David Christie.

The Van Ornams moved to Richmond, VA in 2003. Since then, she has taught piano to students from Richmond Academy.  Because her first love is church music, she encourages them to be active in their SDA churches, as well as at Richmond Academy.

One of her students has served as the school accompanist since he was in the seventh grade.  While her students have started with lessons in piano, some have gone on to include other instruments, playing in feeder orchestras for the Richmond Symphony and attending charter schools that specialize in the arts.

Cheryl has been an active participant in the McGill Summer Organ Academy in Montreal, Canada, and also the International Haarlem Summer Organ Academy in Haarlem, The Netherlands.  She has given concerts at Harvard University, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Loma Linda University Church, Pacific Union College Church, Bruton Parish Church in Historic Williamsburg, and others.

She records hymn improvisations for Adventist World Radio, on which her music is heard in seventy countries around the world.  Throughout her career she has particularly enjoyed her ministry in church music, feeling it embodies her love of God, people, and music, all of which are central to her life.

She was the guest organist at the January 22, 2022, recital of the restored Reiger pipe organ at Pacific Union College. The concert was dedicated to the memory of her and her husband's mothers, both of whom were church organists.



Sources: Interview with Cheryl Van Ornam and written response to proposed biography, September 2013; Landon Bennett, "Cheryl Van Orman: A Music Missionary," Pacific Union College Viewpoint, Winter 2005, 10; Biography at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Richmond, Virginia, (2013); California Birth and marriage indices,; Adventist Review,10 November, 1983, 30, and 22 January 1987, 22.  Facebook education and work listings (2013); Notice and Recital program biography, January 22, 2022, Pacific Union College.