Director has spent a lifetime filling church with music
John Sutko leads the choir at Sts. Peter and Paul Church. | Steve Johnston~for Sun-Times Media
Name: John Sutko
Best known as: choir director at St. Peter and St. Paul Orthodox Church, Burr Ridge
Favorite day of the church year: Pascha (Easter)
Family: married 55 years to Alice. Father of two, grandfather of four
Updated: April 8, 2013 6:28AM
BURR RIDGE — John Sutko was just a teenager when he first stepped in front of the St. Peter and St. Paul Choir as director. Later this year Sutko, of Burbank, will celebrate his 60th anniversary with the choir, which provides liturgical music for the Orthdodox Church on County Line Road in Burr Ridge.
Q. When did you start singing?
A. I got into the choir at 13 or 14. I loved it. I’ve always loved singing.
In high school I wanted to be on the football team and I wanted to be in the choir. The football team, I didn’t make it. But I was in choir all four years.
Q. How did you come to lead the choir?
A. I was 18 years old and I was asked to direct the Church Slavonic service. That’s our church language. I could sing it, I could read it a little bit. I was frightened to death, but I learned it fast.
Q. Did you go on to study music in college?
A. I have a bachelor’s degree in music education from the Chicago Conservatory of Music and the Chicago Teachers College, which is Illinois State University today.
Q. You then took a teaching job at McClure Junior High School in Western Springs?
A. That was my first job and it lasted 35 years. I taught music and I had all of the vocal groups. I was assistant principal for 17 years.
Q. Why did you stay so long?
A. I had offers to teach high school, but I liked where I was. I fell in love with the school and the people. I was lucky. I had super kids.
Q. Why did you finally leave your teaching job?
A. I had a number of opportunities to direct other groups and to do some arranging. I became full-time here. I wanted to branch out. This position takes a lot of time.
Q. Why is music education important?
A. In education we try to nurture any kind of spark. I was good in music, but I wasn’t great as a kid. Teachers helped to nurture that talent.
Q. What changes have you seen in the church over the years?
A. In the late 1960s and ’70s the official English texts were prepared. This project took over 10 years to complete.
Q. What is the job of the director?
A. The whole idea is to not only teach them the music, but to get them involved and to motivate the congregation.
Q. Do you do any singing yourself?
A. I prefer to have my members do the solo work. The directing is demanding on a person’s time.
Q. What has kept you at St. Peter and St. Paul for so long?
A. This is it . This is my vehicle, I love the music. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything but this.