In praise of Derek Rieth (RIP)

I got very sad news today–my primary Brazilian drum teacher from Portland, Derek Rieth, passed away earlier this week. Derek’s ‘big gig’ was Pink Martini, and it was no surprise why he got that gig–I know of no human who was more ‘filled with the spirit’ of music than Derek. He lived it, breathed it…and it was contagious: every time I left my lesson with him, I would be filled with the spirit too.

I probably had no more than 5-6 lessons from him but he gave me so much.

1) He gave me the confidence to start my own Brazilian drum lines. First with the Hough Foundation Youth Escola de Samba, and now with the FHAR Special Needs Drumline.

2) He prepped me for one of the top three musical experiences of my entire life–sitting in on a rehearsal with Mocidade Alegre in São Paulo in Nov. of 2009. There is no possible way that I would have had any luck with that if it weren’t for Derek prepping me. And it was months, years of prep (basically, all of our time together) so that I was ready to play more than 2 minutes with Mocidade Alegre (no matter how interesting it is for the Brazilians to have an American at rehearsal, if you can’t hang for an extended period–we played three hours straight with one break–and groove with the ensemble, you’re outta there I would imagine).

3) As many of you know, I grew up playing in drum corps drumlines. Derek helped instill in me a love of another type of drumline–the Brazilian samba lines. And this is an activity I can do until I drop (drum corps is a young persons game, but you can play in the escolas forever, it seems).

And yeah, with our schedules I saw him infrequently, and I had no more than 5-6 lessons with him total. But it was all very much ‘high-quality’ time. Every time we met, it was like a new revelation, new possibilities: Start an escola with 3rd-5th graders! Don’t just drum, do an enredo (song)! Do a show with both the West-African and Brazilian ensembles I was teaching! By the time it came to starting the Special Needs Drumline I knew the drill, but only because I’d already done it so much with Derek.

I benefitted so much, SO MUCH from him, and now he’s gone. So…the only thing I can do to thank him is pass it on. Just like he did with me. Pass it on…it’s the only thing any of us can do in this life, I suppose.

Praised be Derek Rieth!

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