Vance Riffie

I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one.  Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music itself is not going to let you down.

~Virgil Thomson

Vance Riffie died this weekend.

I met Mr. Riffie when I was nine.  I learned more about music reading and intervals from him than anyone else in my childhood.  In some way, I continue to see him as this sainted musician, the archetype of the kind of guy who makes impressionable students want to do the same thing he does.

And that I am today is in part a testament to Mr. Riffie, and to Gladys Alkire, and to Verna Brummett, and to Russ Berlin, and to Irene Young.  These were the five of my childhood and youth who helped shape me into who I am today as musician and teacher.  To the teacher shaping add Sandy Simpkins and Jerry Voss.

That I remember their names and style, if not their specific lessons, with more than 30 years gone from Lee’s Summit schools is a tribute to the power these good folks held . . . and do hold still.

Mr. Riffie lived a long and good life.  He was a fine man, a pillar of warmth and humor and kindness.

Some months ago I posted a sound file of me singing under Mr. Riffie’s direction.  I was a sophomore in high school.  Here’s that posting.  DO listen to the sound file.

And from 2008, here’s an email from Mr. Riffie that I posted on my blog.

Mr. Riffie is survived by one son.  His wife and another son preceded him in death.

An era is now gone.  Rest in peace, Mr. Riffie.


Here’s an email sent just a few minutes ago from the Dean of Missouri choral directors, Bill Grace:

I must write a note to you all concerning one of the greatest directors fo choral music I’ve ever known.  Jeffrey Carter passed on an email from his dad stating the Vance Riffie passed away in Springfield.  Jeff’s dad will be doing the funeral as he did for Vance’s wife, Wilma, a few years ago.  Following a short career with the Olsen and Johnson “Vaudeville” Circuit Vance had been the choral director at Platte City High School before moving to Lee’s Summit High were he “held court” and created a fanastic department of choral music that continues to this day.  After Vance retired he and Wilma moved to the Ozarks where he continued a piano tuning business and fishing.  Vance called late one Wednesday night to exclaim excitedly that he had two new members in his 12 voice country church choir.  A new alto had joined!  She sang the melody an octave low,  Her husband, a bass, also joined . . . . and he sang the melody two octaves low.
Their final retirement home was in Springfield.  I had been invited to do the South-Central All District Choir in Springfield the weekend that Vance was to turn 80.  I called and made arrangements to take Vance and Wilma to dinner.  Following the meal and evening together I took them home and Vance told me that since rain was in the forecast he would not be able to attend any of the All-District Day.  I was rehearsing the choir the next afternoon when Willie Grega tapped me on the shoulder and told me “my friend” was in the auditorium.  I turned and there was Vance grinning at me from the front row.  We were rehearsing Eleanor Dailey’s wonderful “In Remembrance” from her “Requiem” and the choir was really into the presentation of the piece.  My reason for programming “In Remembrance” was in honor of the grandson we lost and when we finished the piece the choir and I were in tears.  Willie had placed a chair right behind me and when I turned, there was Vance, also in tears.  We must have hugged for 5 minutes.  What a fantastic Gentle-man he was!  What an honor for those of us fortunate enough to have known and worked with him.  What a fantastic privilege we have to be in this field.  WE ARE BLEST!

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