Remembering Robert Rivera

This past January, Lexington Community Education lost an incredible instructor, featured performing musician, and longtime friend of the program in the person of Robert Rivera. As a musician Robert was equally gifted in his ability to perform and teach on cello and bass guitar. The care and connection he made with his students to and through music was second to none. It’s been said that a great teacher acts as a mirror to students, reflecting and pointing the way toward a vision of the self that is improving toward a level of mastery and fulfillment. The reflection of achievement and fulfillment created by a teacher believing in the possibility and potential of their student is often a prerequisite for successfully reaching the summit in any performance endeavor. Over the years LCE witnessed the occurrence of teacher transference many times between Robert and his students. From arranging recitals, to talking about music as a metaphor for life, to taking pride in his students as they achieved milestones in music and other pursuits, Robert cared for students in a way that was genuine and will be forever remembered, honored, and missed. I first met Robert in 2003 when I hosted a Reggie Gibson poetry reading in a nearby town. Robert was Reggie’s longtime musical collaborator. As the years went on I invited Robert to teach on the staff here at LCE. As director of this program, as his fan, and as his friend, I will truly miss our musical conversations and occasional good-hearted disagreements about tastes in poetry and jazz, classical, and heavy metal, which we were both partial products of in the 80s. We attended a number of concerts together over the years. Whether it be a LCE sponsored musical event with Jerry Bergonzi or Joe Lovano, or catching a Ran Blake solo piano show at the Charles Hotel, deep listening followed by deep musical conversation were always on tap during these happy occasions. The last time I was in the same space with Robert was earlier this winter at the Wilbur Theatre to see the 80s rock guitar virtuoso Steve Vai. We went separately to the show. I had the cheap seats in the balcony, but Robert was there in the front row with tickets gifted to him by someone in the music industry. He had the best seats in the house, right next to the stage. Looking down from the balcony it was so clear to me that Robert should be up on that stage. Looking back now, in my mind’s eye he was always on stage, and always a star…a rock star who studied classical cello and loved to play jazz as well…and excelled at all of it. The song of life wasn’t always sweet, especially through his long and hard fought battle with kidney disease, but no matter what hand was dealt him, Robert was forever shining and forever singing on his chosen instrument of cello. There’s a lesson here…a lesson I better learned through knowing Robert … that no matter how hard life gets, the point perhaps is to keep singing, to keep playing, to keep reaching, and keep creating. What I am writing here is not supposed to be hopeful or “rose colored glasses” talk…this is the hard work we are called to do as creative and contributing adults. This is the hard work that Robert Rivera accomplished and taught through his counsel and by example. Thank you, Robert. Even now, in your absence your “song remains the same” and we will keep singing it in your memory and honor. This spring we invite you to a special tribute to Robert Rivera and his life, music, and teaching. The tribute will feature poetry and music performed by friends and former students, and promises to be as uplifting as it is reflective. Save the date of Saturday, May 20, 2023 at Follen Church Society, 755 Massachusetts Ave and RSVP Here.

– Craig Hall, Director

“What has death and a thick body dances before what has no thick body and no death. The trumpet says: “I am you.” The spiritual master arrives and bows down to the beginning student. Try to live to see this!”
― Robert Bly, Kabir, Ecstatic Poems

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