Pursuing His Passions: Faith, Family, Farm, and Music
Fred Ritter Recently Retired from the Nebraska Public Schools
By NAfME member Lori Schwartz Reichl
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Teaching Music Magazine.
After a remarkable 37-year career, Fred Ritter retired from teaching vocal music in the Nebraska public schools in 2015. Ritter began teaching in 1978 in the North Platte School District, first at the junior high and then at the high school. After 12 years, he moved to Columbus High School, where he remained for the rest of his career. “I am most known for starting one of the first vocal jazz programs in Nebraska in 1994,” says Ritter. He also launched the first vocal jazz festival for Nebraska Choral Directors Association (NCDA) by inviting clinicians to adjudicate and inspire young vocalists. NCDA has since added an All-State Vocal Jazz Ensemble to its summer convention.
Ritter is the product of a musical farm family from northeast Nebraska. His father, Frederick, is a WWII veteran who played trumpet and sang bass in a gospel quartet and church choir. Ritter’s mother, Clara, sang alto in the church choir, too. The couple had four children, three of whom pursued music. Dale Ritter is a band and choir director in Alma, Nebraska; Pat Miller recently retired from teaching elementary music in Neligh, Nebraska; and Duane Ritter remained on the farm.
Fred Ritter and his wife, Becky—an elementary Title I reading specialist—have five children, four of whom received musical degrees. The oldest son, Jacob, even replaced Ritter as the vocal music teacher at Columbus High School when his father retired.
Ritter served as President of NCDA, the North Central Jazz Chair for American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), and most recently as President of Nebraska Music Education Associationv (NMEA). During his final year of teaching, Ritter was the recipient of the Cornell Runestad Award for Lifetime Dedication to Choral Music in Nebraska, the 2015 Columbus Public Schools Foundation’s Educator of the Year Award, and Doane University’s Platt Alumni Music Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music.
“I love doing choral festivals, but it’s nothing like the everyday work of teaching. I miss taking music, working it together, and making it performance-worthy.”
In addition to working as a music educator, Ritter directed several community choirs; sang with the Pathfinder Chorus, Nebraska’s premier a cappella chorus; and sang professionally with the Norman Luboff Choir. When asked what he misses most about the classroom, he states, “working with the kids, for sure. That’s why I love doing choral festivals, but it’s nothing like the everyday work of teaching. I miss taking music, working it together, and making it performance-worthy.”
He is staying incredibly active during retirement. He plays bass on his church worship team and in a local “oldies” dance band called Cruisin’. He also serves as a disc jockey on occasion and is an active choral clinician and adjudicator. However, on most days he says, “I go out to the farm, kiss my daughter and granddaughter good morning, and then cut logs into rustic furniture with my son-in-law.” In the circle of life, Ritter continues with the passionate path his parents prepared for him: faith, family, farm, and music.
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