Every day, music surrounds us; in our homes, on the street and even in the shower. Music can mean lots of different things to different people, but to Richard Wright, music is his life.
Wright, an orchestra teacher at Fairmont High School and Van Buren Middle School, has become known for his kind attitude, astonishing musical talent and endless positivity.
“I want everyone to feel important, special and loved,” he said. “If there’s anything I can do to make that happen, then I’ll do it. If it’s giving them a fist bump or a bottle of water, whatever it is. Even if I come home and I’m exhausted, if I know I tried to help someone, then I’m happy.”
His youngest daughter, Elizabeth Wright, is currently a senior, but Wright had two other children that grew up and went through Fairmont’s orchestra program. However, he feels like all of his students are his children.
“I’m a dad and I love being a dad,” he said, “so when a student of mine is struggling or dealing with some heavy stuff, my heart breaks for them.”
This isn’t always the case though. On a rare occasion, a student dislikes Wright or his class for a reason that remains unknown.
“I feel blessed if someone likes even one thing about me,” he said. “I like all of my students and I hope they like me back, but if they don’t that’s OK. I still try to make sure they’re OK.”
Before his legacy as an orchestra teacher began, Wright attended Miami University where he received his bachelor’s degree in teaching and started his path to becoming a principal.
“I always wanted to work with music, but teaching was never part of the plan,” he said.
Although he specializes in viola and classical music, Wright can play any orchestral instrument and listens to every type of music.
“I have a hard time calling music bad,” he said. “It can be made for the wrong reasons though.”
Music holds a special place in his heart. He feels that its purpose in life is to touch you in a certain way.
“Music is made to move you,” he said. “It’s supposed to tap into visceral emotions that nothing else really can. When I listen to music or look at a piece of artwork, I want to be moved. I want to connect with everything I come in contact with.”
However, he understands that the importance of music might not hold as strong for others.
“Music is like family,” he said. “Some people need to see it every day and interact with it. It makes them a better person. But for others, it’s like a distant cousin that you only see at Christmas time and that’s OK.”
For many instances in his life, Wright used a song to help him through the situation. He often suggests songs to his students to try and help them if he can’t.
“There’s a wonderful song by R.E.M.,” he said, “and I love R.E.M., called ‘Everybody Hurts’ and it’s sung to someone who is quite literally on the edge.”
Although Wright is a talented musician, he doesn’t think he’s that great of one.
“I knew I would never be the best musician,” he said, “but I just wanted to be a part of the world of music. That was enough for me.”
While his dreams of becoming a famous musician never quite worked out, he still appreciates musicians and all of their hard work. The arts as a whole is a difficult field to find a stable career in, and Wright knows that firsthand.
“If I had the choice between a steak dinner and putting 50 dollars towards a musician, I will always put the money towards the artist,” he said.
Wright considers himself an old soul, listening to his favorite musicians almost exclusively on vinyl records. However, he still appreciates the availability of the entire world of music.
“With the huge world of streaming nowadays, I still love vinyls and albums,” he said. “I love physical art. I need to hold it in my hands and read the lyrics and just be emersed in it.”
As a young boy, he was immersed in music all the time. He credits his family with exposing him to most of the music that influenced him and changed him as a person.
“As early as I can remember I’ve always loved music,” he said. “My parents had a huge record collection. I was always listening to vinyls and stuff on the jukebox.”
During his high school years, his taste in music began to expand to other groups such as John Denver, Simon and Garfunkel and even Van Halen. These artists and many others shaped him into the person he is today.
“I don’t want to say music saved my life, but it did,” he said. “It became my best friend. I mean, I gravitated towards people who also liked music, so I had my group of friends, but I got along with everybody. The jocks, the burners, the freaks. It was easy for me to be nice because music taught me that. Music taught me how to be compassionate towards others.”
Wright learned most of his worldly information and morals and ethics from music, instead of his family.
“I mean, my parents and I never talked about anything with depth. We just didn’t talk like that. It wasn’t ‘How was your day, Richie?’ and ‘Don’t do drugs, Richie’. I love my parents and I feel like I had a good relationship with them, but all of that stuff I learned from music. I learned almost everything from music.”
Wright’s personality can be broken up into many different parts, but that doesn’t mean he always gets to display those pieces. The only way he feels he can release these hidden parts is through music.
“Music taps into different parts of you,” he said. “Take The Ramones for example. They always tapped into the punk part of me. Nothing else did that. Music taps into different parts of your personality that you don’t always show on the outside.”
He loves all genres of music and admires many musicians regardless of their age, experience, or fame.
“My influences are constantly changing,” he said. “I tend to go through cycles of different artists. I literally listen to everything. I listen to young musicians who are on the scene now and musicians that have been dead for hundreds of years.”
Wright believes that music has changed his life completely and made him into the person he is today.
“Saving lives doesn’t have to mean killing yourself,” he said. “Music saved me from getting involved with the wrong crowds and behaving bad, ya know? Music has created a good life for me.”