On Life & Music: Remembering Alex Ruggieri

Alex I heard about Alex before I met him, before I knew him.  In all of these moments and more, music was always there.

I had been looking for a church and I was recommended to check out First Congregational Church of Los Angeles by my then boss Jeremy.  Jeremy did not make this recommendation because he had heard great things about the sermons and the congregation and the many other facets that go into seeking a place of worship.  His recommendation was solely on it being a place of beautiful music – he knew that I loved music and he knew Alex, who was the musical director there at time.  Music by reference was my first introduction to Alex.

The music was beautiful and it wasn’t because this Gothic-style cathedral on the edge of Koreatown was the home of the world’s largest church organ either.  Obviously, that played a part, but it was under Alex’s direction that the choir sounded beautiful every visit. Music by listening was my second introduction to him.

After a few months at the church, I was ninja’ed into joining the church choir by the volunteers.  By this I don’t meant that I was a ninja that somehow snuck my way into being a part of this beautiful music. I mean that I was invited to “check out the choir” and “join in on their pre-rehearsal gathering” by my friend Kay.  I figured that meant I’d have some snacks and talk to choir members and think about it.  What that really meant was I was ushered into rehearsal from this, asked what vocal part I sang, handed a music portfolio by my friend Gloria, and there I was – a church choir member.  This is how I really met Alex, jumping straight and bewildered into music for performance, something I loved but hadn’t done in years – and I loved it.

That moment and so many rehearsals and performances thereafter, I always felt it was a privilege to sing under his direction.  It was with Alex Ruggieri that I sang in my first Los Angeles Bach Festival –  the Mass in B-Minor nonetheless – and that I learned that being ninja’ed into a choir was probably one of the best things to happen to me.

There are many other things I remember about Alex – mainly revolving around his sense of humor, his kindness.  But while these memories exist, I can’t pull him away from music in my mind.  Music and Alex in my memory coalesce in a way that I think we all want to be remembered: having lived so fully immersed in something that we’re so passionate about that we’ve not only expressed it to the world but have also  extended its beauty to others.

When Alex moved on from my church a number of years ago, I wish I could say that I saw him many more times after that.  I would, on occasion, see his significant other Jamie in passing.  It was always good to talk with her and find out about her life and what was going on with Alex.  I was always warmly greeted by invitations to their annual holiday parties and, when he became sick, I was grateful to be among those who received updates on his health.  But I never went to see him and I regret that, and that knowledge tugged on my heart with all the other weight of finding out Alex had passed away this past weekend from his two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Yesterday, I attended his services at Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church in Silver Lake.  Having never attended a Russian Orthodox Church I didn’t know what to expect.  Appropriately, the room was full and it was full of song – the chanting of the priests, the singing of the choir.  It reminded me of when I first met Alex, suddenly immersed into something new with the beauty of music surrounding me.  But this wasn’t hello – it was good-bye.

As I left, my friend Cherie said “We lost a good man today.”

I replied, “I know, but he is well-remembered and that’s what matters most now.”


Note: The family is asking for donations for pancreatic cancer research.  Please consider donating. http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/alexruggieri/KeeptheMemoryAlive