The Mandolin Mantle | Richard Kriehn

“It’s not just about a right or wrong note,” Richard Kriehn explains. He believes music is about expressing yourself – expanding your vocabulary and giving the world a glimpse of your character.

How do you describe your likes, dislikes, hopes, and fears? The people we are today can undoubtedly be traced back to our childhoods: the people we like, food we eat, clothing we wear, even the music we enjoy. Especially the music. Richard remembers way back to when he first heard the sweet sounds of mandolin. He hasn’t been the same since.

His father is to blame– or rather– to be praised, as he introduced Richard to bluegrass at a young age by what he played on the radio and television. Richard had no choice but to listen, not that he minded. Something about country music resonated with him. Richard’s mother also laid down musical foundations. Though she fancied vocal groups from the 50’s and 60’s, like The Temptations.

His parents tastes ensured that young Richard’s musical palate was eclectic, full of different cultures and instruments, but despite all the genres and all the artists, there was something about the mandolin that called to him.

As fate would dictate, his mother bought one. Not for him, but for herself. The plan was for her to learn the instrument. But the attempt led to a hurt finger and that was that. She stored the instrument under her bed, forgetting all about it.

The summer before 5th grade, nine-year-old Richard decided he wanted to give it a try. The timing was perfect. His father was using a chord book to learn the guitar. He liked having his son sitting alongside him with another instrument. Before either of them knew, dad was playing the guitar and Richard was playing the mandolin. They’d sit and play for hours.

Peter (left) and Richard (right)

These heartfelt sessions instilled the music deeply into Richard’s character. No one was surprised when his musical talents followed him into adulthood. He toured as a musician with various orchestras and ensembles, taught at both the high school and university levels. Richard realized with experience that “[the mandolin] can pretty much do anything.” He was becoming a master of the craft, all the while teaching others.

One touring experience that stands out are the six years he played with A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor (2010-2016). He first played with them in the spring of 2010 in Spokane, WA. He was invited to join the “Summer Love” tour a few months later. The invitations kept coming. The group performed 25 shows in about a month, all over the United States and even on cruises. He later took to stage with other groups. Each performance was a testament to his skill, and a chance to make new relationships.

One of these was mandolin player Peter Ostroushko (for those of you who do not know of Peter, he was a beloved MacPhail teaching artist), someone who was already familiar to Richard. Back in high school, Richard used to listen to Peter play with A Prairie Home Companion. First an admirer, then a colleague, their newfound relationship was the catalyst for what came next over the years.

The two men had their last chat in December of 2020. This conversation was a follow-up on a proposition Peter made – having Richard taking over for him at MacPhail Center for Music. With his health in decline, Peter wanted someone to pick up and carry on the mandolin mantle at MacPhail.

Peter (left) and Richard (right)

“How can you say no to that?” Richard asked himself. He couldn’t. So he returned to his roots as a teacher, this time with a keen focus on the mandolin.

Sadly, Peter passed away in February of 2021. Following his passing, the beloved and respected instructor donated instruments to MacPhail with the hopes of beginning a mandolin ensemble.

Richard officially joined the MacPhail faculty in October of 2021. He may be new but he is prepared with a gameplan. He wants current and future music students to know that there are opportunities for the mandolin. Plenty, in fact.

If Richard’s life is any evidence, any student willing to learn and take chances can find much success in life. He never expected what the mandolin would do for him, or what he would do with the mandolin. Whatever happens, it is sure to be bright, beneficial, and beautiful as he brings his musical prowess to MacPhail.

Published on Date: Nov 3, 2021
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