By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published September 13, 2007
Rich Dittus dreams of one day being a successful Catholic recording artist and is willing to do almost anything to make those dreams come true—except self-promotion.
“I’ve just never been very good at that,” he says, with a shake of his head and a humble shrug of his shoulders.
Dittus is 21. The graduate of Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell has been surrounded by music since he was born in Queens, N.Y. The second oldest of six children, his mother, Kathy, and father, Rich, were both musicians and raised their children to love the music of their generation—music like Simon and Garfunkel—and of their Catholic Church.
“My mom played in church for as long as I can remember,” Dittus said. “My dad played the guitar, but he was the baby-holder for awhile. As soon as we were old enough, we were in the children’s choir.”
When he was just 7 years old, Dittus began playing the piano, and at an early age, he realized that God had a hand in his music.
“I had this dinky little Casio keyboard. I had to use rubber bands to hold (the cords down),” he said. “I think it really taught me patience. So when I was like 12 or 13, I prayed a never-fail novena for a piano.”
Not long after, a couple that the Dittus family knew left to do missionary work and sold their piano to the family for just $75. It’s still the piano that Dittus plays.
The family eventually moved to Roswell and began attending and playing at St. Peter Chanel Church when it was just in its mission stages.
“One thing we share in common as a family is our music. I definitely feel blessed by that. We’ll have these family jam sessions. It’s funny,” Dittus said.
When he got to high school at Blessed Trinity, Father Tim Hepburn, then chaplain, first saw Dittus’ talent and encouraged him.
“I started writing music with words in high school,” Dittus said, adding that he had been playing in coffee shops and singing secular cover songs. “I always wanted to write my own music, and I had been singing these secular cover songs. I went on a retreat, and I realized that this was not what I was supposed to be doing.”
After graduating from BT in 2004, Dittus started attending Ave Maria University, in the “Catholic town” near Naples, Fla., that was started by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan. Dittus’ family now calls Ave Maria home, too. His father teaches math at the university and directs the Student Success program.
Majoring in sacred music, his studies at the university have been life changing, Dittus said, especially having grown up around contemporary worship music.
“I’ve really been able to rediscover the ancient traditions of the church. There is this treasury of music available. It’s one of the things the church holds very dear,” he said. “You realize that just like food affects the body, so does music affect the soul. Being at Ave, I’ve been able to bring together the traditional side with my more contemporary side. I like being able to bridge the gap.”
In 2005, another life-changing experience happened for Dittus when he went to Nashville to record his CD, “Awake,” on which he plays piano and sings his own compositions.
“It took me a year and all my money and more to do it,” he said of the CD. Still, his eyes light up when he talks of hearing his songs for the first time. “You know how you always played it, but to hear it like that is so, just ‘wow.’”
In the past two years, Dittus has written more than enough songs to record a new CD, but has been working to try to raise the money for studio time. For the past three summers, he has served as an intern for On the Deck, the popular Atlanta-based Catholic ministry that serves college-age students during the summers. He plays music during the weekly meetings and retreats, and co-founder and president Mike Judge makes him available for other events around the archdiocese.
“That’s been awesome. It’s given me a lot of freedom during the summer that I wouldn’t have with a traditional job. It’s been a dream job,” Dittus said.
Judge, too, said that On the Deck has been blessed by Dittus’ presence.
“He’s so humble and so gifted. He’s such a hard worker,” he said.
Although first and foremost a pianist, when Dittus first began serving On the Deck, Judge told him he’d have to learn to play the more portable instrument, the guitar. “You really have to play guitar to lead worship. And he said ‘OK’ and just did it and is a really excellent guitar player now. He just has such a willingness and an openness. When he’s leading worship, you can just see his surrender to God.”
The first year that Dittus interned for OTD, he played at a couple of other gigs around the archdiocese, Judge said.
“This year, I’ve been lucky to see him,” he laughed. “I’m just really proud of him.”
And though he knows Dittus is too humble to speak of his own talent, Judge is happy to do it for him.
“He is incredibly gifted, and he has a great sound,” he said. “His music is dynamic. It reaches a broad range of people. If you listen to his CD you’ll be absolutely captured. Even some of my non-Catholic friends just love his CD. His heart is totally for God. Then you meet Rich and he’s just this awesome ‘golly gee’ kid. It’s incredible.”
Rich Dittus isn’t the typical 21-year-old. His vocabulary frequently includes the words “shucks,” “man-oh-man” and “oh, wow.” He drives a secondhand car that he bought from a nun that still has a metal visor clip with an angel and the words, “my sister’s guardian angel,” as well as an oversized scapular resting along the back window. He may never achieve super-stardom, but that’s OK with him.
“I just want to be giving my talent or whatever—giving whatever I have back to the one who gave it to me.”
For more information on Rich Dittus, visit his Web site at www.richdittus.com.