Professor, musician Russ Peterson reflects on beautiful music and a beautiful life
He's a Rad Dad with an 18-year-old daughter who attends Concordia, where he teaches
Russ Peterson has many roles: associate professor in the music department at Concordia, founder of one of the FM area’s most popular bands Post Traumatic Funk Syndrome, husband, father, and grandfather.
He melds those roles on a daily basis, whether that’s playing guitar with his 3-year-old granddaughter Charlotte or having family attend a concert or seeing his 18-year-old daughter Stella in the halls at Concordia.
Music has been a part of his life since he was young and studied in Bordeaux, France. His first teaching job was at the University of Toledo in Ohio before he took a position at Concordia more than 20 years ago.
Even though Stella is majoring in biology, she plays violin and sings in choirs at Concordia, and Russ had a special moment recently when he was walking through his department hallway and heard a lovely voice coming from a classroom. “It was my kid!” Russ shared.
Being a professor at the same college his daughter attends has been a special situation for Russ, who has been divorced from Stella’s mom for years.
“As a divorced dad, I didn’t get as much time with her as I wanted, but now I get to see her more often,” he said. It turns out they also share a love of jazz music, so the father-daughter duo enjoyed time together when jazz singer Cyrille Aimée performed at MSUM at the beginning of April . “Stella always thought jazz was too loud, but now she’s really getting into it,” Russ laughed. “We had a great night.”
And even if Stella hasn’t been convinced to start a band with her dad, she does appreciate his role with Post Traumatic Funk Syndrome , which he founded nearly 20 years ago. “They are good musicians and great people,” Russ shared. “We play music and have a ton of fun.”
Over the years, the band has become another family where everyone knows each other’s kids and have been around for all the highs and lows of life. “We’re always there for each other, but when we play, everything else washes away and we just play beautiful music,” he said.
Although being in a band didn’t score him “cool dad” points with his daughter, Russ is still holding out that granddaughter Charlotte and grandson Brooks will be impressed. Charlotte and Brooks are the children of Nick Nelson, Russ’s wife Robin’s son from her first marriage. She also has a son named Brad.
“I thought marrying her was the greatest thing I ever did and then I met her two sons,” Russ said. He explained that because Robin’s sons were already in college and high school when he met them a decade ago, he never really served as a stepfather to them, but rather a friend. “I had no idea that marrying Robin would be a bonus for me to be a part of their lives,” he said.
Russ and Robin enjoy seeing their grandchildren often, and Russ is already introducing Charlotte to some toy musical instruments. “I play guitar for her every time she comes over, and she likes to play her piano and drums,” he said. “We’ll introduce woodwind instruments later!”
As Russ navigates being a grandparent, he can’t help but reflect on his parenting journey and the challenges he encountered along the way. “Every day with kids is a wild ride, and for parents there’s always a guilt factor,” he said. “But I feel a lot better about the journey now that she’s 18…she gave me a card that said, “thanks, Dad, for all you’ve done for me,” and I had to stop and think about what I had done to help her. That’s when I had this beautiful realization that kids aren’t ours to create; we just help them along their own way to get to this adult place and hope we’ve done a good job.”
Keep reading to learn more about Russ and what makes him a rad dad.
I can't live without…
Music – playing it, listening to it, writing it.
Best part about teaching music to kids?
My two favorite things are kids and music. I love to help kids improve in music and help them understand that improvements from hard work can happen over time.
Favorite musical instrument to play? To listen to?
The saxophone! I love to listen to it, I love to play it. Even just in my house, all alone, I could play all day long and not get tired of it. I also love the guitar, especially when no one is home and I see how loud my Marshall amps can get….
I am known for....
I’m probably known for playing saxophone, but I hope I’m remembered for teaching and inspiring students, writing music that makes people happy, and being the best father and husband that I could be.
Is a family band ever going to be a possibility?
I keep hoping! Our granddaughter, Charlotte loves the guitar, we’ll start getting her ready….
Favorite song to sing in the car?
“Tom Sawyer” by Rush
What parenting lessons have helped you in the transition to becoming a grandparent?
Kids love when you spend time with them, pay attention to them, communicate with them and love them. It’s a joy to experience this again with grandkids!
How would you describe the members of Post Traumatic Funk Syndrome ?
These guys are the best! They’re like family. We’ve been playing together for about 16 years and it never gets old! Every concert is fun. These guys show up to events and always bring their A game.
What life lessons have you learned from divorcing? From remarrying?
I could write a book on this. Relationships need several things, but most important is the ability to compromise. When both sides compromise every day, beautiful things can happen. It also needs maintenance. Here’s something fun we’re doing now. Every weekend we go together to a restaurant we’ve never been to. This is our new year’s resolution, sit across a table from each other, spend time together eating good food and exploring Fargo! It’s one example of how we make time every week to visit and be together.
Favorite place to travel to?
Italy! I have been there about 10 times and speak some Italian. My great grandparents are from Sicily and I love the people, the food, and the culture.