Music, art bring people together

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is the third article in a series of articles about art in the Mighty Ninety.

Typically soft-spoken, cool, calm and collected, Staff Sgt. Daniel Rivera, 90th Force Support Squadron Airman Leadership School Instructor, gets a gleam of passion in his eyes and liveliness possesses his voice when he discusses his passion for music.

Rivera said his passion began in his native San Juan, Puerto Rico, where, at the age of 12, a combination of his culture and family inspired him to take up various instruments.

"My dad heard me playing [percussion] once," he said. "I had never taken a class, and he just bought me a set that week because he liked how I played."

Rivera never took any formal classes, but taught himself to play bongos, congas, the guitar and the pianos.

"I'm from Puerto Rico, and I guess music is just something that's so deeply rooted in our culture," he said. "You could just be hanging out and someone would break out a guitar and minor instruments and start playing. You can be playing, and people just come and start singing because they know the songs or they want to share in the music."

Rivera and his wife, Patricia Santana, a singer, came to F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, in 2009.

"My wife and I actually picked them up at the airport in Denver," said Jay Meyer, Cheyenne Vineyard Church lead pastor. "I got to talk to him while they were still in Peurto Rico the day before they flew here because I have a friend who lived in Puerto Rico at the time."

After Meyer learned of the Rivera's musical talents, he invited the couple to music practice for his church, Rivera said.

"They opened the doors and had me and my wife start playing with them," Rivera said.

Rivera has great rhythm and musical talent, Meyer said. His ability to play hand drums is a welcome addition to some of the songs played at the church.

"He puts a really great face on the military here," he said. "They've been part of this church as long as they've been in town."

Playing for the church led to many opportunities to meet people, some of whom he may never have spoken with, Rivera said.

"I've seen them a million times, but it's when we play together when we finally start to connect," he said.

Since he plays music with his wife, Rivera has a chance to interact with her on a different level than many people can.

"I really think she makes me a better musician," he said. "Sometimes, all I want to do is just jam, do my own thing on the drums or guitar, and she'll keep me in check."

Santana is dedicated to what she does , spending a lot of time practicing and getting her music right, he said.

"That kind of rubs off on me," he said. "She makes me practice a little better, a little harder ."

Like his personal relationships, music and art improve relationships in the Air Force, he said.

"When I find out someone plays music, and it's a different style - different flavor like I call it - it's a good way to just sit down [and] meet people," he said.

Engaging in conversations about art and culture is a way of breaking down barriers.

"People are going to be people," he said. "They have their needs, they want to be understood, they want to stand out. Art and music is a way for people can be open, express themselves, bring their difference, what makes them them."

When people's cultural differences are embraced, they do not feel alienated, which makes them feel comfortable, he said.

"When people feel comfortable, even though they're different, they're going to be more open to bring different ways of problem solving, different ideas that maybe I would have never thought of," he said. "I think the biggest strength of our Air Force is our diversity, and when managed correctly, you get the best out of people. The mission is never going to get accomplished without solid, strong relationships. I think people need to establish that first and get to know each other"

Finding something to enjoy and people to enjoy it with can help one acclimate to a new situation better, like when Rivera moved here from tropical San Juan, Puerto Rico, he said.

He kept hearing people say, "We hate it here." He and his wife never went through that, he said.

"I tell people, 'We're from Puerto Rico. It doesn't get more different than that.' You know, a tropical island in the 90s, come here the next morning, it's snowing, but we found people we could relate to," he said.

F.E. Warren and its wide array of Airmen from all backgrounds have made an impact on Cheyenne, Meyer said.

"We've lived here 25 years, and a lot of our best friends over that period of time have been in the military," Meyer said.

Some people avoid those relationships because they know service members often move away, he said.

"It's been a real blessing to us, and it's been way worth the investment," he said, and with a chuckle, he added, "Because now we have friends all over the country."

To listen to a sample of music from Rivera, visit