David Surette, beloved New England guitarist, mandolinist, singer, and songwriter, died December 20 following a six year battle with cancer. He was 58 years of age.
Surette was well known among players, students, and fans of old time and bluegrass music, as well as Celtic music, contra dance, and finger style guitar. As a respected instructor, David also taught regularly at workshops and camps throughout New England, and served as head of the Folk Department at the Concord Community Music School in New Hampshire.
His March Mandolin Festival at the Music School has been very popular for nearly 20 years, bringing in top players and teachers of the instrument for several days of workshops and concerts. David’s ability to keep everything running smoothly led to one regular attendee describing him as a “Zen shepherd tending his flock.”
A native of South Berwick, ME, Surette performed regularly with his wife, Susan Burke, and often with their two daughters, Isa and Julianna.
Fellow New England mandolinist Joe K. Walsh remembers David for his virtuosity, as well as his unselfishness and magnanimity of spirit.
“We lost a beautiful, benevolent musician when David Surrette passed last week. He was a world class guitar, bouzouki and mandolin player, fluent in so many different styles of music, and an inspiring educator. And always, always so kind and positive.
As his condition was worsening these last few weeks I kept thinking about how generous he was: from the very first we met he was kind and welcoming in spirit, and from then until our last interaction he was always positive and life-giving. As a musician he was lovely to play with, an ego-free conversationalist able to go anywhere the conversation led. He ran a mandolin-focused weekend camp for years, and he was so good at lifting others up, supporting his fellow musicians and seeing and bringing out the best in all of us. His example of how to create, foster and support community was and will always be inspiring. He is so sorely missed by so many.”
Steve Roy, another multi-instrumentalist from Maine, offers a similar memory of his friend.
“David had such a deep well of tunes and musical styles, and I used to love learning old French Canadian and New England fiddle tunes from him. David was held in high esteem by a litany of musical communities, such as the New England contra dance world, the Celtic music world, the bluegrass world, and the fingerpicking guitar world, to name a few. His musicianship was such that whenever he developed an interest in a particular style, he would master it to the point where he was able to make a significant contribution to the musical legacy of the genre.
As an educator, David has left a huge mark on his students and fellow instructors through his encouraging, generous, patient, and fun demeanor, not to mention his bottomless musicianship. He was a huge part of a large number of different music education communities, from teaching private lessons out of his own studio, to his position as head of the Folk Department at the Concord Community Music School, to Maine Fiddle Camp, and countless other music camps where he’s repeatedly taught over the years.”
Every community would benefit from having such a strong booster of roots music in their midst, especially one who dedicates so much of their time to its continuation.
R.I.P., David Surette.