Derik and Riana Nelson said high school was an awkward time in their lives.
“I was one of the nerdier kids,” Riana Nelson said. “I spent a lot of time in the art room, band room and choir room. I was really focused on school and didn’t have much of a social life.”
“I was kind of friends with everybody,” Derik Nelson said. “I didn’t have a specific group or circle of friends.” For him, those teenage years revolved around a lot of things outside of school, such as community theater and music.
But things were different last week when the brother and sister, who are pursuing professional music careers in Los Angeles, returned to Black Hills High School in Tumwater to perform two concerts and talk to students about the importance of following dreams. They were joined on stage by their younger brother Dalten Nelson, who also sings and plans to move to Southern California this year to look for work as a freelance videographer.
Eleventh-grader A.J. Docter, 16, said the event – which included informal workshops for theater and music students to get a chance to hear real-life tips about breaking into the entertainment industry – was inspirational.
“They’re here to talk about taking chances and doing what you want to do as opposed to what someone else wants you to do,” Docter said.
Derik Nelson, 23, works full-time as a musician and was recently cast as a regular on-screen band member for the television show “Glee.”
“It’s kind of a crazy world,” he said. “For so long I’ve admired and watched from afar the world of TV and film.”
He said he spends about 30 hours a week on the set of “Glee.” So far he’s played guitar, keyboards and banjo for the show.
“I’m learning something new every time I’m on set,” he said.
While earning a Bachelor of Arts in music industry from the University of Southern California, he met guitarist Jack Kovacs, 23, of Chicago and pianist Brian “Theory” Hargrove, 27, of Dallas; together, the group performs gigs in the Los Angeles area as Derik Nelson Band. They play a variety of music, but mostly pop and some jazz.
In addition, Derik has self-produced several albums, and recently sang backup for Grammy Award-winner Mary J. Blige at the Hollywood Palladium.
Meantime, Riana, 25, earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre from the University of Michigan. She teaches after-school music and arts programs in Los Angeles, and has worked as a lead vocalist and guest entertainer for Princess Cruises. Last year, she worked for Disney in Beijing in a program that taught children English through drama, music and art.
She also manages Derik’s career, and does freelance photography and graphic design.
Riana attended Black Hills for three years, and graduated from Capital in 2004.
Derik attended Black Hills during his freshman year, in 2003-04, and graduated from Capital in 2006. Dalten graduated from Capital in 2010.
Their mom, Marit Nelson of Olympia, said the siblings have always enjoyed performing together.
“When they were very little, they would put songs together and put on little programs,” she said.
Derik said getting a chance to perform some of his original songs for his hometown fans was like a dream come true.
“I was 14, and sitting on this stage, and looking at this auditorium and thinking, ‘Someday,’” he said. “It’s just an important, validating milestone. To go from high school and in the blink of an eye feel like I do belong.”