MelodyVision Combining Music And Visuals To Tell Compelling Stories
By joe ball, Patch Contributor | Aug 7, 2018 1:49 pm ET
Emmy Award winning music producer and visual story teller Rodney Whittenberg was a guest recently on WWDB 860 AM "Lifestyles" radio show.
He was interviewed by Dei Lynam.
"I feel like the luckiest man in the world to wake up every day and create."
He explained the process of creating music and story telling. For more information about his his current projects check out his website (https://www.melodyvisionrecording.com)
The radio show is produced by Joe Ball, who has been creating interview radio shows in the area for about 30 years. He is founder and owner of phillybizmedia.com.
Ants On A Log Release CURIOUS: THINK OUTSIDE THE PIPELINE On 4/19
What can two kids do to help save the planet? Quite a lot, as it turns out; young people around the globe are proving that they can be effective voices for climate action. A Philadelphia-based duo aims to inspire more families and young people to work for a cleaner world with their new musical and album called Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline, available in time for Earth Day, on April 19, 2019.
Ants on a Log is two Philadelphia musician-educator-activists: Julie Beth (a music therapist) and Anya Rose (a science teacher). Their folksy eco-feminist fable is based on real science and math concepts. Tight harmonies, silly riddles, and a cast of engaging characters, along with a healthy dose of humor, inform the story and original songs.
The story could take place anywhere. When siblings Clio and Taylor go to the pharmacy to get medicine for Taylor's chronic asthma, they discover that many people are also suffering from similar illnesses. Big business (and greedy politicians) want to expand a big oil refinery in their town, which will only exacerbate the pollution and health problems. Even after jamming their laptop with too many questions, finding that no one takes them seriously, and withstanding their Uncle Steve's "mansplaining", Clio and Taylor manage to organize their neighbors and stand up for their community. The album ends with hope and promise, as Clio, Taylor and their friends discuss renewable energy initiatives "outside the pipeline" with business and political leaders.
While the characters are fictional, this musical is based on a true situation in Philadelphia, where community activism stopped an oil refinery that would have added to air pollution already causing health issues in the city's most vulnerable neighborhoods
"We're not offering one solution to the problem of the fossil fuel industry. Curious encourages families to learn about alternatives and to stay curious about problem-solving within community." says Julie Beth. Adds Anya Rose, "As history shows us time and again, music is a powerful tool for social justice." The script of "Curious" is available for schools and community groups who want to adapt it for their own communities. The production's strong STEM learning concepts make it appropriate for ages 6 and up and the musical supports several curriculum themes including environmental education, feminism/gender equality, social justice, character education, and local government.
Album guests include WXPN Kids Corner host Kathy O'Connell playing "Mom," John McCutcheon as the "Senator," and Philadelphia hip hop artist Sterling Duns as a "Businessman." Other guests include the 2019 Children's Album GRAMMY winner Lucy Kalantari and Jakeya Sanders as voices of the "Community Chorus." Rose's dad Peter narrates the tale. Rodney Whittenberg co-produced the album at Melodyvision recording studios in Philadelphia. He remarks, "The Ants pull off the impossible: kids' music that is smart, challenging and fun, political but not preachy, catchy and appealing to adults. In the era of 'Baby Shark,' that is needed and refreshing."
Developed with an Art and Change Grant from the Leeway Foundation, the musical was first performed in 2016 with a cast of 12. Since then, Rose and Beth have performed at World Café Live, the Philly Fringe Fest as well as at libraries, festivals, and other community spaces.. In March, Ants on a Log performs the musical at the Powering Our Neighborhoods community event in Philadelphia. Audiences at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts will get a preview of some "Curious" songs at their March 10 Family Fun Day Concert.
Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline is the second album from Ants on a Log. Their first, You Could Draw the Album Art!, won critical acclaim and international radio play in 2016. Ants on a Log continues to create smart and socially conscious folk music, featuring tight harmonies and rhythmic play. Visitwww.antsonalogmusic.com for more album information and the latest performance updates.
African Animal’s Lullaby Wins Juror Award and Woman Film Festival
African Animals’ Lullaby
Philadelphia Film Office
Jessica Dimuzio, VMD, is a veterinarian who has worn many hats in her pursuit of preservation of wildlife and their habitats: field researcher, conservation educator, nonfiction children’s book author, and now filmmaker. In 2006, she wrote a poem describing all the sights and sounds of the African savannah, based on her experience living in a tent on Maasai land in Kenya, East Africa. Her dreaming of all the animals she heard during her day, from the dove that woke her each morning to the wildebeests that lulled her to sleep, became her African Animals’ Lullaby.
Although Dimuzio wrote and published two other award-winning children’s picture books, Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park! and Bow Wow Wow! Green Beans Now?, African Animals’ Lullaby needed the animal sounds to accompany the text so this manuscript was set aside until serendipity intervened.
Jessica Dimuzio met musician and sound designer Rodney Whittenberg and master storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston while conducting programs at the same elementary schools in suburban Philadelphia. Their combined skill sets made it possible to create a soundtrack for African Animals’ Lullaby. In 2017, with Rodney’s creativity and technical skills and based on photographs from Dimuzio’s time in Kenya and other sources, it became a short film. In addition to finding authentic sounds and images, there were two other challenges to overcome. From Rodney’s standpoint, “Working with a scientist! Jessica was so meticulous that she insisted on the right animal, the right vocalization, the right ambient sounds from the right place at the right time of day, that would match the description in the poem.” From Jessica’s view, “Biology was not in Rodney’s purview! Besides telling him which vocalizations belonged to which animals, I had to explain that in the wild, one hears an animal before one sees it, in order to get the right timing of sounds and images.” Working side by side, they produced a film that others have described as “ beautiful, professional, authentic, but the feel–pure magic.”
Last year the film was a finalist at the Cut-to-the-Chase Film Festival, W. Virginia and in March 2019 was screened as part of the Women’s Film Festival of Philadelphia. Latest news is that The Women’s Film Festival posted the winners of the Juror Awards and African Animals’ Lullaby was one of them!
What’s next? Submission to festivals is ongoing so African Animals’ Lullaby is not yet available on-demand or for sale, but one can request a program which includes a screening from Dimuzio’s company (www.naturetalesandtrails.com). “Rodney and I learned so much from each other and had so much fun we are already discussing the next film!” Dimuzio is returning to East Africa later this year to meet her foster baby elephants in Kenya and to revisit the gorillas in Uganda. Maybe this time she will be able to articulate the feeling of peace from being in the presence of gorillas into another film.
Jessica Dimuzio cannot shake the sounds of the zebras and elephants and lions and wildebeests that inhabited her life as a scientist and conservationist working in Kenya. For two years, the grunts and growls and murmurs and cries emanating from animals living as her neighbors in the wild were the soundtrack of her life. And they became permanently etched into her psyche.
So in 2006, when she was sidetracked from her current work as an conservation educator by a knee injury from a boogie board injury, Jessica revisited those memories when a librarian friend suggested she enroll in a children’s writing class taught by Vivian Grey Miller at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I said, ‘She writes for kids,’” recalled Dimuzio, who worked with her husband in Kenya on environmental conservation and baboon research projects shortly after they both received their doctorate degrees, hers in veterinary medicine and his in behavioral ecology. “What do I know about writing for kids? And apparently I do know a lot.”
This is not braggadocio but an accurate self-assessment backed by critical success of her three children’s stories, two published in book form and now a third, “African Animals’ Lullaby,” made into a short film selected for showing at the Women’s Film Festival in Philadelphia from March 14 to 23.
The seven-minute short, produced by Dimuzio and Rodney Whittenberg of MelodyVision in Plymouth Meeting, is a sensory feast that recounts the sounds and sights of the Kenyan outback in the language of a children’s picture book. The film was debuted in Philadelphia at the festival Saturday, March 16, to an appreciative audience.
“It’s a wild ride, and I’m enjoying it,” said Dimuzio,who grew up in Roxborough and graduated from Springfield High School before attending UPenn for both undergraduate and veterinary schools. The scientist takes pride in the film’s meticulous telling and recreation of what she experienced first-hand as a scientist in the outback, first working to document the meat-eating habits of a 100-member baboon troop, then later teaching conservation education with her husband to graduate students.
The film is narrated by the evocative storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston, a recipient of a Pew Fellowship In the Arts, and was previously selected to be an entry in the Cut To The Chase Film Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
“African Animals’ Lullaby” was the first children’s story Dimuzio ever wrote. “I wrote it as a lap book,” said Dimuzio, who lives in Norriton with her husband, Timothy Halverson. “I used some of our photographs to illustrate it, and everybody that night wanted to buy it … That was one heck of an introduction to writing for children.”
Dr . Dimuzio holds her adorable Papillon, Johnny Angel, who was the inspiration for one of her children’s books, “Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!”
Although she went on to write two other children’s books, “Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!”and “Bow Wow Wow! Green Beans Now?,” Dimuzio never published “African Animals’ Lullaby” as a book “because it totally relies on sound. And so without that, it’s a nice story, yes. And nice pictures, yes. But it’s the sound that I wanted to concentrate on.”
She signed on to make the movie when Whittenberg pitched the idea. She scoured the internet for audio and visual material to use for the film to recapture her experiences as authentically as possible, and borrowed other photos from a colleague who was in Kenya at the same time. Sadly, her own photos from those years were lost in a house fire.
Dimuzio said Whittenberg, who co-produced the movie and was its sound editor, told festival-goers that “working with a scientist can drive you crazy. Jessica is absolutely meticulous. It had to be the right animal vocalization … at the right time of day with the right kind of ambient sounds at that time of day … He said he learned a lot and that I raised the bar, which was amazingly nice of him.”
The founder of the educational program Nature Tales and Trails uses sound as a teaching tool during visits to schools where she gives multimedia presentations.
“Basically,” she said, “it’s a chance to go on safari in Africa without paying anything and without passport and no vaccinations.”
Dimuzio’s previous two children’s books both won the Moms’ Choice Awards for excellence. “Bark Bark Bark Bark for My Park!” was also recommended by the U.S. Review of Books as well as actress and animal rights’ activist Betty White. The second book, “Bow Wow Wow! Green Beans Now?” was endorsed by Mike McGrath, host of the NPR show “You Bet Your Garden.”
Though her time as a scientist in the bush has long past, Dimuzio still travels extensively with her husband. Past trips included visits to Uganda, Borneo, Thailand, Australia, Brazil, Pakistan, Indian, Nepal, Taiwan, Japan and China, often to see animals in their natural habitats.
Of conservation, she says: “This is not a career; this is a lifetime choice. We live it, we breathe it, we absolutely adore it.”
To book Dimuzio for a visit to a school or organization, visit naturetalesandtrails.com, where you can also order her children’s books. While the movie is in the festival circuit, we are not allowed to put a link here for it. You can follow Dr. Dimuzio on Facebook at NTandT.DrD.
Emmy Award winner to perform at Mt. Airy ‘Revolution’
You might not expect an Emmy Award winner to be performing at a local church gig, but that is what you will find if you visit the Folk Factory Coffeehouse in the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration at 6900 Stenton Ave. (at Gorgas Lane) in Mt. Airy on Saturday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m., in the “Music for the New Revolution Showcase” concert. Several local musicians will perform, including Rodney Whittenberg, 55, an Emmy award-winning composer and an Emmy-nominated filmmaker. He is the founder of Melodyvision, an audio music and video production company in Plymouth Meeting.
Whittenberg, who lived in Germantown for nine years before moving to Plymouth Meeting in 2007, received a Mid-Atlantic Emmy in 2003 for outstanding achievement in music composition for the documentary, “Mother Dot’s Philadelphia,” and was nominated for Outstanding Documentary, 2018, for “Portraitures of Professional Care Givers, Their Passion and Pain.” He co-produced it with the film’s director, Vic Compher, and he composed the score for the film.
The Emmy did change Whittenberg’s life, “but not how you think it would. On the negative side, I think some of my clients thought I would be more expensive, but what it did is give me confidence to go after the kinds of projects that interested me.”
Whittenberg discovered his muse when he was still young. “I don’t know when I was not a musician,” he told us in an earlier interview. “I always credit my dad. He loved music and was always making up songs. I pretty much do now the same thing I did sitting in my parents’ basement with my instruments and reel-to-reel recorders 37 years ago.”
Whittenberg went to school for electronics and studied music at Settlement Music School, Temple University, Philadelphia Community College and University of the Arts. He left school to form his own band, “Dark Blonde,” which appeared on television’s “Star Search,” forerunner to today’s “American Idol” and “The Voice.”
His musical tastes are certainly eclectic. As a young kid in the early ’70s, Whittenberg loved AM radio, then shifted to rock. To this day, he loves the music of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles. He has listened regularly to everything from hard core punk to the swing era jazz of Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian to the 20th century classical music of Philip Glass and Jennifer Higdon, from the ’80s, glam rock of Cinderella to the heavy funk of Parliament/Funkadelic and from Bluegrass to Blue Man Group.
“Melodyvison (his full-service production facility) was my response to being a musician, an African American artist who didn’t want to be limited by that. I was tired of people asking me if I was a jazz, hip hop, R&B or reggae artist. I want to do it all and do it all at a high quality. So I stated a company which took the focus off of me and put it on an entity that could be much bigger then me and could also help support other artists in making a living. And I started with the goal of composing music for Hollywood films and national TV shows.”
Whittenberg is currently producing and recording “Jazz Singer” by local vocalist Phyllis Chapell, a kids’ performing group, Ant’s on a Log; a young songwriter, Shanah Sloane; a new film with young musical performer Jonathan Sprout, a concert film of the band Cat’s Pajamas’ last performance, a documentary about children’s music and much more.
How has the business of music changed since the beginning of Whittenberg’s career? “Wow, I don’t think there is enough space in this article to answer that question. I think the biggest change is that the means of production and distribution have been democratized. And this is awesome, but the downside is that there is very little investment in developing an act, and a lot of musicians do recognize how important a good producer is. “The Beatles were amazing but were just a very, very good bar band without producer George Martin. This takes nothing away from how unbelievable they were, but what I am saying is that greatness takes a team.
“It takes a coach who knows more than you and someone who wants to succeed even more then you do. And someone who can see your flaws and your gifts and can support you in overcoming them. That is what a good producer can do for an artist or band.”
What musical worlds does the local Emmy winner have left to conquer? “Wow, it’s endless. I wish I had a patron. If I wasn’t doing client-based work, I would spend the whole day every day going after all of the music ideas in my head. It’s endless. I mean I am working on my jazz guitar playing. I would love to do a jazz CD, and I have a ton of New Age synth based music. And, of course, my political original songs, string quartets and ideas combining music with experimental film and some theater pieces. I play a lot of different instruments and would love to get better at all of them. And also study. Music is as endless as the imagination. There will always be worlds to conquer.”
Originally published: Feb. 2, 2017, at LucyKalanatri.com
Big Things Thursday: Rodney Whittenberg
#BigThingsThursday is a weekly series of short interviews with people who are doing big things for the community and for the world. If you know someone who's doing big things and should be featured, let me know: BigThings@LucyKalantari.com.
Meet Rodney Whittenberg: music producer, engineer, composer, sound designer and filmmaker driven to make art to build community and inspire humanitarian consciousness.
I met Rodney through his latest album, We Stood Up, “an audio anthology for children, produced by Lincoln Financial Foundation, that uses stories and songs to bring the ideals of freedom, opportunity and equality to life for a new generation.” With a powerful collection of poetry, songs, interviews and speeches, this album educates and inspires our youth through a medium they can easily connect with.
Q. BIG THINGS begin with an intention, what is yours?
A. Wow, that’s a big question. My intention is to create and support others in the creation of art, (music, film, dance, theater, poetry, etc.) that is socially relevant, entertaining and sometimes performed at the highest level of musicianship or just totally sloppy, loud, in-your-face music that rocks like the loudest punk band. Sometimes I get it right like with my new CD, We Stood Up, and the latest film I co-produced and scored, Portraits of Professional Caregivers: Their Passion, Their Pain. And sometimes I miss the mark completely, like in the case of my score to the B0movie horror cult film Return to Sleep Away Camp.
Q. How are you fulfilling this intention?
A. I'm the owner and founder of Melodyvision, where I use my skills as a composer, songwriter, producer, engineer, filmmaker and sound designer to allow me to work as a creative consultant and partner to my many clients. I am always looking for committed clients who have a vision, something to say, and we both feel that I can help them achieve their goals. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an individual singer-songwriter, an independent filmmaker, a neo-classical trio, a major corporation or a non-profit. With We Stood Up It, I was brought in as a creative consultant for Lincoln Financial Foundation. They wanted to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address. They had a genuine, deep desire to inspire youths in these difficult and challenging times. This project is exactly the kind of work I want to be doing.
Q. What barriers have you encountered, and how have you dealt with them?
A. I have been so lucky. The only barriers are my own limitations. The curse of ego. Not getting out of my own way. I can be vulnerable to overthinking, or just plain fear—fear of not only finding the truth of the moment, but trusting and being brave enough to follow that truth through to a creative outcome. Going for it makes it happen.
Extra: Share a favorite quote that keeps you motivated.
“Great art communicates before it is understood.” –T. S. Eliot
Thank you for what you do, Rodney. We Stood Up is a powerful work of art! May you continue to be the facilitator and driver for making meaningful art come to life.
Originally published: June 25, 2015, by Chestnut Hill Local
Local Emmy winner generating buzz about ‘Caregivers’ film
By Stacia Friedman
The Emmy, tucked in a dark corner of Melodyvision Studio in Plymouth Meeting, is an apt metaphor for Rodney Whittenberg’s humble approach to his craft. The award-winning 52-year-old composer of soundtracks for 33 films, musician, filmmaker and sound engineer says, “It’s all about storytelling.”
Whittenberg’s own story started out in Yeadon where, at the age of 12, he built a synthesizer keyboard in his family’s basement out of components from RadioShack. That was his first instrument. Following Settlement School Summer Camp and attending University of the Arts, Whittenberg’s repertoire expanded to include guitar, bass, drum and piano.
The 200-year-old farmhouse where Whittenberg provides music and video production services is filled with acoustic and electric guitars, giving the impression that, at any time, he might indulge in an impromptu jam session. “I used to be into heavy metal,” he admits. But the image on his T-shirt isn’t Mötley Crüe. It’s Gandhi.
When he’s not telling his own stories through his music, Whittenberg helps others tell theirs as a creative consultant—which is how he became involved with “Portraits of Professional Caregivers: Their Passion, Their Pain.” The documentary film is about secondary trauma, the crippling stress experienced by first responders—the police, firefighters, nurses, social workers and EMTs who are on the front line of natural and biological disasters and violence.
The stars of the film are local men and women who investigate child abuse, neo-natal nurses who mourn the deaths of their tiny patients, firemen who have lost colleagues and Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey speaking poignantly about the rate of alcoholism, divorce and suicide among members of his force. The film illustrates how the PTSD we associate with combat vets also strikes homeland heroes, the people in our community who come to our aid in times of crisis.
“The project was the brainchild of Vic Compher, the film’s director and co-producer,” says Whittenberg. “As a former social worker, Vic was passionate about exposing the side of these traumatic events that the public rarely sees. I had been a consultant on Vic’s previous documentary, ‘I Cannot Be Silent: Testimonies of Peacemakers.' ”
As co-producer of “Caregivers,” Whittenberg spent a year going over the premise of the film with Compher. “I think it’s really amazing that when we started four years ago, there was no interest in secondary trauma. Now, due to recent events, there’s a whole new way of looking at the people who come into your community to help in times of crisis,” says Whittenberg. “We’re hoping the film serves an educational purpose, that it helps open a national conversation about caregivers.”
Completed in May, the film has had just two local screenings, but it’s already generating international buzz. “We’ve had some interest from England,” says Whittenberg, ” We’ll be making the rounds of film festivals, and we’re preparing a television version that cuts the film’s 72 minutes down to 52.”
Television? Whittenberg grins and shakes his dreadlocks. He can’t say any more, other than to assure Philadelphians that there will be future screenings in the area. On June 25, “Caregivers” will be shown at Youth Services, Inc. In September, it will be at Rutgers University in Camden.
The purpose of the screenings is two-fold: to spread the word and to give the producers an opportunity to gauge their decisions. Sitting in the dark at a recent screening of “Caregivers” at the Hiway Theater in Jenkintown, Whittenberg saw the film differently. “With an audience, you see things you didn’t see before,” he says. “You see what works and what doesn’t.”
When he’s not producing films, videos or sound recordings, Whittenberg does pre-concert podcasts promoting local jazz events. His sonorous voice can be heard at Pre-Concert.com, interviewing jazz giants such as Ramsey Lewis and Poncho Sanchez.
“I feel like the luckiest man in the world, to wake up every day and create.”
* Reprinted, with permission, from Newsworks.
Stacia Friedman is a Mt. Airy resident, humorist and freelance writer. In her novels, “Tender is the Brisket” and “Nothing Toulouse,” she hones in on women writers who are, in her description, “on their way up, down and sideways.”