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.”