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, (ie: 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 ProfessionalCaregivers Their Passion Their Pain. And sometimes I miss the mark completely, like in the case of my score to the b movie 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 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.
For more information on Rodney Whittenberg, visit www.melodyvision.com.
by Stacia Friedman
The Emmy, tucked in a dark corner of Melody Vision 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 UArts, 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 “Caregivers,” a documentary film 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 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? Does that mean …? Whittenberg grins and shakes his dreadlocks. He can’t say anymore 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 but also 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.”
For more information, visit www.melodyvisionrecording.com.
* 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.”