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Meet the man behind Dayton’s Funk Museum 

Published: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 @ 11:53 AM

Dayton is considered the Land of Funk. Here is why. Video by Amelia Robinson

Dayton is one of the funkiest places on planet Earth.

Trust us, all that funk is a good thing.

>> Meet our previous Daytonians of the Week!

In the 1970s and 1980s, southwestern Ohio —particularly Dayton’s west side — was known for its stable of funk bands whose influence can be heard in hip-hop, house and other musical forms popular today through sampling, covers and remixes. 

>> 10 popular hip-hop songs that sample Dayton funk music

David R. Webb is president of the Funk Music Hall of Fame and Exhibition Center.

David R. Webb is leading a team preserving the legacy of funk music, Dayton funksters like Ohio Players, Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame, Zapp, Roger Troutman, Faze-O, Heatwave, Sun, Slave and Lakeside  included. 

>> MORE: Funk Music Hall of Fame opening in downtown Dayton after long battle

Webb, founder and CEO of at the Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center, says he is awaiting final approval from the City of Dayton for the facility at 113 E. Third St. in downtown Dayton’s Fire Blocks District.

Funk legend George Clinton recently visited the center. 

>> MORE: 8 Dayton acts you should give a funk about

We caught up with Webb, a Dayton native who definitely wants the funk. 

What superpower would you love to have?

I would love to have Superman’s powers, along with the ability to see into the future. If I could be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound to move our city and our youth towards a brighter future, I would do so. Sometimes it takes what seems like superpowers to move our society to a better place when it comes to how we treat one another and how we prepare our children for their lives ahead. 

David Webb, the president of The Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center, is a Daytonian of the Week.(Photo: Submitted)

What do you love about life in Dayton?

I have always had a fascination for history and understanding how we got to where we are today. Dayton has a rich historical heritage that many people don’t know about. We know about the big things – the Wright brothers, the Dayton (Peace) Agreement and some of the famous people who have come from here. But many people have no idea of how we have influenced the country and the world through our spirit of innovation. In spite of the many challenges that our city faces, I also love the fact that Dayton remains the type of town in which you can safely raise your family. 

>> MORE: 8 badass Dayton women who made history

>> History Extra: Dayton Women of Walk of Fame Part 1 

What would you do on a perfect date in Dayton? 

You know, this question put me into a kind of a dreamy mode because there are so many answers I could give. A perfect date for me would start at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, because I’m such a history buff. That would be followed by lunch on the Courthouse Square, just chilling and listening to live music. At that point, if we are really feeling one another, which I assume we are because this is the perfect date, we would end up at the riverfront, people watching, enjoying the night lights and making plans for the next perfect date. 

>> MORE: 5 badass planes at the Air Force Museum

What would you change about Dayton? 

I would change the perceptions that people have about Dayton. That includes people who live here and those who don’t. I would encourage native Daytonians and those who have relocated here to learn about and take pride in our heritage. I see myself as having a role in this re-education of people by establishing a nonprofit organization that will give back to this community which has given so much to the world.

>> MORE: How to volunteer in Dayton

What should people know about Dayton? 

People should know that Dayton has something for everyone, and that we are literally the crossroads of America. You can explore and learn about the area on a modest budget or through elaborate unrestrained resources and feel that you used those resources well. 

What’s your favorite spot in Dayton? 

My favorite spot is 113 E. Third Street, which is tied to the Courthouse Square. I am able to see the future of a revived downtown Dayton there, and what we can become once again.

David Webb, the president of The Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center, is a Daytonian of the Week.(Photo: Submitted)

What’s your guilty pleasure? 

I have several and I can’t believe I’m telling you this. Superman’s kryptonite! One of them is my famous homemade spaghetti sauce. It is so good, I have people requesting that I fly into town to make it! Another is a good steak. I’m a sucker for good seafood and anything related to the arts. And, the guiltiest of guilty, is a homemade German chocolate cake.

>> MORE: 4 killer Dayton meatballs you must try

Why did you decide to settle in Dayton? 

Initially — I had no choice because I was born here. But when I did have the choice, I chose to settle in Dayton because we have it all. We can have all four seasons in one week. We have entertainment and education. We have sports and history. We have something for everyone in Dayton. Life in Dayton can be boring if you lack the imagination, interest or motivation to enjoy what the area has to offer.

MORE: How Dr. Strangelove can shutdown Dayton suckers 

David R. Webb is president of the Funk Music Hall of Fame and Exhibition Center.

How did you get involved with your nonprofit?

My interest in music, history, community involvement and motivating young people were really at the heart of my involvement. Talking to other musicians who were part of the Funk music phenomenon really got me going. Through those conversations I came to understand that so many people were unaware of how Dayton musicians had influenced the world of music. Young people were completely oblivious to how much of the samplings of the music they were grooving to every day originated from Funk. That art form is still giving to musicians and listeners, and the artists who created it should receive recognition and celebration. This is a grassroots, community movement that allows us to house and showcase Funk music’s contributions. We are teaching others about the innovation within Funk music and how it has influenced the city, the country and the world. 

What was the most challenging part of that? 

Surprisingly, the most challenging part has been keeping up with the national and global interest sparked by our efforts. The love for Funk music is so contagious, and has created lifetime fans from so many places, that when people hear about this movement they want to get involved in some way. They are anxious to see the facility, to contribute to our collections and to participate. There are only 24 hours in a day, and we are doing all that can be done in that time to make sure that we have our I’s dotted and our t’s crossed before the doors are finally opened.

>> MORE: This amazing local art teacher dressed more than a dozen Dayton funk bands

What inspires you about Dayton? 

The history of the city of Dayton inspires me most. Our spirit of innovation and creativity are very inspirational.

>> MORE: 5 geeky facts you may not know about Dayton

If you could change or bring one thing to Dayton, what would it be? 

We were such a magnet for people in the past, and I believe that we can be again in the coming years. I would bring back that community pride and “can do” spirit that has long sustained us as a community. 

What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years? 

In 10 – 15 years I believe the lights will brighten once again in the Gem City. I believe The Funk Center will be a part of those bright lights. I see structures built and more business ventures opening to create that magnetic glow that will continue to draw people to the area.

Daytonian of the Week: Chris Harmon, Town Hall Theatre

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Chris Harmon, Artistic Director of Town Hall Theatre in Centerville. CONTRIBUTED
Chris Harmon, Artistic Director of Town Hall Theatre in Centerville. CONTRIBUTED

If you’re an avid supporter of Dayton’s theater scene, you’ve more than likely seen a set designed by Chris Harmon.

Over the past 15 years, Harmon, 41, has contributed a wonderful array of designs for Beavercreek Community Theatre, Dayton Playhouse, Sinclair Community College and Town Hall Theatre.

He recently added Dayton Theatre Guild to his roster. His beautiful designs for Sinclair’s “Intimate Apparel” and “Pride and Prejudice” were particularly striking. 

In addition to a penchant for sets, Harmon is a sought-after director of musicals. His productions of “Legally Blonde” (BCT), “Spring Awakening” (BCT), “The Wiz” (Sinclair), “Bare: A Pop Opera” (Sinclair), and “The Producers” (DP) have been notable standouts.

His future directorial projects include the regional premiere of Dominique Morisseau’s race relations drama “Blood at the Root” for Sinclair in April and “Dreamgirls” for Beavercreek at the beginning of next season.

At the moment, in addition to fine-tuning the set for Beavercreek’s upcoming production of “And Then There Were None,” he is assessing his new position as Artistic Director of Town Hall Theatre in Centerville where he has routinely served as director and designer. 

Here’s your chance to get to know this talented Beavercreek native, who was inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame in 2013 and is the recipient of 45 DayTony Awards. He also happens to be our Daytonian of the Week.

>> Meet the masterminds behind this edgy Dayton theater troupe 

What fueled your love of the arts? 

When I was an elementary school student, I was very shy and quiet. I am an only child and would often play by myself. However, I was in the school chorus and was chosen to sing a solo at a school assembly. I was mortified. But somehow I overcame my stage fright and that year auditioned to be an ensemble member in the high school musical, which was “Fiddler on the Roof.” I was one of the sons in “Tradition” and held an end of the wedding canopy. I really caught the theater bug and have been involved ever since.

 

What are some of your favorite plays and/or musicals? 

“Chicago,” “Into the Woods,” “Falsettos,” “She Kills Monsters,” “The Little Mermaid.” 

Chris Harmon’s set design for the 2017 Dayton Theatre Guild production of “All My Sons." CONTRIBUTED

 

You are an actor, director and designer. Do you enjoy each discipline equally or do you have a special admiration for one over another? 

 Sadly, I have not been on stage for about seven years. I love to act, but I am terrible at the discipline of memorizing lines. But somehow I don’t mind spending days painting bricks on a set. I think that is when you know that you have found your calling – when the tedious parts of the job are a joy. Designing and scene painting can be a lonely job though, so I think directing fits my needs to be interactive and creative at the same time. 

 

What have been your favorite roles, directing assignments or scenic designs over the years? 

Two of my favorite roles are Orin the Dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Dayton Playhouse, and Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show” at Beavercreek Community Theatre. There is just something so fun about being able to play things over the top. 

 

You are the youngest member of the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame and the record-holder for the most DayTonys. How does it feel to be a part of a theater community that embraces your work? 

For me, theater is all about collaboration and a good work ethic. I have learned from every artist that I have worked with and owe my successes to them and a great deal of hours toiling away.

I think the DayTonys are a great way to bring all the theaters together, but can be problematic with who receives the recognition. Art is subjective and I think the organization does the best they can. I have had some of what I felt was my best work overlooked and received recognition for some that I thought were lacking. It’s just five evaluators opinions, often with the highest and lowest tossed out. I have been fortunate to have been recognized and it has really helped my visibility in town.

Being inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame among many other artists that I look up to was a great honor. 

>> Meet Chad Wyckoff with the Human Race Theatre Company

You were recently chosen as Town Hall Theatre's new Artistic Director. What is your vision for the company and its programming? What do you hope to implement for future seasons? 

Town Hall Theatre currently has very full seasons with six Mainstage shows, four Showcase shows, and many theater class offerings. I hope to maintain this while possibly moving a show to summer to entice the older students back. Most often we lose high school age students to their own high school shows.

I would like to make the season more diverse with some shows that appeal to any age range. Town Hall also used to have a touring program that I would like to start back up, probably not next season, but maybe the following. I would also like to increase Town Hall’s visibility in the community to show the quality, professionally designed productions we have to offer. We are very fortunate to be a program supported by the Washington Township Recreation Center. 

 

What do you love the most about Dayton's arts scene? 

It is always willing to share. I do work at many different venues and have been able to borrow furniture, costumes, props, anything really. It seems like budgets for productions are always tight, so being able to obtain resources from other theaters make for a better production. 

 

In what ways would you like to see Dayton's arts scene improve? 

I would like to see more donors and sponsors give to local theaters. They are the ones producing and making art for affordable prices. People say they give to the arts, but often it is to a venue that brings touring shows to town. Even though they help the local audience, it is not helping local artists. If there were more donors, these smaller theaters would be able to offer newer, edgier, more cutting edge work they are passionate about instead of that one musical based on that one movie that always sells tickets. 

Chris Harmon prepares his next scenic assignment: Beavercreek Community Theatre’s production of “And Then There Were None,” slated Jan. 26-Feb. 4. CONTRIBUTED

 

What are some of your favorite Dayton locations/spots/venues? 

Theater-wise, I have always enjoyed working for Sinclair, Beavercreek Community Theatre and Town Hall. I most enjoy collaborating with the people at those venues. As for other places, I am a thrift store junky and love to look for chachki at Valley Thrift on Woodman Drive. I also like locally owned restaurants like Arepas, Taqueria Mixteca, Christopher’s and even a greasy spoon diner like Hasty Tasty. My favorite bar is The Right Corner, downtown. 

 

What do you feel is the biggest misconception about Dayton? 

I am always stunned when someone says there is nothing to do in Dayton. You could see three different theater productions alone almost every weekend! 

 

What inspires you the most about Dayton?

I think Dayton is the best big little town. I like that I can go anywhere and usually run into somebody I know. I am one who does not like to ignore coincidences, so I always have to go up to somebody and see what they have to say. 

 

What are your hopes for the future of Dayton? 

Dayton has always been an innovative city that is rich in arts, culture and diversity. I would love to see more professional opportunities for the Dayton theater community. 

>> The best shows and plays in Dayton in 2017

Contact this contributing writer at rflorence2@gmail.com 

 

The top Daytonians of 2017 

Published: Monday, January 01, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Here are the Top 10 Daytonians of 2017. Video by Amelia Robinson.

A city is only as good as the people who call it home. 

The Dayton area is teeming with incredible people. We are fortunate to have featured 52 of them in 2017 as part of our ongoing Daytonian of the Week feature. 

There were artists, restaurateurs, an Emmy-winner,  entrepreneurs, activists and four women calling their own shots in downtown Dayton.

>> RELATED: TOP DAYTONIANS OF THE WEEK FOR 2016

Here are the top 10 most-read Daytonian of the Week stories for 2018 in reverse order.

10)  ERIC JERARDI

Blues guitarist, founder of the Eric Jerardi Band, wine expert and owner  of Jerardi’s Little Store at 7325 Peters Pike in Butler Twp.

Daytonian of the Week Eric Jerardi is musician, deli owner and wine expert. CONTRIBUTED(Staff Writer)

“People don’t realize how great they have it here in Dayton. You have to travel a lot to understand that. I live north and really love it here — no traffic issues, and I love the airport being so close. We are picking up direct flights all the time, and that’s nice for weekend getaways.”

>> RELATED: WHY ERIC JERARDI LOVES DAYTON 

9) EMMY FABICH AND KATIE NORRIS 

Downtown residents and outdoor advcocates. Emmy works for Bike Miami Valley, the region's only bicycling advocacy organization and Katie runs the program education for Link: Dayton Bike Share. Katie works for the City in the Department of Water, Division of Environmental Management.

>> MORE: The 5 best Miami Valley bike trails (and how to make the most of them) 

Daytonians of the Week: Emmy Fabich and Katie Norris(Photos: submitted)

Emmy: “People should know that Dayton is so lucky to have so many places to get outside, get active, explore and have local adventures right here. You don't need to spend tons of money or move to Denver: you could do a local bike touring trip on the nation's largest paved trail network, go whitewater kayaking on our national water trail system, or rent a bike at MetroParks Mountain Bike Area (MoMBA) and ride in the woods, or do a weekend backpacking trip on the Twin Valley Trail. The opportunities are endless! Dayton's got it going on. And I just love seeing the reaction on people's faces when you tell them all of the things that they can experience here.”

 

Katie: “Don't assume the perception you have of Dayton from five years ago holds true today. If you think there isn't something fun to do in Dayton for any age, on any day, then you're not looking hard enough. Also, Dayton isn't perfect, but if you see a challenge, ask yourself how can you work together with others to start addressing that challenge. We all have to take pride in where we live or work, and actively work to make it even better.”

>> RELATED: WHY EMMY FABICH AND KATIE NORRIS LOVE DAYTON 


8) TERRY ADKINS  & SUSAN AND JOE BAVARO  

The trio own the Oregon Express Bar & Restaurant in Dayton’s Oregon Historic District. 

Terry Adkins (left), Susan and Joe Bavaro, owners of the Oregon Express Bar & Restaurant in Dayton’s Oregon Historic District. SUBMITTED(Staff Writer)

Terry: “The Oregon District has always been a popular and successful business and entertainment destination and neighborhood of Dayton for the last 30 years. The recent explosion of additional interest and investment in the district and the whole downtown Dayton area bodes well. It all points to a future center city of multiple choices of where to live, work and play in a dynamic urban center for the Miami Valley region.”

>> RELATED: WHY TERRY ADKINS  & SUSAN AND JOE BAVARO LOVE DAYTON 

>>  Your guide to the best Dayton-area pizza

7) DAVID SUTER 

Force behind the Instagram accounts @IGersDayton and @entropic.

David Suter, the eye behind the Instagram accounts @IgersDayton and @entropic, thrives on showing the beauty in the darker views of Dayton and its residents. (contributed)

“Dayton has faced a lot of challenges as a community but what inspires me is the sheer number of individuals committed to making it better. Everywhere you look are small business owners working hard to get by because they are passionate about our city. It's that dedication and loyalty that continuously amazes me.”

>> RELATED: WHY  DAVID SUTER LOVES DAYTON 

6) BRYAN STEWART 

Legislative aide to Dayton City Commissioner Christopher Shaw and founder of The Longest Table Dayton.

City of Dayton Legislative Aide Bryan Stewart founded The Longest Table Dayton, an UpDayton project. He is a Daytonian of the Week. Photo: submitted(Submitted)

“Faux, forced, urban environments are being rejected by millennials. We’re moving downtown, we’re moving closer to cool amenities we can walk or ride a bike to and there’s huge potential in this trend. ‘Outsiders’ should start more businesses and offices in this space because it’s only going to grow.”

>> RELATED: WHY BRYAN STEWART LOVES DAYTON 

5) THE DOWNTOWN BROWNS 

Lisa Scott of Beaute Box Lashes Dayton; Kate Rivers of Twist Cupcakery; Juanita Darden-Jones of Third Perk Coffeehouse and Wine Bar and Jasmine Brown of De’Lish Cafe.

The Downtown Browns are made up of Lisa Scott of Beaute Box Lashes Dayton; Jasmine Brown of De’Lish Cafe, Kate Rivers of Twist Cupcakery and Juanita Darden-Jones of Third Perk Coffeehouse & Wine Bar.

Jasmine: “We really are showing our people the importance of supporting each other... We are black women and we are working together.”

>> RELATED: WHY THE DOWNTOWN BROWNS LOVE DAYTON 

4) MICHAEL SHUBERT

Owner of the Red Carpet Tavern

Michael Shubert, owner of the Red Carpet Tavern in Dayton. PHOTO BY JIM INGRAM/STAFF

“I got me a big boy job when I was about 20 years old and stayed here. I did the family thing. I moved away briefly to Daytona. (I) came back. I like it here in Dayton. I like the Belmont area. I like to bring our neighborhoods back.”

>> RELATED:  WHY MICHAEL SHUBERT LOVES DAYTON 

3) BILL CASTRO 

Equestrian and co-owner of El Meson, 903 E Dixie Dr., West Carollton 

Bill Castro with one of his show horses. File photo by LISA POWELL/STAFF(Staff Writer)

(Dayton) is small enough to get around and yet unique in the gem of restaurants we have.

>> RELATED: WHY BILL CASTRO LOVES DAYTON 

2) ROB STRONG 

Owner of Thai 9, 11 Brown St., and Canal Street Arcade & Deli, 308 E 1st St.

Rob Strong stands in the future Canal Street Arcade & Deli in November 2016, shortly after renovations to the interior began. The arcade-deli-craft beer bar could open as early as late April. MARK FISHER/STAFF(Staff Writer)

What inspires me about Dayton: “The many entrepreneurs I personally know in Dayton and its history of innovators with the visions and the willingness to see those visions through.”

>> RELATED: WHY ROB STRONG LOVES DAYTON 

1) ALLISON JANNEY 

Award-winning film and television actress and current star of “CBS’ “Mom” 

The former star of “The West Wing” has a long list of film credits  that includes roles in “The Help,” “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” “Hairspray,” “American Beauty,” “The Girl on the Train,” “The Hours,” “Finding Nemo,” “Big Night” and “Juno.” 

>> RELATED: Famous Dayton actress reacts to big Golden Globe nomination for role in Tonya Harding film 

The 2017 Dayton Region's Walk of Fame induction ceremony at Sinclair Community College on Thursday, Sept. 28th, included a few stars. Pictured here is 2017 inductee and seven-time Emmy winner Allison Janney taking photos with attendees. AMELIA ROBINSON/STAFF(HANDOUT)

“We are salt of the Earth. We are the people who are grounded and know what’s important about life and know that treating people with respect and kindness (is important).... I’ve always felt that the people I’ve met from Dayton are great people.”

Daytonian of the Week: Etana Jacobi 

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Etana Jacobi  of Dayton
Photos: submitted
Etana Jacobi  of Dayton(Photos: submitted)

It is not how long you live in a place that counts, but the impact you make while there. 

Etana Jacobi is certainly making her mark on the Gem City. 

The Hooksett, N.H. native is the Dayton manager of the Hall of Hunger Initiative, an effort supported by the United Way of the Greater Dayton Area and the Jack W. and Sally D. Eichelberger Foundation, aimed at reducing food insecurity and increasing food access.

The resident of Dayton’s South Park neighborhood is our latest Daytonian of the Week. 

>> MORE: Guardian angels ‘adopt’ 400 local kids for Christmas

What is your passion and why? 

PEOPLE. I'm passionate about a lot of political issues, but really at the core of what I care about most in this world is how the decisions we make individually and collectively affect those around us. Humans are complex, imperfect, funny and strange strange creatures, and I am consistently amazed and challenged by what we're capable of -- both the good and the not-so-good. I figure you come into this life alone and you leave it alone, so why not invest your time on this planet with and for others? 

>> MORE: These 3 winning UpDayton ideas want to change Dayton for the better 

What do you love about life in Dayton? 

I love that this city is filled with folks who are passionate about their home and committed to making it better. I also love that you can have the benefits of life in the city with the feel of a small town. Not only is there always something to do, but there is a good chance you are going to run into someone you know while doing it. Also, the donuts. 

>> MORE: You have to try these Dayton donuts 

Etana Jacobi  of Dayton(Photos: submitted)

Why did you decide to move here? 

I moved here in the fall of 2015 for a job at the Kettering Foundation with no intention of staying very long. I have spent the majority of my adult life bouncing between major cities on the east coast and a small city in the Midwest where I knew no one was not the most appealing. Fortunately, I found a community of people here who are kind, committed and willing to share their home with me. I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to be a Daytonian and excited to put some roots down here. 

What would you do on a perfect date in Dayton? 

There are so many things going on in Dayton, I feel like there is no one perfect date. Perfect date options might include going to a festival in the summer or fall, walking downtown for a movie at the Neon followed by dinner at one of the many awesome locally-owned restaurants, a picnic and hike in one of our fabulous Five Rivers MetroParks, biking on our great bike trails, taste testing delicious donuts at all of the local spots on my personal quest to find the best donut in the region. The possibilities are endless.

>> MORE: The Neon’s Jonathan McNeal shares his can’t miss movies of 2017  

Q) What would you change about Dayton? 

Dayton is a small city with big city problems. It is also a place filled with tremendous assets, a rich and complicated history, and infinite opportunities for growth. I believe in our capacity to build a stronger city for ALL Daytonians, and I think we can only do it with an intentional community-wide focus on issues of equity and justice in our own backyard. 

What should people know about Dayton? 

Hunger is real in Dayton. Almost a third of households with children struggle with food hardship in our community. Most of the west side has been classified as a food desert by the USDA. Thirty-eight percent of clients served by The Foodbank report having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities/heating fuel. It is simply unacceptable. We cannot have a healthy and vibrant community if our neighbors cannot afford to eat. 

>> RELATED: Meet the top Daytonians of 2017 

What is your hidden talent? 

If I have a hidden talent, it is hidden even to me.

What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years? 

In 10 to 15 years, I see a strong food ecosystem in Dayton, generating an abundance of healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate food, grown and sold locally with care for the well-being of the workers, animals and environment that sustain it. 

I see worker and community-owned businesses, like the Gem City Market, thriving throughout the city. I see every child attending quality Pre-K programs and our students hitting their third-grade reading and eighth-grade math targets. I see young families living throughout the city and sending their children to Dayton Public Schools with pride. I see a vibrant downtown on the nights and weekends with locally-owned businesses filling up our store fronts. I see the Hope Center serving as an anchor institution in NorthWest Dayton, disrupting cycles of poverty and empowering families.

>> RELATED: Dayton co-op grocery store gets $220,000 donation

Etana Jacobi  of Dayton(Photos: submitted)

Daytonian of the Week: Neal Gittleman, Dayton Philharmonic

Published: Wednesday, December 27, 2017 @ 6:00 AM

Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO ANDY SNOW
#andysnowphoto
Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO ANDY SNOW(#andysnowphoto)

Conductor Neal Gittleman may be a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. but he has been an integral part of Dayton’s modern artistic renaissance for more than 20 years.

Since becoming music director of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra in 1994, he has ushered the orchestra into the modern age, engaging new, younger music fans through programs like the annual Philharmonster Halloween concert and Rockin’ Orchestra series featuring thematic symphonic programs on rock acts like David Bowie and the Beatles. 

>> Q&A with Paul Gilliam with the Dayton Ballet

Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO ANDY SNOW(#andysnowphoto)

Gittleman, who plays piano, violin and viola, is a fan of musical acts like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles but he fell in love with the possibilities of orchestral work during his college days with the Yale Symphony.

Before being hired by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, he spent time as music director of the Marion Philharmonic, associate conductor of the Syracuse Symphony and assistant conductor of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. He is currently in his 23rd season as the DPO’s music director and conductor. 

Maestro Neal, as he’s often called, recently participated in TedxDayton, where his topic was The Power of Silence. His talk included a performance of “4’33” by John Cage, which is four-and-a-half minutes of silence, where ambient sounds such as the occasional coughing of audience members, conversations in the lobby and passing traffic become part of the piece. 

Gittleman recently answered some questions about life in Dayton, TedxDayton and more as our Daytonian of the Week:

 

For TedxDayton in October, you presented The Power of Silence. Why do we all need a little silence in our lives?  

Can I just say, “Cuz there’s just too much [expletive] noise?” Probably not! But we’re surrounded by noise. It’s not just actual noise — it’s that we’re continually bombarded with stuff, only a small fraction of which is truly attention-worthy. But a little silence goes a long way. It counteracts all the noise — literal noise and figurative noise.  

The Power of Silence included a performance a famous John Cage piece. What was your take away from that experience? 

“4’33” is all about focusing your attention and listening to the sounds of the world with our “music ears.” Performing it at TedxDayton involved monitoring the timing on the “4’33” app I was using to record the performance, juggling what I had to do in the 10-second spaces between movements — close the piano cover, advance to the next slide, raise the piano cover — thinking about how the audience was reacting, thinking about the final section of my talk. In other words, it was like any other performance — lots to do, lots to think about. Very different from the contemplative experience I wanted the audience to have! But that’s what all performers do. We work hard so folks in the audience can have interesting, involving, transformative experience. 

>> Get to know the masterminds behind Playground Theatre

 

As the conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, you’re accustomed to being in front of audiences, either in concert or in special programs where you discuss composers and notable works. How did the TedxDayton experience compare to addressing crowds in your day job? 

Most of the public speaking I do is either off-the-cuff or from written notes. TedxDayton wanted our talks memorized. I don’t think I memorized text since my last theatrical experience, Lavoisier in “Marat/Sade” freshman year of college! But I pulled it off, and now I can go back to speaking from notes! 

>> How you can watch videos from TedxDayton

Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

 

What part of town do you live in and what do you like most about it? 

 I live at the north end of Oakwood, a couple of blocks from Ben & Jerry’s. The best part is proximity to downtown. A couple of times I’ve realized I forgot something essential to a rehearsal or concert, zipped home and gotten back to the Schuster Center in under 20 minutes, without violating any traffic laws, either. 

 

How has the city of Dayton changed since you came on board in the mid-1990s? 

Lots: baseball, The Schuster, residential construction downtown. We still have a civic inferiority complex but maybe that’s starting to change, too. 

>> Q&A with Chad Wyckoff, Human Race Theatre

 

What would you like to see happen most for Dayton, culturally, socially or financially?  

More good economic news would be nice, as it would improve the environment for all the arts and non-profits in the area. But most of all, I’d love us to develop a stronger sense of community, community pride and community solidarity. The DPO, the Ballet, the Opera and rest of the arts community can be part of that because arts performances are a great way to bring people together and remind them the most vibrant experiences are ones we share live with our fellow audience members. Earbuds and headphones are nice but live is always better. 

 

What is one musical artist you enjoy that people might be surprised to discover and what do you like about them?  

I imagine that most people assume that I’m a Bach-Beethoven-and-Brahms kind of guy. And I am, of course. But the music that’s always been “my” music is the stuff I grew up with — the Beatles, the Stones, the Who and the great artists of Stax Records. That’s always been my listening-for-fun wheelhouse. In recent years, my buddy Phil Hinrichs has turned me into a Springsteen fan. I’ve got several of his live shows stashed on my phone and that’s been my listening-in-the-dressing-room fare before concerts. I suspect people probably wonder what’s going on when they hear the E Street Band playing behind my dressing room door before I conduct Beethoven or Brahms, but it works for me! 

 

What is one of your guilty pleasures? 

Funny — I don’t think I have any guilty pleasures. But that’s just because I refuse to feel guilty about my pleasures. I’m anxiously awaiting the fourth season of “Black Mirror,” which I guess is coming soon. “Mozart in the Jungle” is absurd, but it’s about my thing so I can’t resist watching. I love “Master of None.” And, pitchers and catchers report to spring training in just under two months so I’m looking forward to [a new baseball season], too. 

 

You’ve had a rich and diverse career in your role as music director for the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Is there a project, artist or composition you haven’t gotten to tackle? 

As long as I’ve been conducting, there are always things I haven’t done yet that I’m hoping to get to. Very high on that bucket list is Olivier Messiaen’s amazing “Turangalîla Symphony,” an incredibly beautiful, thrilling, cinematic piece of music that would be a real blast to bring to the Schuster Center. And — fingers crossed — it just might happen one of these seasons. It’s been eight years since we last played a Bruckner symphony, and Bruckner sounds amazing in the Schuster Center. We’ve played many Shostakovich symphonies in my time at the DPO but there are several great ones we haven’t gotten to yet. Ditto for Mahler.” 

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Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO ANDY SNOW(#andysnowphoto)

 

What is keeping you from presenting these programs to an audience? 

The biggest barrier to getting to some of those “wish list” pieces is the fact we have only so many programs a year — currently seven Masterworks Series programs each season — and so many great pieces to fill those slots. So, it’s just a matter of patiently holding onto those really-wanna-do-it ideas until the time, opportunity and finances are right. And, it’s not all about big “classical” pieces, either. Ever since the DPO started its Rockin’ Orchestra Series, I’ve wanted us to do something that would bring some of the amazing performers from the local music scene to play with the orchestra. The 2018-2019 season announcement isn’t until New Year’s Eve, so I can’t divulge what it is just yet, but that box is gonna get checked off next season.” 

 

What does the future look like for the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra? 

There’s really no limit to what our orchestra can do, except for the continual financial challenges. Stephen Sondheim said it best, in a lyric from “Putting it Together,” a song from his show, “Sunday in the Park with George”: art isn’t easy. My corollary to that axiom would be, “If it seems easy, you ain’t aimin’ high enough!” Every once in a while, you read about an orchestra — or another performing arts organization — that has a LARGE gift “fall from the sky.” The San Diego Symphony got a $100-million gift in 2002. The Cincinnati Symphony got an $84-million gift several years ago. Imagine what something like that — or even half as much — could do here! 

Contact contributing arts and music writer Don Thrasher at donaldthrasher8@aol.com.