Take notes

David Rhoderick takes you to school with classical music class.

Classical pianist David Rhoderick plays at his home in West Tisbury. — Gabrielle Mannino

Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and more will make an appearance at the West Tisbury library as channelled through David Rhoderick, pianist, organist, and musicologist. Rhoderick has created an esthetics of music course, meeting on Wednesdays beginning Jan. 9. Many people believe there’s a link in our brains between science, math, and music. In Rhoderick’s case, a Cambridge (England) educated physicist turned computer scientist, it’s certainly the case. Music fascinates him and he’s going to tell you why.

As a teen, Rhoderick won an organ scholarship to Glasgow University, but chose Cambridge  and science instead. Not too shabby. He does sometimes wonder, however, what course his life would have taken had he headed to the keyboard. He doesn’t voice regrets, just enthusiasm for the next phase. Piano was a constant for him from the age of 7, within a family of music lovers.  At one point, Rhoderick declared he wanted to play the organ but was told he’d need to wait until his legs were long enough to reach the pedals. Happily, this happened. At Cambridge he sang with the Clare Chapel Choir, a bastion of luscious choral singing, built on hundreds of years of English musical tradition.

Rhoderick spent his working life with IBM, traveling the world, managing a group involved in the understanding and uses of mainframes. Did you think they were outdated? Apparently many do.  Rhoderick says, “We took our show on the road, meeting with CIO and IT officers, detailing how the major financial institutions use mainframes. I’m taking the skills I used as a ‘mainframe evangelist’ and applying them to my first love, music, and testing the waters at the West Tisbury library.”

 Rhoderick did ease off music early in his career, but once he had children, he decided to lead by example, enjoying the kids and the keys. From 2012 to 2017, he was the music director of the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury. He’s even working on his master’s in music from the Open University, a UK distance-learning institution. Rhoderick is on the 16-year plan, hoping to complete his final project on politics in music by the year 2020. Do the math.

There’s a famous quote, attributed to at least three of the greats — Stravinsky, Picasso, and Shaw — that claims “great artists don’t imitate, they steal.” Rhoderick, an active supporter of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society, has stolen the idea of his new course, Classical Music is for You!, after taking note of some of the Island’s highly successful programs: Adult Community Dance Class with the Yard, led by Jesse Keller Jason, director of Island Programs and Education and co-producer at the Yard, and Sandra Whitworth, the Tisbury Senior Center’s activities director’s trips to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The M.V. Chamber Music Society has a terrific artists-in-the-schools program, including classical music presentations, scholarships, and loan-out violins for young musicians.  

Rhoderick is interested in the the place music holds in our imagination, in the history of composers, the structure of the works, performance practices, the continuum of Western music, and the many ways music is used in other art forms.

I recently attended a performance at the Gardner by the Handel and Haydn Society, when the ensemble, playing original instruments, performed all six Brandenburg Concertos. It was thrilling. A performance like that is something special, truly unforgettable,” Rhoderick said.

Rhoderick mentioned two books as points of entry: New York Times chief music critic Anthony Tommasini’s “The Indispensable Composers,” and Oxford’s “The Psychology of Music: A Very Short Introduction”. Tommasini’s book began as a top 10 list of the best classical composers for the NY Times, with an invitation for readers to comment.  They did. Vociferously. Tommasini expected as much, and the dialogue led to the creation of the book. Like Rhoderick’s class, it’s an upbeat take classical music, with novice friendly musical definitions, anecdotes on love lives, financial disasters, and contemporaneous criticism. Tommasini recently expanded the list from 10 to 17.  Still no Mahler, no Puccini! Can you guess who did make the cut? And what will Rhoderick have to say about it all?

Each hour and 15 minute session will focus on one composer, ending with a short piano performance. The class will go at least eight weeks, and Rhoderick plans to invite other musicians as guest instructors. Rhoderick’s skill, curiosity, and connection to music as a fan has given him the ability to talk with professionals and devotees on equal footing. But, as he says, “No experience necessary.”

Classical Music is for YOU! will meet Wednesdays from 10:30 to 11:15 am at the West Tisbury library. The class is sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society and the West Tisbury library. The first class is Jan. 9, and there’s no fee or registration necessary. Attend one class or all of them.