A Lifetime of Music: the Story of David Rudari

For Dr. David Rudari there is no such thing as a normal day. When the alarm clock goes off in his family home on Howlett Hill Road, Rudari starts his day tending to his dog, Joey and his cat, Herman. Then he makes his way downstairs to visit with his Dad. From there it’s off to start his day as Professor of Music at OCC where anything can and does happen.

Rudari was always attracted to the world of music. His father frequently hummed tunes or played his ukulele and his mother’s soprano voice could be heard around the house and at church. The musical influence from his parents and grandmother led to him singing harmony. As a student in the Marcellus School District, Rudari began singing in middle school and continued on through high school. During his senior year he was selected to the New York State School Musical Association All-State Choir.

Rudari attended SUNY Fredonia and earned a bachelor’s in music education. He continued on to the University of Wyoming where he received a master’s in music voice performance. Those lead to a music teaching position at South Jefferson High School in Adams, NY.

Rudari returned to college in 1995 to pursue a doctoral degree in voice performance. Three years later he would travel to Salzburg, Austria to perform with the Academy of American Singers in what he would call, “The experience of a lifetime.”

Rudari would teach music at Bethany College in West Virginia for 13 years before returning to Central New York for a position at OCC. At every turn he has immersed himself in the world of music outside the classroom as an opera and oratorio performer, a church musician, an orchestra conductor, a guest conductor, and even a stint in the Syracuse Opera Company Chorus.

Through it all Professor Rudari has shared his passion for music with others who aspire to enter the field. He directs the Concert Choir and OCC Singers and teaches applied lessons and classes where he guides students in the world of music. Christopher Knapp had nothing but good things to say about his professor.“Dr. Rudari will never give up on a student until it works, and is an outstanding person to help you with anything you are going through. I am forever grateful to him for helping me get through my time at OCC,” Knapp said.

Though he’s only been at OCC a short time, Dr. Rudari has already become part of the fond institutional memories many students have of the music program. “Our students are wonderful and I enjoy the opportunity to showcase their talents in concerts and as a part of institutional events.”  Of his co-workers Rudari said, “I feel like I have another extension of my family. I am indeed fortunate to work with people who have an unrelenting passion for teaching, making music and making a difference in the lives of students.”

In his spare time, Rudari enjoys being with friends, attending concerts, theater, sporting events, biking and traveling. It’s no surprise he also likes to sing and conduct every chance he gets!

Finding His Way at OCC

TOP OF STORY Jacob Nicholson singing
Jacob Nicholson (singing) credits the outstanding environment in OCC’s Music major with helping him discover his career path. He is pictured with student Shane Bucci in the Academic II Recital Hall.

It’s June 2014. Jacob Nicholson is about to graduate from Pulaski High School in Oswego County. In two months he’ll be a freshman at SUNY Potsdam’s prestigious Crane School of Music majoring in music education. A plan is in place but something doesn’t seem right. “At the time I felt really unsure about pursuing that major, or even music at all,” said Nicholson. That’s when he made the decision to come to Onondaga Community College, a decision which would change the course of his life.

OCC Music Professor David Rudari
OCC Music Professor Dr. David Rudari

Nicholson arrived on campus in time for the fall 2014 semester. People made him feel comfortable right away beginning with a music professor. “Dr. David Rudari became my advisor. He was very welcoming and encouraged me to continue with music. He explained how much I could grow working with faculty and students.”

Dr. Rudari remembers his first meeting with Nicholson and time spent with him during his two years on campus.  “Jacob came to us as the majority of our students have; eager, talented, active in their home school’s performing arts organizations, actively searching for his niche in the vast world of Music.  He readily transferred his skills and enthusiasm to our Department and established himself as a strong leader.”

Nicholson enjoyed speaking with fellow Music majors as well and learning their plans. Through those conversations he discovered the path he wanted to take. “I had an interest in psychology and had heard about music therapy from my peers, so I started reading more about it in books and online.”  Music therapy is an established health profession in which music is used to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals. “After my research, I was just about positive that music therapy was what I wanted to do.”

Music Therapist Clare Arezina
Music Therapist Clare Arezina

Nicholson became co-president of OCC’s Music Club. In that role he helped plan a career panel with individuals who had pursued different careers involving music. That’s when he met Clare Arezina, a music therapist who worked at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. “I asked her all of my unanswered questions. It solidified my career choice.”

Today Nicholson is enjoying his first semester at SUNY Fredonia where he’s majoring in music therapy. He’s grateful for the guidance he received during his two years at OCC and the impact it had on his life. “The professors encouraged us to use them to help decide what we wanted to do. When I was fresh out of high school I wasn’t confident in what I was doing. Now I feel more confident about pursuing music therapy than I ever have about anything. I’m grateful for the opportunities I received at OCC.”

Jennifer Townsley, '13 participates in the Vocal Alumni Sing-In. Townsley is now a student at SUNY Fredonia.

Vocal Alumni Summer Sing-In

The sounds of skilled vocalists practicing their craft filled the air on a hot August night on the OCC campus. The beautiful music came from the Recital Hall in the Academic II building where graduates of the College’s Music program reunited for the “OCC Vocal Alumni Summer Sing-In.” The event was planned by OCC Vocal Professors Jean Loftus and Dr. David Rudari as a way to show off the new and modern home of the College’s Music Department. “When we started this event in 1984 I held it at my home,” said Loftus. “Last year we moved it into the Recital Hall and created more of an alumni event. We contacted former students by phone, email and Facebook.”

Evelyn White, '13
Evelyn White, ’14

The Summer Sing-In was highlighted by vocal performances from 16 graduates, many of whom are now singing professionally, teaching music or pursuing a higher degree. Evelyn White, a 2014 OCC graduate, returned for the event. When the Academic II building opened in the fall of 2013 she sang at the ribbon cutting ceremony. White has since moved on to Syracuse University where she is studying music therapy. “I couldn’t wait to come back. Hearing people sing and seeing how it impacts others is what really makes me so passionate about music!”

John Halpin, '96
John Halpin, ’96

Class of 1996 member John Halpin also enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the Summer Sing-In. When he was a student the College’s Music program was located in the Gordon Student Center. Halpin was excited to spend time in its new home and get reacquainted with old friends. “The look of the building, the great Recital Hall and the private practice rooms are tremendous upgrades.” After graduating, Halpin transferred to SUNY Postdam’s prestigious Crane School of Music. He is now teaching music in the Cicero-North Syracuse School District where he has spent the last 16 years.

With vocal alumni coming back to reconnect and perform each year Loftus sees the Academic II building bringing new energy to graduates. “The Recital Hall is the perfect venue for gathering and performing,” she said. “I hope to keep this tradition going for many years.”

The Music department would like to recognize Leslie Kraus for all she did to help make this event a success.

Mark your calendar for next year’s event! It will be held Thursday, August 11, 2016 in the Academic II building’s Recital Hall. For more information on alumni events across the campus and information on how to reconnect with OCC please visit www.sunyocc.edu/alumni or contact Russ Corbin at corbinr@sunyocc.edu.

Participants in the 2015 Vocal Alumni Sing-In pose for a group photo on the Recital Hall stage.
Participants in the 2015 Vocal Alumni Sing-In pose for a group photo on the Recital Hall stage.

Envisioning A Career – Tony Melfi, ’89

Tony Melfi, '89 (left) in scenic Whistler, British Columbia, Canada shooting an X Games feature in January 2015. With him is two-time gold medalist snowboarder Max Parrot planning his next trick.
Tony Melfi, ’89 (left) in scenic Whistler, British Columbia, Canada shooting an X Games feature in January 2015. With him is two-time gold medalist snowboarder Max Parrot planning his next trick.

Tony Melfi came to OCC with out-of-this-world dreams.  “When I was 12 years old I decided I wanted to be an astronomer and the first professional still photographer on the moon.” Melfi never made it to the moon, but his experience at OCC helped him climb to the top of his profession as a videographer.

Melfi graduated from Syracuse’s Henninger High School in 1987 and enrolled at OCC. He started taking astronomy courses but figured out quickly his childhood dream was never going to happen. “About the same time I realized I wasn’t good at math I heard about a major where I could be a photographer shooting video.”

Melfi switched to the Radio and TV major and was impressed with how quickly the hands-on learning started. “I remember day one at OCC we were turning on cameras and shooting in the studio. Day two we were editing reel-to-reel voiceovers we had done ourselves. Day three we were editing video. At a lot of four-year schools you aren’t doing any of that before your junior year.”

As time went on Melfi noticed a unique sense of camaraderie within the Radio and TV major. “It never mattered what grade you were in. We all had the same professors and were always working on the same things, just on different levels. We all worked together, helped each other and had a great time.”

Outside class Melfi was getting real-world experience helping cover Syracuse University sports for the cable television organization “SUper Sports.” He was doing a little bit of everything: shooting and editing video, keeping statistics during games and even some on-air work.

Melfi’s excellence inside and outside of class earned him high honors when he graduated in 1989. He was awarded the Radio and TV department’s Curriculum Honors Award.

Melfi transferred to SUNY Fredonia where he would earn a degree in Broadcast Journalism two years later. After graduating he worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and gain valuable experience. He continued working for “SUper Sports,” interned with a sports talk show at WHEN Radio, interned at WIXT TV (Channel 9) where he shot and edited video of high school sports events and wrote scripts to match the video, and also had a job at the old Community General Hospital so he could have health insurance coverage.

Melfi got his first big break when he was hired to be a news videographer with WUTR TV in Utica. It’s also when he started to see the true value of his OCC education. “Our professors, people like Tony Vadala and Vinny Spadafora, had worked in the business. When I got to WUTR I found out everything our professors told us was true because they had done it. Maybe the technology had changed, but the fundamentals of doing things was the same. Everything went as they said they would go.”

Melfi also learned his OCC education gave him a distinct advantage over his co-workers. “I worked with a lot of kids from other colleges and their learning seemed to be much more theory based. They were very lost compared to OCC graduates. What we learned carried right over into the workplace automatically.”

Six months after starting at WUTR he received an offer for a similar position at WTVH TV in Syracuse that was too good to pass up. “I remember walking through the newsroom for my interview and seeing (longtime news anchor) Ron Curtis and so many other faces I had watched growing up. I was very nervous.” Melfi aced the interview, had a resume tape which showed he had the ability, was offered a job and accepted it.

Melfi flourished at WTVH. “There were so many people of all different levels of experience there who really cared about the product and helped each other. It was a great environment.” Melfi learned from everyone he worked with including a fellow newcomer he was often paired with, a young reporter named David Muir. Today Muir is the anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight.

Melfi spent four-and-a-half years working at WTVH. His strong work ethic coupled with his growing skills earned him a videographer position at ESPN. “When I left WTVH I thanked everyone there who I worked with. I told them that without this station and these people I never would have gotten to ESPN.”

RESIZED Tony Melfi in PolandWhen Melfi arrived at ESPN in 1997 he hit the ground running and never stopped. “I spent 20 days on the road covering the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and Finals. I thought, ‘Wow… this is pretty cool!’” Melfi was a road warrior, spending about 180 days a year living out of his suitcase. He covered Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Finals and NCAA Basketball Final Fours. “My favorite was baseball spring training. For many years I went to Florida every year and traveled everywhere working with legendary baseball reporter Peter Gammons. I also spent several spring trainings in Arizona working with Tim Kurkjian. Both were great to work with. They both love baseball and it would really come through in the work they did.”

Melfi spent nine years at ESPN. In his later years he got married and had a son. He knew starting a family meant he couldn’t spend as much time on the road anymore. Melfi and a co-worker at ESPN, a producer named Evan Hathaway, made the decision to go out on their own and start a production  company, “13 Productions.” They are freelancers who produce commercials and shoot sports features. “We do everything we did before but now we work together and for each other. I shoot video. We both edit and package everything up for the client.”

Melfi (holding camera) and business partner Evan Hathaway (left wearing plaid shirt) plan a shot while shooting a commercial for Reebok CrossFit.
Melfi (holding camera) and business partner Evan Hathaway (left, wearing plaid shirt) plan a shot while shooting a commercial for Reebok CrossFit.

“13 Productions” is now in its tenth year. Melfi has cut his travel back to about 60 days a year. When he’s not at work his life is non-stop at home. Melfi and his wife Regina have three children: 10-year-old Luca, 8-year-old Ronan, and 4-year-old Nina.

Melfi’s professional excellence has earned him two Sports Emmy Awards. During his more than 20 years in the business he’s worked with people of all ages and all levels of ability. Along the way he’s gathered valuable advice for today’s students:

  • Just because you graduate with a degree doesn’t guarantee you anything. You have to knock on doors. You have to ask people to give you a chance. When you get that chance you have to nail it.
  • Behind you there are probably a thousand people who can do what you do and half of them can do it better. You need to push your way in and show what you can do right away. Show you are willing to learn. Prove you can do it day after day after day.
  • You have to be able to communicate with people. You have to bring ideas and execute them as promised. Technology changes but those things stay the same. They are as important today as when I was starting out in the business.

“I tell my sons I barely remember my 20s and it’s true. I spent the whole decade working. In the end I wouldn’t change anything. I’m pleased with how everything turned out. I’m glad I went to OCC. It’s where I figured out what I wanted to do. It’s the best decision I ever made.”

Signature Music Camp

Dick Ford leads students through a sight reading class during Signature Music Camp.
Dick Ford leads students through a sight reading class during Signature Music Camp.

The next generation of student-musicians spent part of their summer on campus attending the prestigious Signature Music Camp. Students interested in pursuing higher education and a career in music came to OCC from as close as Central New York and as far away as California.

Camp attendees received training in both small and large groups. High school-aged students participated in a two-week session, and middle school-aged students enrolled in a one-week program. The entire staff was made up of former campers, several of whom now teach music in public schools. Instruction was based in the new Academic II building anchored by the College’s Music program. The structure spans a nearly 60-feet high gorge and contains a 150-seat recital hall, an instrument and choral rehearsal room, practice rooms, and smart classrooms. Campers lived in the College’s modern, air-conditioned residence halls.

“Coming here was a great way to grow musically,” said Molly Ross, a high school sophomore from Danbury, Connecticut. “You were surrounded by people who were as excited about music as you. It was a wonderful experience!”

Liam Lipsky, a senior from Tully High School, attended his fifth Signature Music Camp this summer. “I enjoy coming every year and meeting new people. Everyone wants to be your friend. We all have great relationships with each other. It’s a fun time and a great environment.”

The OCC campus and Academic II building were very popular with students. “It was really amazing here. We were all so excited to be here and see the facilities. It’s a beautiful building and college,” said Sarah Meemken, a junior at Averill Park High School in the Albany area.

Signature Music Camp was founded by Dick Ford, a former school superintendent who opened a music studio on Syracuse’s Near West Side to help local high school students. In the camp’s 22 years, more than 300 alumni have pursued music in college, and many are now teaching music throughout the country.

“Onondaga Community College is highly respected in New York State by music educators,” said Ford. “The College’s Music program has a long history of educating students and preparing them for transfer to outstanding schools like SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Fredonia, Ithaca College, and Syracuse University, where they can pursue a baccalaureate degree. With its new Academic II building, OCC is now a showcase for students and parents considering a high quality, undergraduate education.”

More information on Signature Music Camp is available at www.signaturemusic.org or by calling (315) 478-7840.