Leinberger
Rodney Leinberger records an opera at the Alexander Kasser Theater. COURTESY DAVID WITTEN

By MARK S. PORTER
For Montclair Local

“Recorded and edited by Rodney Leinberger.”

That citation accompanies many of the estimated 1,800 videos Rodney Leinberger has posted on YouTube

They’re in the captions of recordings spotlighting thousands of Montclair State University students who have performed instrumental, vocal, dance and theatrical recitals.

Leinberger made the recordings, focusing on student performances in MSU’s John J. Cali School of Music, the Memorial Auditorium, the Fox Theater, and the Alexander Kasser Theater.

In recent years, Leinberger has also recorded several plays performed by Montclair High’s School of Visual and Performing Arts.

His YouTube videos have had more than 1,723,000 views since Leinberger began filing them in February 2008.

Until July 1, Leinberger and his wife, Laura Radin, resided on Upper Mountain Avenue in Montclair, near the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. They’ve moved nearby to Woodland Park.

On Aug. 3, Leinberger posted this announcement on Facebook:

“To all MSU students and faculty: it is with great sorrow and reluctance that I must announce I am no longer going to be recording recitals and performances at the John J. Cali School of Music or in the Alexander Kasser Theater.”

He explained that he would be turning 80, and the amount of work per semester had grown too great “for any one human being,” adding that in the spring semester at MSU he’d “recorded over 110 recitals and performance, on some Saturdays four in one day. That means I was there from at least 10 a.m. until 9:30 or 10pm.” Each video then required two to three hours of editing.

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude for Rodney’s years of recording and documenting our students’ recitals,” stated David Witten, coordinator of keyboard students at the Cali School of Music.

 

DOCUMENTING TALENT

“Rodney first became familiar with the music department when his wife Laura registered for some lessons and classes. He asked permission to bring a video recorder to one of the recitals. He became very invested in doing it properly, and worked to create better and better video images and sound quality,” Witten recalled.

“She had come home one day and said Montclair State had these recitals on Wednesdays. ‘There’s this great music that no one’s recording, and they’re getting lost,’” Leinberger said Radin told him.

Leinberger had worked in computers as a systems manager for Port Authority in the World Trade Center before opening a computer service business in Montclair. He retired in 1995.

Radin prompted her husband to begin filming the recitals with an old super-8mm video camera in an old MSU recital hall, now torn down. Leinberger began his videography without an official OK.

“You know the old saying: It’s better to ask forgiveness than it is for permission,” he said.

He then invested in more sophisticated digital gear, along with microphones, lenses, and a mixer. “I started recording and giving out DVDs to the kids,” Leinberger said.

“At the beginning of each semester, Rodney would obtain a complete list of student recitals,” Witten said in an email. “Recording from his spot in the back of the balcony, he developed excellent techniques of zooming, editing, and placing microphones that gave terrific results. And he never charged the students a professional fee — he only asked for $5 to cover the actual cost of the DVD.”

“It would be a real documentation of the student’s performance,” Leinberger said. “The teachers liked it because they would review with the kids what they were doing right and doing wrong. And the parents liked it.”

“From that same perch in the balcony, Rodney would often notice the annoying use of students ignoring the recital and using their cell phones instead,” Witten noted. “With a laser pointer, Rodney would shine the red laser light from his balcony perch onto the offending hands and phone of the inconsiderate user. They would become bewildered and perplexed by this magical red dot, not immediately realizing that they were being shamed.”

Observing the audience is part of what Leinberger enjoyed. “I’m photographing from the balcony. I’m recording the recital. I can take my still camera and look at the audience,” he said.

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Screenshot of a recital recorded by Rodney Leinberger. COURTESY DAVID WITTEN

REACTIONS TO RECORDINGS

On Facebook, scores of MSU students, graduates and MSU faculty members saluted Leinberger, thanking him for recording their recitals. 

“Thank you, Rodney!” wrote one student. “We all know how beautiful these video recordings are! And it has been a convention that we go to Leshowitz hall and the first thing is always saying hi to our Rodney. No doubt, you are the iconic man in Cali!”

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From another student: “I’ll never forget the first time we met, you were the kind gentlemen who gave me encouragement during my finals week stress, and hilariously gave me a bag of tangerines. You might not remember it but I was honestly dumbfounded and touched at the same time!! … I don’t think anyone will possibly fill in this Rodney-sized hole at Cali for many years to come, if ever. Will miss you dearly!!”

Matteo Varano, a 2019 graduate of the John J. Cali School of Music, wrote to Montclair Local that “Rodney’s video recordings did assist me as student and a musician. Many of the Cali School students would anxiously await for Rodney to post his recordings on YouTube, share them via dropbox and even burn to DVD. His recordings were accurate in both video and audio and were great indicators of technical factors such as note, pitch, rhythmic accuracy, tone quality and blend with an accompanist or ensemble.

“However, I also was very lucky to see Rodney from both sides of the camera, and not just behind the lens. Not only was he a mentor while I was a student, he was also a kind and genuine friend. I have been very fortunate to work alongside him in recording recitals and performances on the MSU campus, and for the town of Montclair.” Varano now teaches music technology in the Caldwell School District. 

 

UNPLUGGING THE VIDEOCAM

Leinberger said that with the time he now has available, he has 11 bookcases packed with books he intends to read, along with focusing on hobbies such as puzzles and cryptography. And he will be going out with Laura to enjoy dinners and movies. Other people’s movies.

On Facebook, he explained: 

“It’s been a great run — I’ve met some wonderful, awesome people and some great performers. I especially like that I have been able to show off these performers all over the world, to their friends and relatives who would not otherwise get to see what they can do.”