One rockin’ professor

Laura Welch

When most people think of musicians, it is easy for the cliché images of the long-haired, tattooed, rock-and-roll types to spring to mind. Economics professors? Probably not. At least not until you have met David Fiorenza. He may appear to be your typical Villanova School of Business professor, but this guitar-playing, hip professor is anything but typical – unless you consider being a professor Monday through Friday and a gig-playing musician on the weekend typical. Fiorenza’s latest album, “fiology,” has sold copies throughout the United States, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Fiorenza has taught for the past 20 years, and he came to Villanova in 1999. He has performed at Villanova in the past for Special Olympics and open-mic nights. Throughout his career, Fiorezna has become an expert at combining his two passions of teaching and music. Fiorenza and Wayne Dowlin make up the musical duo known as Fiorenza-Dowlin. The duo performs upward of 100 times per year around the country and at local festivals. They also make time to perform for charitable causes such as Musicians on Call, which organizes musical acts to perform for patients at local hospitals.Fiorenza met Dowlin at an open-mic night seven years ago, and they have been working together ever since. While it is evident Fiorenza and Dowlin blend well musically, they have also meshed as friends over the years. Coming together through personal tragedy, the two have seen each other through the hard times. “We have experienced a lot together with our children as well as with our own personal illnesses,” Fiorenza says. “The music is what kept us together.”You could even say that it is Fiorenza’s music that helped save his life. At a performance a few years ago, a doctor in the crowd took notice of a lump on Fiorenza’s throat while he performed. Without delay, the doctor stopped the performance and took him to the hospital. The lump was discovered to be a tumor. That performance saved his life. During Fiorenza’s stay in the hospital, he learned how difficult such an environment can be. This, in part, has inspired his involvement with Musicians on Call.”I myself was in University of Pennsylvania,” Fiorenza says. “I remember how it was being in that hospital for a week and even afterwards going back for testing and going back overnight … [Musicians on Call] is a way for us to give back to the community, whether it is in the city or around here.” Musicians on Call is sponsored by WXPN radio station in Philadelphia. Artists are selected to perform through an in-depth process that looks at their material and credentials. Fiorenza-Dowlin adapted well to playing in hospitals thanks in part to their experience playing retirement homes when they first started. Performing for patients in hospitals has proven to be a rewarding, yet trying, experience for Fiorenza. “You have to really be cognizant and play your music and not be concerned about what illness this person has or how sick they are,” Fiorenza says. “You are there to entertain them; you can’t get emotionally involved … until the end when you can have a good emotional moment by yourself.” Despite the emotionally draining aspects of Musicians on Call, Fiorenza still recognizes it as his favorite part of being a performer. “It is a good thing,” Fiorenza says. “It is really more rewarding than anything. It brings everything else back into perspective.”Keeping things in perspective may be especially difficult for Fiorenza when balancing two careers, but he seems to know the secrets of successfully combining the two. Quick to state that being a professor always takes precedence, he now finds that it is his lessons in economics that come into play when making decisions about his musical career. “Being at the economics department at Villanova, I always look at things from a dollar-and-cents standpoint too when I perform,” Fiorenza says. “I will not do something unless it makes economic sense … unless, of course, it is for charity.” Take, for instance, Fiorenza and Dowlin’s decision to make their latest duo album a recording of a live show.”We got people to record five or six of our shows, and we just picked the best show,” Fiorenza says. “It just did not make sense to put a CD out because the industry is changing. People are starting to buy whole CDs of downloaded songs from Apple iTunes for six, seven dollars.” When asked why he has not gone overseas to perform when Fiorenza-Dowlin seems to have a decent fan base there, the discussion once again goes back to economics. “It doesn’t make economical sense to do a tour that’s going to cost $4,000 when you only make $3,000,” Fiorenza says. “We have been trying to connect with either other artists or a promoter that will help fund the tour.”However, Fiorenza-Dowlin is no stranger to touring. Two summers ago the pair played 23 shows all over the East Coast in just 30 days. During the tour, they performed everywhere from coffee houses to subways to museums to vineyards. All that touring may be starting to pay off. This year Fiorenza-Dowlin reached the Top 40 in the independent country category.”We are a few behind Rascal Flatts,” Fiorenza says, laughing. “There’s not really a genre for our folk music … so we throw it in with the country.”This begs the question as to how Fiorenza-Dowlin might aptly be described. Perhaps a recent musical review in Phosphorescence Magazine put it best: “A down-to-earth, intimate sound … [they] are adept at creating tranquility-inducing, peacefully pure, contemporary acoustic music that is traditionally folksy without being stodgy and sentimental without being saccharine.” Upon urging Fiorenza to categorize his music, he will only say, “Somebody once said AC/DC meets ABBA in a car crash. I’m the harder side, and Wayne is the softer side.”This versatility in their music helps them easily adapt to any performance venue. One of Fiorenza’s favorite places to perform is outdoors, which he does often for animal-related benefit shows. “We did one benefit this past year for the SPCA, and a lot of German Shepherds were barking at the other bands for some reason but didn’t bark so much at us,” Fiorenza says. “So if a dog likes our music, it must be not that bad.”Barking dogs are not the only obstacle Fiorenza-Dowlin must conquer to perform. Two weeks ago at a show at The Restaurant School in Philadelphia, the duo had to carry all their equipment up three flights of narrow stairs before they could perform. The situation created some tension, but the show turned out to be their best in months. The unforeseen obstacles of such performances are Fiorenza’s favorite part of being a musician and of teaching. Uncertainty keeps his two careers interesting, Fiorenza says. “I’m excited to play,” Fiorenza says. “I’m excited to teach. My favorite saying is I am as ‘pleased as punch.’ “