Part-Time Passions: June 2009

IEEE members do more than just work all day. These play in a rock band and figure skate

8 June 2009

Peter DiIorio & 
Glenn Govier
Sony Rock Stars

Every few months, the ballroom at the Marriott Park Ridge, in New Jersey, turns into a concert hall. That’s when the Variable Speed Band—VSB to its fans—delivers a four-hour concert of cover songs from the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, and other rock icons. The musicians include engineers and product and marketing managers from Sony Electronics Broadcast & Business Solutions Co., located next to the hotel in Park Ridge.

Two IEEE members are integral parts of the five-member VSB: bassist Glenn Govier [left] and guitarist/vocalist Peter DiIorio [right]. The two New Yorkers have been playing music together since engineering school in the early 1980s. The VSB’s jams, which have occurred intermittently since 1993, serve as a creative outlet and source of corporate camaraderie.

rock Profession:
MARKETING MANAGERS
Hometown:
BRONXVILLE AND YONKERS, N.Y.

“We’ve created a thriving musicians’ community at work,” Govier says. “We’re getting folks out to play who at one time might have played casually and now want to dust off their guitar or bass.” The group sometimes plays backup for friends who are just starting their own band.

“Some people at the company have told me we have changed their lives,” DiIorio says. “We’ve gotten our bosses involved by having them jam with us, and we’ve done a number of business events where we’ve been the featured entertainment.” Those gigs include corporate functions, including Take Your Kids to Work Day, and sales meetings involving thousands of Sony employees.

VSB competed in the Fortune magazine 2005 Corporate Band Challenge and was invited to perform at the 2006 Summer National Association of Music Merchants pre–trade show party in Austin, Texas. The party features amateur musicians from the sponsors and attendees.

Last year VSB performed as part of a three-hour, 13-band concert Govier and DiIorio organized for a Sony sales meeting in Palm Desert, Calif.; recorded a song on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, a nonprofit mobile studio started by fans to commemorate Lennon and teach children to create audio and video media; and organized and headlined the Rockers Against Hunger charity event in Clifton, N.J.

HOUSE BAND VSB’s stage antics and eclectic repertoire have won enthusiastic support from Sony employees who regard them as the company’s house band. VSB unofficially began when Govier and another colleague jammed at a 1991 Sony regional sales meeting to break up the litany of presentations. It slowly grew in size and stature as word spread around the departments. But its seeds were sewn a dozen years earlier through IEEE.

Govier and DiIorio—who grew up in Manhattan and Yonkers, N.Y., respectively, met through the IEEE student branch at the Polytechnic Institute of New York (now the Polytechnic Institute of New York University), in Brooklyn. Both were putting themselves through electrical engineering classes as “wiring jocks,” maintaining audio equipment at several New York City recording studios. They crossed paths with the likes of Joan Jett, the Ramones, Talking Heads, Barry Manilow, and Keith Richards. Govier, who now lives in Bronxville, N.Y., and DiIorio, who lives once again in nearby Yonkers, began playing in bands in their early teens while also discovering the joys of taking apart appliances to see how they worked.

“I took my passion for engineering and kept it aligned with music by redirecting it to something acceptable to my dad,” DiIorio says. “He felt music was something you did only in your spare time.”

“About 10 years ago,” Govier says, “I realized I probably could have done music on a full-time basis. But it was a good thing I didn’t, because it’s really tough to make it as a pro. The cats who play in the studios and on Broadway are the best of the best. But playing nightclubs, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and one’s own music is rough work. Musicians aren’t well paid, and many of my professional musician friends are really struggling. Engineering work is more guaranteed and more satisfying.”

After graduation, Govier and DiIorio both went into TV system design engineering and project management. Their career paths diverged until they both ended up, coincidentally, at Sony. They became best friends performing together in an ’80s rock cover band, the Odds, that played in New York City.

Although VSB now performs for the public occasionally (“Getting musicians together is like herding cats,” DiIorio says), the group religiously adheres to a weekly three hour–plus practice, despite having to balance work and family life.

“It’s remarkable we’ve managed to do it as long as we have,” DiIorio says.

“Somehow, it just works,” Govier adds. “It clicks.”

Check out VSB at http://www.myspace.com/variablespeedband.

 

passionskate Profession:
ELECTRONICS ENGINEERS
Hometown:
HUNTSVILLE, ALA.

Joel Booth & Janice Rock
Skate Mates

Friends since childhood, IEEE Members Janice Rock and Joel Booth have led nearly parallel lives.

They grew up 20 minutes apart, near Birmingham, Ala. Both attended the University of Alabama in Huntsville, volunteered at the National Weather Service, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering—all at the same time. They now work as civilian electronics engineers at the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal, in Huntsville. And, in another notable coincidence, they survived brushes with cancer at nearly the same age.

So when Rock [left], 41, asked Booth [right], 35, to be her figure-skating partner four years ago, it seemed perfectly natural. No matter that Rock had been skating and competing since age 17 and Booth had tried it only a handful of times.

“Janice was a big influence on my picking up skating, because she had done it for many years,” Booth says. “We needed to add physical activity to our lives of sitting at a desk all day.” For the past four years, the two friends have performed as a pair representing the Point Mallard Figure Skating Club in Decatur, Ala., picking up numerous gold and silver medals in regional tournaments around the southeastern United States.

“He’s a natural, and he works really hard,” Rock says. “They call Joel ‘Air Joel’ because his jumps are so high.” Rock is known for what’s called an outside spread eagle: gliding on both feet with toes pointing in opposite directions.

The pair is working on a Zorro routine. “Joel is wearing a cape and mask, and I’m making a dress that’s a little risqué, to say the least,” Rock says.

“Skating is a great contrast from sitting at a desk or working in a lab,” Booth says. Rock adds, “We’re not competing at an Olympic level by any means, but it’s an awful lot of fun.”

It takes a lot of dedication. The pair practices 10 to 15 hours a week for two to three months in order to hone a two- to three-minute routine for a competition.

And skating doesn’t come cheap. Custom skates run US $1500 to $2000; rink time and private coaching cost $600 to $800 a month; and costumes go for as much as $300 apiece. Despite the expenses, the two say they couldn’t imagine life without their hobby. “Skating is so much a part of who we are,” Rock says—which might help explain their willingness to accept their share of bumps and bruises along the way. A tumble last summer knocked Rock cold and sent her to the hospital with a severe concussion.

“I don’t want to do that again,” she says, laughing it off. “But part of skating is learning how to fall.”

SURVIVORS Rock moved from one dead-end job to another before melanoma derailed her at 26. She beat the 50-percent odds and enrolled in college at the same time as Booth. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 25, and he earned a clean bill of health three years ago.

“You really change your outlook on life. You don’t let little things get to you as much,” Rock says of their battles with cancer. “The fact that we both are cancer survivors solidified our friendship.”

While at the University of Alabama, both got involved in amateur radio emergency communications with a storm responders group at the National Weather Service in Birmingham. Noting their enthusiasm and facility with radio, the meteorologists encouraged them to pursue electrical engineering. They took that advice and joined the university’s IEEE student branch.

Math equations fit regularly into their practices. “Figure skating is about angular momentum,” Rock says. “We analyze tracings on the ice and conduct vector analyses when our spins don’t center.”

When it all clicks, she says, “It’s the most amazing exercise in the world. And being out on the ice as a pair…there’s so much speed. The throws, jumps, and lifts are so powerful. When you’re moving across the ice surface, there’s a feeling of freedom and flying.”

If you have an interesting hobby you would like to share, e-mail the editors: institute@ieee.org.

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