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Beyond the classroom: SVC professors enjoy rocking out

Three Saint Vincent professors play together in a rock band called Phineas Gage, which they formed on campus in 2009. Dr. Mark Rivardo, professor of psychology, plays the bass guitar; Dr. Devin Fava, assistant professor of psychology, plays the keyboard; and Dr. Michael Rhodes, associate professor of biology, is the lead vocalist.

In 2009, Rhodes was asked to judge the Saint Vincent students’ Battle of the Bands event that was hosted in Alcuin Hall. Rivardo recalls this event as the inspiration to form a band.

“[Rhodes] did that one year and we were talking about it and we decided, well hey—let’s form a band. So we competed one year and we won fan favorite,” Rivardo said.

However, Rivardo joked that Guitar Hero was even an earlier inspiration for the assembly of a band.

Rhodes said, “I fell in love with Guitar Hero in the early to mid-2000s. Dr. Rivardo and I would get together frequently to have lunch. I mentioned some of my crazy antics with jumping on coffee tables late at night while rocking out to some old Judas Priest or Mötley Crüe tune. Fast forward a few weeks, and he’s asking me what I thought about starting a band.”

Now, the band mostly plays events that are hosted on Saint Vincent’s campus. In 2012 the band opened for The Clarks at a concert held in the Saint Vincent gymnasium.

“[Opening for The Clarks] was the chance of a lifetime, and memory that I’ll always savor,” Rhodes said.

On Sept. 12 Phineas Gage performed at the Food Trucks ’n Fun event at Z&M Harley Davidson in Greensburg.

“There were a lot of people, it was probably the biggest show that I’ve played [with the band],” Fava said.

Rivardo, Fava and Rhodes each come from different musical backgrounds. Rivardo began playing bass guitar as a freshman at Saint Vincent in 1989. Fava stated that he has been playing piano since he was 10. Rhodes, whose first band was Phineas Gage, says his outgoing personality and passion for music led him to become the lead vocalist.

“When we first started I was very self-conscious about my ability, to the point where I asked one of our undergraduate biology majors to work with me on shaping my vocals,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes joked that he will never win American Idol, but that he is proud of his progression as a vocalist.

Since the band was formed by college professors, they chose a band name that has a connection to disciplines they teach—biology and psychology.

Rivardo says that Phineas Gage was a railroad worker from Vermont. In 1848, during an attempt to blow up rock to make way for a rail line, Gage became distracted and accidentally caused an explosion.

“He took this metal tamping-rod that was three feet long, and he pounded it into the hole into the rock and he caused a spark, the spark lit the powder, the powder blasted the rod through his head,” Rivardo said.

Though Gage survived the accident, he experienced personality changes due to brain damage. For this reason, Gage’s incident became the first biological/psychological case study, hence the band’s choosing of the name Phineas Gage.

The future of Phineas Gage is still to be determined. Rivardo, Fava and Rhodes, however, each expressed a desire for the band to continue playing.

“The initial formation [of the band] was to be entertainment for the students; to see faculty members in a different light, and to have fun doing something that we enjoy,” Rivardo said.

Fava says the band enjoys experimenting with new songs and finding new ways to incorporate different instruments into their sound.

“There’s just a sense of camaraderie. There’s a sense of accomplishment when we play a song that sounds right,” Fava said.

In addition, Rivardo says the band tries to not take itself too seriously and experiments with on-stage antics to entertain the audience.

“That’s what this ride’s all about to me, making memories. I’d say we’re doing a good job in the memory department,” Rhodes said.

Photo: Phineas Gage Facebook

From left to right: Ray “Coach” King, rhythm and lead guitar; Devin “insert nickname here” Fava, keyboard; Michael “The Wolf” Rhodes, lead vocals; Ron “Smoke” Weaver, drums and backing vocals; Mark “Cannonball” Rivardo, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and backing vocals.

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