Art beat: Musician, teacher Rubel heads for Nashville

Art beat: Musician, teacher Rubel heads for Nashville

While many people his age are settling down or retiring, Mark Rubel's making a big change.

The 55-year-old musician, recording engineer, teacher and downtown Champaign fixture will move this summer to Nashville, Tenn.

There he will be an instructor and co-director of education of The Blackbird Academy, a new audio engineering school housed in the famed Blackbird Studio, founded in 2002 by John and Martina McBride.

Among the stars who have been recorded at the studio complex are Taylor Swift, Jack White, Kid Rock, Ke$ha and Tim McGraw.

For the past 33 years, Rubel has operated his own music-recording business, Pogo Studio, on Taylor Street in downtown Champaign.

It continues to remain busy, he said. As of now he plans to leave Pogo under the care of experienced engineers.

"The prudent thing is to leave it in place," he said last week.

Rubel has recorded hundreds, maybe thousands of musicians, among them Alison Krauss. And since 1985 his studio has been a real-life classroom for Parkland College students taking classes in music recording.

Rubel has taught the classes three semesters a year; after he leaves, someone will take over that duty.

An extremely busy guy who seldom goes outside, Rubel also works at Eastern Illinois University. EIU has given him a year's leave of absence, "which is very nice of them," he said.

There he teaches music technology and a course on the evolution of jazz and rock and roll. It attracts 120 to 150 students per section each fall and spring.

"That's a complete blast, and it's really gotten to the point where it's sort of a show," said Rubel, who brings in guest artists, among them Elsinore's Ryan Groff, to perform.

He also created a sort of uber-band of C-U musicians to perform for the class: drummer Josh Quirk, guitarist Matt Stewart, blues singer Candy Foster and Rubel, who plays bass guitar.

At EIU, where Rubel began working in 2007, he also is audio director for the music department and helps with audio in other departments as well as at the $70 million Doudna Fine Arts Center, where he has his office.

"I really felt I was getting to go to Oz every day to teach," Rubel said. "It is a fantastic facility."

Regionally, Rubel also is known as bass guitarist for the oldies thrash band, Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets. He's been with them 33 years.

"I'm proud of our band," he said. "I'm proud that we're resolutely unhip, which means hip in my book. We're always sneered at by other musicians. It was never our intention to be good. We always wanted to be transcendentally fun."

Rubel was 2 when his family moved to C-U. He was born in Princeton, N.J., where as a baby he played on Albert Einstein's rug. (Einstein had died by then.) His father, Lee, was a mathematician who came here to join the University of Illinois math department.

When they first arrived on a gray and rainy day, Lee told his wife, Nina, he would move the family somewhere else after a year.  Lee and Nina remained here the rest of their lives.

Nina Rubel was a well-known reporter for The Courier in downtown Urbana and The News-Gazette and published a compilation of the work she had done at both newspapers.

Mark Rubel went to local schools, graduating from Leal Elementary School, University Laboratory High and the UI. He's lived here most of the time except for his father's sabbatical years, spent in some of the most desirable cities on Earth.

"I love Champaign. I really do," he said. "It's a wonderful combination of town and city. I think it's an amazing place for music and the ambient level of musicianship here is unprecedented. It's so high people who grew up here don't realize how great it is."

In fact, that's one of his chief complaints, and it's mine as well:

"I'd like to see a larger audience for live music," he said. "Much of the audience is composed of other musicians, and a lot of people are missing.

"It's a mystery to me. If it were my world there would be 30 people at a football game and 70,000 at a Donnie Heitler show."

Rubel feels sad about leaving but said the new job was an offer he could not refuse. He went after it and feels as if he has been preparing for it his entire life.

"It is an ultimately fabulous opportunity. I would be crazy to say no," he said.

Rubel's wife, Nancy, eventually will join him in Nashville. They now live in a loft above Pogo Studio; they own the building.

Rubel has been an eyewitness to major changes downtown. When he first started living there, it was himself, Dave Monk and the "occasional prostitute," he joked.

Now he sees throngs of people at the coffee shops, bars and restaurants, which he enjoys as well. But one thing he won't miss: drunken zombies late at night.

What he will most miss: His sister Sasha Rubel and her family, who live in Urbana.

Doyle Moore, R.I.P.

The best part of my job is interviewing interesting people. One of the most interesting, colorful and well-rounded I've met was A. Doyle Moore, a UI professor emeritus of graphic design.

Mr. Moore, who survived a massive heart attack 20 years ago and had diabetes, was found dead in his home May 13, according to the Champaign County coroner. He was 82.

Many people know Mr. Moore as co-host of a monthly call-in cooking show on former WILL-AM radio host David Inge's "Focus 580."

Mr. Moore, though, was more than that, a local personality and a Renaissance man.

In the 1960s he founded the Finial Press, which published most of the significant concrete poets working in the United States, according to friend David Eisenman.

In concrete poetry, the use of typography and the shape in which the poem is printed is nearly as important as the poem itself.

Mr. Moore also printed limited editions of handmade books created by significant local authors, Eisenman said. Those now belong to collections in more than 30 rare-book library rooms, including those at Yale, Harvard, Princeton and the UI.

When I interviewed Mr. Moore 10 years ago at his home, he said he considered himself a graphic designer who deals with process in all activities including cooking.

"Philosophically, I taught from the approach of how things go together," he said. "I was interested in the variations and I would codify it my way. Instead of blindly accepting what happens I like to study the variations."

Mr. Moore approached cooking as an anthropological phenomenon. When listeners called into his show offering a recipe, he would always ask for its source. He found it was generally a mother or grandmother.

He would ask the caller more questions, collecting material folk culture in the process. (In the '70s at the UI he taught a course in material folk culture.)

Mr. Moore, though, didn't view cooking as sacred or as an art.

"Art has a different function than pleasing the palate. However, the act of cooking could be your expression," he said.

He expressed himself via ethnic and American foods. He was well-versed as well in the areas of cookbooks, cooking magazines, television food shows and chefs.

Mr. Moore dated his interest in cooking to his senior year in high school, when he worked on a farm in southwest Kansas. He was virtually adopted by the farm family; he would often watch the girls cook for the farmhands.

Through one "sister," he met Beverly Cox when she edited Cooking Magazine. That led to Mr. Moore and "Sister," as he called her, testing recipes for Cox as she worked on her cookbooks. Mr. Moore and "Sister" also tested recipes for Perdue Chicken.

Mr. Moore officially retired from the UI in 1992 but continued to teach a course in the theory of Japanese aesthetics.

He also knitted, sheared sheep, spun his own yarn and weaved. He knew silver smithing and ceramics. He made his own paper, including from corn husks, and set type by hand.

Graphic designer John Bonadies, who started the Living Letter Press in Champaign, took over Mr. Moore's press and type, some of it dating back 100 years or more, Eisenman said.

Mr. Moore bound books, too, collaborating in recent years with Christopher Hohn, owner of Lincoln Bookbindery in Urbana and a former student of Mr. Moore's.

Hohn had taken his first course in typography at the UI from Mr. Moore.

"He was a force to be reckoned with. Frankly, I was a bit intimidated," Hohn wrote. "I sensed that he would not hesitate to expose any weakness I had as a student, and I sensed correctly.

"What it took me some time to realize, perhaps years, is that he would not hesitate to push me to build on my strengths. I learned a lot from Professor Moore."

Mr. Moore began showing up at Hohn's bookbindery in the early '80s, asking Hohn to help him finish a set of books.

"Our collaborations were always examples of Doyle's wide ranging creativity, which always seemed destined to challenge our technical ability," Hohn said.

In late March, they finished what turned out to be their last project; Hohn said he had not yet stopped learning from his former professor.

"The last time he stepped into my shop I addressed him by saying 'Oh Captain My Captain.' His response was the same as always upon his arrival, 'Hi Mom, I'm home.'"

Mr. Moore also was interested in music. He played the autoharp, and when he could not find a history of the instrument, he wrote one himself. In 1962, he and two students recorded a folk music album, "Philo Glee and Mandolin Society," on the UI Folk Song Club label.

"It's all communication and ways of putting things together," he said.

Other passages

— Ed Schaller, who plays upright bass and bass guitar and is finishing up a doctoral of musical arts degree from the UI.

The 1989 Urbana High School alumnus was teaching at Parkland College and Millikin University and led Parkland's In Your Ear Big Band. He is moving to Las Vegas next month to teach at a charter high school.

— Elizabeth Buckley, a mezzo-soprano who worked in development and fundraising. She and her family are moving to Seattle.

— The multitalented David King and most of the members of his Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra will move in August to New Orleans. They will rent an old mansion and already have a weekly restaurant gig.

— Neal Robinson, a well-respected keyboard player who has played with several bands, will move to California.

— Ron Kovatch, a UI professor of art and design who retired last year, will move soon with his wife to Tucson, Ariz. His nifty surrealistic drawings are on display through June 22 at the Cinema Gallery, 120 W. Main St., U.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

Topics (3):Art, Music, People

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on May 19, 2013 at 7:05 am
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I agree about Donnie Heitler, but there haven't been 70,000 people at a football game since Captain Rat had a hit single ...











... which I own, on blue vinyl.