September 10, 2010

Emory Profile

David Leinweber: The flatpicking professor

It's not too often that a "Charlie's Angel" calls out of a blue to pay you a compliment.

So, when David Leinweber, Oxford College associate professor of history and accomplished acoustic guitarist, picked up the phone last month to discover on the other end of the line actress Kate Jackson, his celebrity muse, he was dumbfounded.

"She called to tell me how much she loved the song I wrote about her," recalls Leinweber, who wrote "Daphne" based on Jackson's character Daphne Harridge in the popular 1960s Gothic soap opera, "Dark Shadows."

Along with "Daphne," the folk-rock-blues guitarist has penned dozens of songs inspired by growing older, his Methodist upbringing and his area of expertise, history.

A Renaissance kid

Raised by two high school English literature teachers who quoted Alfred Tennyson and Geoffrey Chaucer for fun, Leinweber was captivated as a child by the real-life drama of late ancient and early medieval European history.

"These were great narratives," he says, "not only because they were so bloody and terrible."

Meanwhile, his parents, both avid pianists, nurtured in him an appreciation for music. He took lessons from a "prim and proper" woman who studied under the same teacher as the flamboyant musician Liberace and could play boogie-woogie and Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" with equal gusto. As a teenager obsessed with Elton John, Cat Stevens and the Grateful Dead, Leinweber wrote his first guitar ballad honoring 19th century peacemaker Chief Joseph of Idaho's Nez Perce tribe.

In 1993, Leinweber left his home state of Michigan to join Oxford College's history department.

He currently teaches introductory courses in Western civilization along with upper-level seminars exploring themes such as how King Arthur became so iconic. His teaching philosophy is rooted in presenting information clearly but with enthusiasm, inspiring students to engage in rigorous analysis and make connections across the liberal arts.

The approach has garnered accolades. He has received the Sammy Clark Service Award and the Mitzell Award at Oxford, along with an award for exemplary teaching from The Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.

The flatpicking professor

Leinweber also shares his musical talents with the community. He's played piano for Allen Memorial United Methodist Church and Oxford College productions, led Oxford's Guitar and Mandolin Society and composed a ballad, "Now is Our Time," for the installation of President Jim Wagner, as well as a hymn regularly performed by the Oxford Chorale during the holidays. After adding 25 original songs to his repertoire over the past two years, Leinweber will perform selections at an Oxford College event on Nov. 8.

"It's one thing to analyze and critique someone else's work – that's a really safe position," he says. "To write songs, you need to put yourself out there and vulnerability can be scary."

Leinweber has taught guitar and piano for 25 years and occasionally performs at weddings with his wife, a violinist and soprano.

In 2006, Leinweber performed solo as the "Flatpicking Professor" (sans kilt) at the Scottish Bluegrass Association Festival in Perth, Scotland.

He regularly plays with Bob McMillan, a semi-retired painter who is the other half of The Silverbirds, Leinweber's current band. The duo is booked almost every weekend at restaurants, coffeehouses and festivals around town, showcasing their versatility with Motown, the Bee Gees and Simon & Garfunkel.

"I never saw music and history as an either-or," the professor says. "I figured unless they chopped off my hands, I could always play."

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  • Catch a David Leinweber performance at the following venues:

    Sept. 21 at 7 p.m., The Melting Pot, 295 E. Dougherty St., Athens

    Sept. 24 at 8 p.m., The Celtic Tavern, 918 Commercial St. N.E., Conyers

    Nov. 8 at 8 p.m., Williams Hall of Oxford College, 100 Hamill St., Oxford