by Lou Mancinelli
A vocation versus avocation, a job or a hobby, such is the decision many enthusiasts of the arts face. Is my art a job or a hobby?
For five-year Chestnut Hill resident Richard Redding, the arts, while they provide their refuge from a sometimes stressed life, are an avocation. Redding is an accomplished saxophonist. He owns and plays soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes. He’s performed in bands since high school and has on and off throughout his life. Over the years he has performed with local artists like Tom Gala, Zan Gardner and Ben Arnold.
His day job is Director of Community Planning at the City Planning Commission (CPC). It’s a major role in a major city agency involved with deciding on development projects from neighborhood plans to large-scale developments.
Redding will perform with local band Saint Mad in a production of “Mt. Airy Home Companion: The Holiday Show,” Saturday, Dec. 8, 7 to 9 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 9, 4 to 6 p.m., at the Allens Lane Art Center, 601 West Allens Lane.
“It’s a great way to balance life between office work and something that is very different,” said Redding, 60, about performing.
Raised in Glenside, Redding graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1970. Four years later he earned his bachelor’s degree in Community Development from Pennsylvania State University. He was hired by the CPC in 1974 as a planner for Northeast Philadelphia. He earned a master’s in public administration from Temple University in 1982.
“Music enriches lives,” said Redding. “It can be therapy. It’s good for the soul.”
“Soul” might be a word not often voiced in the city bureaucracy, but Redding has always weaved between and felt comfortable among different crowds. As a teenager in the 1960s he enjoyed folk music and grew up on the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. But he also was familiar with the psychedelic scene.
“I felt that I was different because I mingled between both groups,” Redding recalled.
Mingle is what he has continued to do throughout his career as a city planner and on the side as a musician. Being a city planner requires one to collaborate with various city agencies, officials and neighborhood organizations. It requires the ability to communicate.
Music can be just the same. A musician who is used to mingling with others might fit better into different roles in different groups. For Redding, music is as much about music as it is about making friends and creating sound experiences.
He plays in several bands. He’s performed with The Flying Mangos for almost five years. The Latin/Caribbean group recently released an album via CD Baby entitled “Para Debora” (“For Deborah” in Spanish because the CD is dedicated to the deceased parents of bandmember Pam Graboyes). For the last year he has performed with Reverend Chris & the High Rollers, a jazz and pop band. He’s also performed in R&B group The Knights of Soul.
Redding first started to take saxophone lessons in the fourth grade. His father worked as a banker in Philadelphia and also played the instrument. Redding heard classic players like Benny Goodman at an early age. When he went to college, music was secondary to his education, as it remains secondary to his work as a planning professional.
“It’s always been a sideline to me,” he said. But each time he stops playing for a bit and starts again, he realizes he’s nearly left behind a gem. “I kick myself and say you gotta stick with this.”
It’s a testament to his determination and endurance to be able to perform his professional duties and enjoy his music avocation. Right now, Redding is involved in the Phila2035 initiative. It’s a project designed to create 18 different neighborhood plans for all the neighborhoods across the city. Those plans will inform future zoning, development and land-use issues in Philadelphia. As such, it’s the makings of the blueprint of Philadelphia’s future.
For the majority of his career, Redding worked as community planner for West Philadelphia. In 1994 he authored the West Philadelphia Plan, a 150-page comprehensive plan. It analyzed every neighborhood, identified areas in need of urban renewal, studied community groups and investigated how to revitalize low-income areas with high vacancies. These things, which make up community dynamics, are what attracted Redding to the field.
In his time at CPC, Redding said he’s seen the definition of Center City change from being defined as stretching from South Street to Spring Garden Street to now, where it’s considered to exist between Washington and Girard Avenues.
Redding married his second wife Madeline a year-and-a-half ago. He had two children during his first marriage. He has served on the community advisory board of the Netter Center for 15 years and is the former chair of music ministry at the Unitarian Society of Germantown on Lincoln Drive. He practices saxophone every other day.
“I’m a busy guy, like so many other people,” he said. “But the music is something I enjoy.”
“Para Debora,” the CD with Redding and The Flying Mangos, is also available on Amazon.com and iTunes.