by Len Lear
A Mt. Airy resident for more than 25 years, Richard “Rick” Josiassen, 67, is a brain scientist and specialist in paranoid schizophrenia. Josiassen, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Fuller Institute in Pasadena, California, is a research professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at Drexel University College of Medicine as well as the chief scientific officer for Translational Neuroscience, LLC, which is next door to the Spring Mill Cafe in Conshohocken.
Rick’s wife, Rita Shaughnessy, who has both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, is a psychiatrist and currently the director of outpatient psychiatric services for Drexel University College of Medicine. You might expect either one of them to produce a scholarly concert or workshop. The last thing you would expect them to produce is a concert, but that’s exactly what Rick is putting on this Sunday, Mary 18, 4 to 6 p.m., at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, 8000 St. Martin’s Lane in Chestnut Hill. Why the switch from brain cells to cellos?
“A dear friend of mine, Bruce Ditnes, who also lives in Mt. Airy, has a relative with Neurofibromatosis (NF),” Rick replied. “He has watched the condition evolve in the life of this child. He has felt so strongly about the hardships posed by this condition that he volunteers many weekends to drive families who have a child with NF to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and then waits along with the family members as their child goes through another round of neurological testing.
“One Saturday after spending most of his day at CHOP with an NF family, he dropped by my home for a glass of wine, and I played a copy of a Eugene Friesen (cello) concert I had just produced in California. As he listened, he teared up and asked how we could do something with Eugene and Friends on behalf of NF. My usual answer to these kinds of questions: ‘Let’s ask him!’”
(Eugene Friesen, 62, is a cellist, composer, professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and a four-time Grammy winner. He has broken new ground for the cello, using it in a wide variety of non-classical settings and creating new techniques to expand its role as a solo and accompanying instrument. He has also performed thousands of concerts for young audiences on cello and electric cello as “Celloman.”)
When Josiassen asked Friesen to perform for the benefit concert at a Chestnut Hill location, he immediately said yes. As a result, Friesen and Friends will be joining together this Sunday to perform two eclectic sets of exquisitely played music in a concert to raise awareness of the rare childhood neurologic condition. May also happens to be NF Awareness Month.
According to medicalnewstoday.com, Neurofibromatosis is a genetically inherited disorder of the nervous system (brain and spinal cord) that mainly affects the development of nerve (neural) cell tissues, causing tumors (neurofibromas) to develop on nerves, and may cause other abnormalities. The tumors may be harmless, or they may compress nerves and other tissues and cause serious damage. In some rarer cases the tumors may become cancerous. Neurofibromatosis may also affect the bones, causing severe pain. Some patients experience learning disabilities, behavioral problems and vision and/or hearing loss. There is no cure for the disease.
“The fact that musicians always step up when a need arises is hardly news,” said Rick last week. “There may be categories of people who are as generous with their time and talent as musicians, but it’s hard to come up with any group of people who so commonly share their gifts so unselfishly. But, that’s just what will happen on Sunday afternoon at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.”
Friesen has arranged an ensemble consisting of Tim Ray, pianist for Lyle Lovett and Bonnie Raitt; Leonard “Doc” Gibbs, drummer and musical director for “Emeril Live!” Satoshi Takeishi, master percussionist and arranger from Mito, Japan. Also included will be vocalist Theresa Thomason. One music critic recently wrote about Thomason: “In a world crowded with nearly seven billion people, there probably aren’t a hundred voices as rich as hers.”
According to Rick, Friesen is a deeply spiritual musician whose roots reach into jazz, classical and sacred music, using rhythmic influences derived from travels in six continents. As an ensemble, “Friesen and Friends play with delicacy, intimacy and depth, and they’ve all got chops, but they always place the music first.”
Tickets to the concert are $40 each. They can be purchased at the door or at grow.ctf.org/BenefitConcert2014.