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A Recital to Remember

By Jason M. Rubin

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At the recital are (from left): Dr. Tom Graboys, Vicki Graboys, Pei-Shan Lee, Jing Li, Ilana Davidson, Landers A. Thomas, Victoria Ruff, Jason Rubin, and Brooke Casey. Photo credit: Sheryl Lanzel

Lewy bodies interrupt the connections between neurons that allow chemical and electrical signals to reach their targets. In small but meaningful ways, other kinds of connections may help one day to find a cure.

In 2008, I wrote a blog post about my mother, who had LBD for 10 years before succumbing to it in 1999 at the age of 66. Sometime later, an LBD “cause” page appeared on Facebook and I reposted my blog piece there. This was seen by Ilana Davidson, a soprano whose mother died of LBD two years earlier. She wrote me a very kind note saying how much my piece meant to her. We met at the end of the year when I was visiting family in New York City. Over hummus and fruit, we began to discuss the possibility of doing a benefit recital for the LBDA.

Our initial plans were rather grandiose (let’s get Al Pacino to read excerpts from Life in the Balance, Dr. Tom Graboys’ remarkable memoir of living with LBD, in between musical pieces; let’s commission MIT-based electronic music guru Tod Machover to compose an original work about the brain), but even at our most reductionist we were always stuck on the lack of a suitable venue.

For the next two years, as LBDA Awareness Month loomed, we tried to get a recital staged but two Octobers passed and still we hadn’t succeeded.

This year, we lucked out. Tom Graboys and his wife Vicki offered to host a benefit event at their beautiful home west of Boston. I was on the committee charged with conceiving what type of event we should have there, and I presented the recital idea. Thankfully, everyone was on board and on Thursday, October 20, 2011, the Trio Recital to Benefit LBDA became a truly memorable reality.

The evening began with wine and hors d'oeuvres, to the lovely accompaniment of pianist Pei-Shan Lee and cellist Jing Li, two extraordinary musicians who have performed in prestigious venues around the world. Pei-Shan teaches at New England Conservatory and Jing is on the faculty of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra and Powers Music School.

Then Vicki Graboys welcomed the approximately 75 attendees and introduced the trio. Ilana, a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, told me that the feeling she got from the audience was both palpable and powerful. Their affection for the Graboys and their commitment to the purpose of the event, combined with the intimacy of the venue and the stunning beauty of the performances, created a mesmerizing atmosphere for performer and listener alike.

The trio performed works by Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Mahler, and Charles Davidson, who is Ilana’s father. His setting of “Oh Lord How I Love Thy Dwelling Place” brought the musical program to a rousing climax.

Dr. John Growdon, director of the Memory and Movement Disorders Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (and Tom Graboys’ neurologist), then spoke about the clinical profile of LBD and exciting new avenues of research and treatment. The key point of his talk was that medicine has come a long way in terms of diagnosing and treating patients with LBD – but still has a long way to go.

Landers Thomas, LBDA's director of development, took it from there, making an impassioned appeal for donations (event programs, LBDA brochures, and pledge cards with envelopes had been strategically placed on every seat before attendees arrived). The evening concluded with more wine and food, and the collection of many envelopes from an informed and entertained audience.

While contributions are still being collected and tallied, to date the event has raised more than $19,000 to support LBDA’s education, outreach, and support programs. It should be noted that at the end of the evening, Pei-Shan revealed that her family has been affected by Parkinson’s disease for the last decade and decided therefore to donate her honorarium for the event to the LBDA.

This wonderful event would not have been possible without the participation of Tom and Vicki Graboys, Brooke Casey, Victoria Ruff, Eva Bradley, and Coleen Greco. And of course, the talents of Ilana Davidson, Pei-Shan Lee, and Jing Li, and the expertise of both Dr. Growdon and Landers Thomas, combined to make the evening a success. Encore!