Sun | Feb 17, 2019

Classical pianist ‘locked away’ - Friends of Orrett Rhoden want to see him

Published:Sunday | February 3, 2019 | 12:14 AMYasmine Peru/Gleaner Writer
Orrett Rhoden in 2005

In October 2013, internationally renowned classical pianist Orrett Rhoden, created controversy when he told The Sunday Gleaner that he had informed Jamaica House that he would not be accepting the national honour for which he had been selected – Commander of the Order of Distinction for outstanding contribution to the development of classical music in Jamaica.

While some persons applauded Orrett for taking such a bold stand, others criticised his stated reason for the rejection. Fast-forward five years later, and Rhoden, who had big dreams to raise funds to build the first opera house in Kingston, as well as to launch an international institute for music in Westmoreland, is now playing a new tune: ‘Silence’. He is now securely locked away in a facility in Kingston, where, according to his friends, his contact with the outside world is restricted.

Orrett’s friends and associates of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates (JAVAA), have expressed concern about his ‘disappearance’ and feel that the musician is being held in a facility against his will. However, in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, his brother, Marcel, accused persons of trying to poke their noses in his family’s business and repeated countless times that, “Orrett is not well”. He explained that his brother has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, and as a result, he has had to be sent away for care “for his own safety”.

“Orrett has always had mental issues. He had been in and out of Bellevue over 12 times, and with the death of our mother a few years ago, his condition worsened. He had reached the stage where he was stripping and going outside naked in the middle of the day. He was bringing strange people into the house, or he would go missing for days. If I didn’t lock him away and then something happened to him, you would hear that his family is neglecting him,” Marcel said.

Acknowledged as Jamaica’s most successful classical pianist, Orrett Rhoden first received international acclaim after appearing in two BBC documentaries on Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Jamaica in 1983, and in 1984, he made his London debut with the London Symphony Orchestra and his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985. He has been described as the darling of the UWI Chapel, where he was a staple who thrilled audiences at classical concerts.

Great concern

JAVAA members say they have always been aware of his mental-health challenges, but insist that all they want is to be able to visit or communicate with him but that his brother is against such visits.

The Sunday Gleaner received a copy of a letter by Swedish International concert pianist Oskar Ekberg, sent to the health minister in December, outlining his “great concern over one of the foremost musicians I’ve met through my career, the Jamaican pianist Orrett Rhoden, CD”. Ekberg was one of the invited participants to Orrett’s classical music festival in Kingston in 2014. Ekberg stated in his letter, “It is, however, with great distress I’ve in recent years followed the sad news of Mr Rhoden’s state of mental illness. However, lately I have not been able to confirm his health status nor have I had any success in getting in contact with Mr Rhoden personally. The concern is that such complete isolation is against the best interest of Mr Rhoden ... not taking in account the effects and best chances of possible future recovery. I would like, as a cultural artist on international level, very kindly ask for any help the Ministry of Health may provide with a beneficial intervention in this case.”

However, Marcel, insists that his brother is “not in a position to receive visitors” and accused those who he says are “poking around”. He stated that his brother is under a doctor’s care, and if the doctor’s thought that he was well enough to be at home, then that’s where he would be.

However, psychiatrist Dr Geoffrey Walcott told The Sunday Gleaner that persons with mental-health problems still have the legal right to choose the least restrictive form of treatment, and that locking away a patient with mental illness is actually anti-therapeutic.

“Social interaction is one of the most crucial forms of treatments for persons with mental-health issues. Global studies have shown that there is no therapeutic value in locking away mentally ill persons,” Walcott emphasised.

But Marcel is adamant that his brother must be protected from the outside world. “Orrett is not a public spectacle for everybody to go and see him. I am not going to let every Tom, Dick, and Harry go and visit him.”