A place of beauty

Heritage of music and art celebrated in Richvale

The little rice-growing town of Richvale hosted a benefit concert with Grammy-winning cellist Eugene Friesen for its nearly 100-year-old school house (below).

The little rice-growing town of Richvale hosted a benefit concert with Grammy-winning cellist Eugene Friesen for its nearly 100-year-old school house (below).

Photo By karen o’neill

Eugene Friesen and friends, Sunday, March 21, Richvale Auditorium

Richvale isn’t the first town that comes to mind when most people think of top-notch musicians coming together to make sounds more likely to be heard in New York’s East Village.

But that’s just what happened last Sunday afternoon on the stage of the Richvale Auditorium, when three-time Grammy-winning cellist Eugene Friesen brought chamber music for jazz buffs to this little farming community west of Oroville. Tim Ray, pianist for Lyle Lovett and Bonnie Raitt; Leonard “Doc” Gibbs, drummer and musical director for Emeril Live!; and Ted Moore, percussionist for the Paul Winter Consort, joined with Friesen to create sublime sounds rare enough in Greenwich Village, but completely unexpected out in the rice fields.

Last Sunday’s event was a benefit concert organized, in part, by Dr. Rick Josiassen, a Philadelphia physician who does clinical research and treatment of schizophrenia. Like many other members of his family, Josiassen’s education began in a three-room school in Richvale, a structure built in 1913. The graceful old Mission-style building now serves as the town’s post office. Though the building is still structurally sound, it hasn’t served as a schoolhouse for decades because it does not meet California earthquake standards for schools. The musicians and the audience of some 300 people who gathered to hear them came together to make sure that building is preserved and put to future good use.

Those who showed up for the event were rewarded with two eclectic sets of exquisitely played music joyfully performed by the ensemble. There were more than a few stand-out moments. “The Voice of the Wood,” one of Friesen’s compositions, evoked the magic of his instrument, and “Remembering You” was a reflective and elegiac piece that surely put more than a few listeners in touch with departed loved ones. There was also a composition that blended the recorded song of a humpback whale with the sonorous sound of Friesen’s cello to make an aural statement of overarching spiritual beauty.

“Every kid who went to that school was encouraged or required to study music,” Josiassen said. “As a result, there’s a high level of musical appreciation in my hometown. Eugene Friesen is a friend of mine, and when I heard they were touring California, I asked him if they’d be willing to play this benefit. They share my concerns about lots of stuff, like land use and water issues.”

The fact that musicians always step up when a need arises is hardly news. 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.

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“That old school used to be the center of town culture,” Josiassen said. “Some of that got lost when it shut down, and we’d like to resuscitate it. We hope this is just the first of other benefits yet to come.”

The town of Richvale celebrated its 100th anniversary just two years ago, and the old school house has a history dating back almost to the town’s origins. The Community Foundation of Richvale sponsored Sunday’s musical event performed next door to the building where so many in attendance had gleaned some of their first intimations of beauty.

An exhibition of paintings by Chico’s Dolores Mitchell was on display near the front of the stage, watercolors and acrylics depicting scenes from the surrounding landscape. When the concert concluded, those who weren’t Richvale locals drove home through a gorgeous early evening, our senses re-awakened by the music and the paintings to the loveliness all around us, the rice fields stretching out off toward the distant mountains, and the Sutter Buttes a geographical grace note. Richvale may be in the middle of nowhere, but if you were fortunate enough to have been there last Sunday, you were at the precise center of a beautiful moment.