Parkinsons fool conjures up music, magic, motivation

Card tricks, piano riffs and insights into how the brain works. These all are part of “The Brain, the Mind, Magic and Music,” an unusual program coming soon to a Bay Area JCC near you.

Richard Horn’s 90-minute show, subtitled “Making a Fool out of Parkinson’s Disease,” is part entertainment, part motivational speech about aging and part his plucky response to coping with a disease.

Horn, 71, is a magician, a musician and an authority on how the brain produces consciousness. In 2010, shortly after retiring as a researcher and teacher from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Horn was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Richard Horn doesn’t let Parkinson’s stop him from playing piano.

“I’ve continued to do things that Parkinson’s disease eventually will steal from me, and I have learned that many people can still use their bodies and minds effectively when dealing with a cloud hanging over them like this medical diagnosis,” Horn said recently from his home in Philadelphia. “That is why I do this show.”

Horn will present “The Brain, the Mind, Magic and Music” Dec. 11 at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City, Dec. 12 at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael and Dec. 13 at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. SV Productions in Sunnyvale, which specializes in booking Israeli shows and concerts, is presenting Horn’s show.

Danielle Vierra of the Osher Marin JCC said she is looking forward to what she called Horn’s “upbeat perspective” on aging.

“We are prioritizing engaging our older adult community, trying to encourage them to take in as much information as they can about how to age in a healthy way,” said Vierra, the program supervisor for the Kurland Center for Adult Learning and Living at the JCC in San Rafael. “Dr. Horn presents a vibrant way of confronting aging.”

Horn grew up in Syracuse, New York. His father was an Ashkenazi Jew born in Germany and his mother was a Sephardic Jew born in the United States. “We attended a Reform temple when I was growing up, and though I did get bar mitzvah, we weren’t that active as practicing Jews,” he said.

So which came first: the magic, the music or Horn’s academic career?

“I started playing piano when I was 7, and I’ve never stopped,” said Horn, who was a full-fledged professional in the ’70s who said he played with the likes of B.B. King, Helen Reddy, and Gladys Knight and the Pips. “I’m a performer by nature. That’s something my parents encouraged me to do.”

But Horn has always had multiple talents, or at least sought to learn and master them, from counting cards in Las Vegas to being asked to perform magic tricks at his brother-in-law’s 60th birthday party a decade ago.

“I got hooked,” he said of learning magic. “Later, I bought card tricks” and then learned how to do card manipulations with a regular deck.

From there, things took off. He went on to receive an award for close-up magic from a chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and he currently performs magic at corporate events, parties and wedding receptions.

In “The Brain, the Mind, Magic and Music,” Horn showcases some of what he has learned and still loves, though his illness does present some challenges.

“The more you challenge the affected limbs with movement, the better you can control the symptoms, but my facial expression now has a flat effect, and people tell me I look bored,” he said.

“I’m not bored at all.”

“The Brain, the Mind, Magic and Music.” 10 a.m. Dec. 11 at Peninsula JCC, Foster City; 1 p.m. Dec. 12 at Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael; 1 p.m. Dec. 13 at Oshman Family JCC, Palo Alto. For cost and other details, contact appropriate JCC or visit www.tinyurl.com/brain-horn.

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.