Friday, August 1, 2008

Musical Savant to Thrill Audiences
at Hilton-Winn Farm

By Joe Hessert
Staff Columnist

Tony Deblois weighed less than two pounds when he came into this world. He is autistic and blind, but there is one thing that he is able to see with crystal clarity: music. Tony has Savant Syndrome – meaning that paired with the limitations of autism he has a contrasting brilliance. He is a master musician and enjoys playing the organ, harmonica, guitar, harpsichord, English handbells, violin, banjo, drums, saxophone, clarinet, ukulele, mandolin flute and trumpet. But his favorite instrument is his Baldwin piano.
The Weekly Sentinel recently sat down with Tony and his mother, Janice Deblois, in Tony’s studio in Randolph, Massachusetts. Tony rocked back and forth gently on the bench in front of his piano and talked about what he has been up to lately. Janice looked on and chimed in with details here and there.
His favorite part about being a musician is a thirty day road tour that he does every year with his mother, driving across the country to South Dakota and down to Texas and back. “My mom is my manager and she does all the driving. We do twenty-three concerts on that tour. Mom’s my chauffer,” he said with a smile.
Tony’s favorite type of music is Jazz, but he plays just about everything. At the concert he is giving on August 9 at Hilton-Winn Farm in Cape Neddick he will be taking requests. With over eight thousand songs committed to memory, odds are that if you want to hear it Tony can play it for you. “Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond is probably the request I get the most,” he said.
“Tony can hear a song once and then sit down and play it,” his mother added. “He has been playing piano since he was two years old, took some lessons at five, and by the time he was nine he was performing in nursing homes.”
“My favorite song is Moon River,” Tony added and without any additional introduction, Tony turned to his upright Baldwin and began to play and sing his favorite song. As Tony rocked gently on the Piano bench and light streamed in from the window next to him the world seemed to become sharper as if Tony had stopped clearing his throat in answering questions about himself and had finally started to speak.
Tony talked about his recent trip to Nigeria where he was the guest pianist at a concert with The Four Nigerian Tenors and about his recent gig as the pianist for a fifty-piece symphony orchestra. “It was my thrill and privilege to play with them,” he said. “I got a little nervous but then I got so excited. I tuned the whole orchestra so I had each section turning to me and asking for their note.”
Just back from a week-long summer camp for the blind at Mount Blue State Park in Maine, Tony said he couldn’t wait to come back. “I go to Maine every year and it’s so beautiful there. I have lots of friends in Maine and camp gives me the chance to jam with friends and musicians,” he said.
After his performance at Hilton-Winn Farm next Saturday, Tony and his mother are packing up and heading to Beijing, China. International Performing Arts For All has asked Tony to do a series of concerts there. “It’s so exciting to travel and see more of the world,” Tony said.
And it’s exciting that Southern Maine will have the chance to see Tony perform. His concert will be held on August 9 at the Youth Enrichment Center at Hilton-Winn Farm in Cape Neddick from 7:00pm-9:30pm. “Some Kind of Genius” the book which chronicles Tony’s life (written by his mother) and copies of Tony’s CD will be for sale. Tony’s story was told in a CBS Movie of the Week, Journey to the Heart, in 1997. FMI about his upcoming performance call 361-1385 or visit For more info about Tony visit

Caption: Tony Deblois plays and sings Moon River at his studio in Randolph, MA. (Weekly Sentinel photo)

Spotlight: Eric Harrison - Lucky Man

By Joe Hessert
Staff Columnist

As a firefighter, Eric Harrison knows about saving lives. In July of 2006 he learned what it was like to have his saved by a stranger – a young man who he’ll never have the opportunity to thank.
“All I know is that he was a kid who died in a motorcycle accident,” said Harrison of the young man who donated the liver and kidney he received two years ago. “And that I’m lucky to be here.”
Eric wrote a letter to the donor’s family to let them know who he was and to tell them how sorry he was for their loss. “They had to make this unbelievably generous decision on the worst day of their lives,” he said. “My heart goes out to them.”
And Eric understands loss. His older brother Steve suffered a cardiac arrest while hooked to a dialysis machine at the end of 2003 after spending thirty months receiving the treatment.
So when Harrison drove himself to the hospital in 2006 with flu-like symptoms and his doctor diagnosed him with Primary Hyperoxaluria and told him that he was living with only 1% kidney function, he knew exactly what to expect.
“I should be dead,” Eric said on Monday afternoon, sitting in the living room of the Kennebunk house that he grew up in. He recalled how his dialysis treatment increased to eight hours a day while he waited for organs to become available. He shook his head. “Eighteen people die every day because of a shortage of organs,” he said.
But thanks to his donor, his doctors and the support of Kennebunk Fire and Rescue and his local community, Eric is alive and doing well -- so well that he recently participated in the 2008 U.S. Transplant Games in Pittsburgh, PA and received the silver medal in the High-Jump event.
But for Eric the medals he won weren’t as important as the community of donors and donor families that he was a part of in Pittsburgh.
“I participated in the 100 meter down there,” he said. “And I’m no runner. I was running in these,” he said, pointing to his beat-up hiking shoes. “I look to my right and here’s this brother from L.A. who is all wiry and built for speed and is set on the blocks with these racing sunglasses. And to my left is a middle-aged guy who had recently received a heart transplant.” Harrison realized that none of the stuff about age or race or body type mattered. Everyone around him was the same. “They all appreciated life,” he said, “They got it.”
On his way home from the games, stuck on the tarmac at JFK, Eric was thrust back into reality. The passengers were impatient and getting angry because of the delay. Recalling the scene, Eric leaned back into his chair and paused to listen to the hum of his neighbor’s lawnmower. “You just want to tell them how precious life is,” he said. “We’re all in the same boat. Nobody is promised tomorrow.”
Eric was named Firefighter of the Year in Kennebunk this year, an honor he was happy to share with his friend Dave Stead. “The department is like a second family to me,” he said, and when he reflects on all of the difficult circumstances that he has faced on late night calls with Kennebunk Fire and Rescue his mind turns to organ donors and their families. “It’s a lot like being a firefighter,” he said. “You take the worst thing that can happen and you try to salvage what you can.”

Caption: 2008 Transplant Games High Jump Medalists: (left to right) Bronze Medal winner Brian Hinsley from Southern California (liver transplant), Gold Medal winner Dave Meyers from Illinois (heart transplant), Silver Medal winner Eric Harrison from Kennebunk, Maine (liver and kidney transplants). (Courtesy photo)

Local Writer’s Screenplay Filmed in
Kittery Police Station

By Devin Beliveau
Staff Columnist

“It’s not the things we do that define who we are. It’s what happens next.” That is the tag line for the new film being made locally: “27 Down.” 27 Down is the title of a new mystery film by Wild Beagle Films, and some of its scenes are filmed in Kittery. “It’s a mystery thriller,” said Steve Hrehovcik, who co-authored the script with the film’s director, John S. Depew. “The film uses a crossword puzzle as a metaphor for the things that challenge the characters in the movie,” he continued, explaining the film’s title.
The filmmakers needed to shoot three scenes in a police station, and the Kittery Police Department stepped up. “We needed a location for a police chief’s office and Kittery Police Chief Edward Strong said sure, he was very helpful. Lieutenant Russell French was also very cooperative, and actually ended up with a cameo appearance in the movie. There’s a police chief office scene, a jail scene and a squad room scene, and the Kittery Police Department couldn’t have been more cooperative.”
Hrehovcik (pronounced Heh-ro-check) lives in Kennebunk and this is his first screenplay that will be produced into a film. “It’s exciting to see the words that you write come to life, and see things added that you didn’t know were there. A film is a collaborative effort, and it’s humbling and exciting to see the completion of the effort, to actually see the story that you envisioned in your mind.” Hrehovcik runs the Kennebunk Art Studio, has written for the York County Coast Star newspaper and The Tourist News, and is also a playwright.
Filming began in several Massachusetts locations in June, and the filmmakers hope to complete filming in August. 27 Down will be presented to theaters in Massachusetts when it’s finished, in the hopes of finding a distributor. Judy Coleman is the producer, and wife of director Depew.
Wild Beagle Films is based out of North Andover, Massachusetts and can be found online at

Caption: On the movie set of the independent film “27 Down” during production at the Kittery Police Station. Conferring on the script (center) are co-author Steve Hrehovcik and co-author/director John Depew. Holding the slate is Assistant Director of Photography, Jared Starr, holding the boom-microphone is Justin Karoway-Waterhouse. Portraying Police Chief Ben Stone in the film is actor Curt Fennell who stars as the lead character. (Courtesy photo)