By Rita J. Egan

Community members are banding together to raise funds for an accomplished musician and music teacher known throughout the Three Village area.

Richard Rabatin’s friends and fellow musicians knew they had to do something when medical bills started piling up for the owner and teacher at the Stony Brook School of Music in Setauket. In June, 67-year-old Rabatin was diagnosed with giant cell myocarditis, a rare cardiovascular disorder that can be fatal. He was put on a transplant list for a new heart, and an operation was performed to implant two heart pumps. A few weeks ago, the teacher received a transplant and is currently recuperating at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, while his wife Mary Emerson has taken an extended leave from her job as a nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital to care for him.

Richard Rabatin plays guitar with his band the Whiskey Rebellion at the Country Corner bar. Photo by Greg Catalano

A GoFundMe page, which has raised nearly $40,000, was set up, and friends including Alan Jones, Richard Wiederman and Jack Licitra began planning a benefit concert for Sept. 9 to help the husband and father of 8-year-old Thomas manage his expenses. Wiederman said Rabatin, a Port Jefferson Station resident, has been running the Stony Brook School of Music for 35 years, and plays guitar in the Whiskey Rebellion, a blues-jazz band that performs regularly at the Country Corner bar, located below the music school.

Wiederman, who plays trumpet with the Whiskey Rebellion, said Rabatin does all the arrangements for the band — which is currently on hiatus until the guitar player recuperates. The trumpet player said he’s been performing with Rabatin for 17 years and first met him in 1979.

“He’s just had such a profound impact on so many people,” Wiederman said.

The two met when Wiederman, who now teaches music at Setauket Elementary School, was attending college. He said Rabatin was a great help to him while he was studying music and would send him jazz transcriptions. When Wiederman would show them to his professors, he said they were so impressed because they had never seen such detail before.

Jones considers Rabatin his best friend and said he’s like a brother to him. He met Rabatin when they were freshmen at Suffolk County Community College in 1968, and they began performing together a year later.

“He’s an extremely intelligent, kind and generous man,” Jones said. “A wonderful father, husband, teacher and friend.”

In addition to his musical talents, Rabatin is a licensed attorney who holds multiple degrees, and is a contributing author to a number of scholarly works on English writer G. K. Chesterton and other notable figures, according to Jones. He said the teacher has been a mentor to many local musicians.

The “A Change of Heart for Richard” benefit will be held Sept. 9. Photo by Steven Ayles

“It’s been said that the difference between Richard and the other fine guitar and music instructors in Suffolk is that the rest of them have been Richard’s students,” Jones said.

Licitra, who owns a music school in Sayville, said he began teaching because of Rabatin. After touring with various musicians in his 20s, Licitra said he wanted to marry and settle down and thought about going back to college. It was then that Rabatin called and asked if he would like to teach piano at the Stony Brook School of Music.

“He taught me how to teach and convinced me that all my experiences as a performer would be really useful to young people,” Licitra said.

Licitra has played piano with Rabatin’s Whiskey Rebellion and said the guitar player is an expert at transcribing and analyzing music and then showing on paper to his students what is going on in the music and why a song can be emotional. 

“He probably taught all of the better known players [in the area] who went on to be professionals,” Licitra said. “He  either had a hand or influence in a lot of guys understanding and ability to play music.”

Wiederman said Rabatin has been recovering well but will be unable to attend the event, and he plans to live stream it for him and anyone who is unable to attend.   

The benefit concert “A Change of Heart for Richard” will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 380 Nicolls Road, East Setauket, Sept. 9 from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

Tickets cost $40 per person and include food and beverages. The evening will feature performances by Andrew Fortier, Emma Rae Borrie, Norman Vincent, Claudia Jacobs Band, jazz guitarist Matt Marshak and his band, and The Whiskey Rebellion which will feature  guest player Teddy Kumpel, a member of Joe Jackson’s touring band, sitting in on guitar and Licitra on keyboards. Payments can be made by cash or check made payable to Mary Emerson. For more information, call 631-744-9556.

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