Joseph Stephens

Age 81: Johns Hopkins psychiatrist was an accomplished harpsichord player, church organist and teacher.

June 03, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun Reporter

Dr. Joseph Stephens, a retired Johns Hopkins psychiatrist who was an accomplished harpsichord player, died of stroke complications Thursday at the BluePoint Nursing Center. The Bolton Hill resident was 81.

Born in Frederick, where he was raised, he was the son of a violin-playing father who had a dance band, played in a Frederick symphony ensemble and was a member of a string quartet.

As a young man, Dr. Stephens played the organ at local churches and on radio shows broadcast live from the Tivoli Theater, where he played a Wurlitzer organ. In his teens he studied music at Hood College, but decided to go into medicine.

He earned a degree at the Johns Hopkins University and the Hopkins School of Medicine. He did an internship at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center and a residency in psychiatry at Hopkins. Afterward, he spent two years in the Naval Medical Corps as a staff psychiatrist at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va.

He returned to Hopkins in 1959 and was on the staff there as an associate professor until his retirement nearly 15 years ago.

In a 1988 issue of The Peabody News, he said he became more obsessed with music as he became older.

"He was probably better known as a musician than as a physician. He became interested in the harpsichord after hearing a recording of Wanda Landowska," said his companion, Lloyd Bowers, referring to the Warsaw-born harpsichordist whose recordings helped popularize the musical instrument in the 20th century.

Dr. Stephens, who owned a harpsichord built by William Dowd, studied with teachers Sylvia Marlowe and Ralph Kirkpatrick.

He befriended concert pianists Agi Jambor and Glenn Gould, with whom he shared a love of Bach. He appeared on a National Public Radio program with Mr. Gould.

"His house was filled with music," said Risselle "Rikki" Fleisher, a friend of 40 years. "He had a wry sense of humor and was not a person of many words. He could offer a sharp comment or the ultimate quip in a conversation."

He recalled how Dr. Stephens created a music salon in his book-filled 19th-century Bolton Hill home. He entertained friends and played harpsichord music.

"He thought that his greatest musical achievement was a series of 14 recitals of the complete harpsichord works of Bach," said Mr. Bowers.

"As a musician, Stephens has a quality that a good psychiatrist must have - a fearless ability to explore the unknown," said a 1993 Sun story that praised his "fascinating program of transcriptions - some of them so rarely heard that even many piano aficionados don't know of their existence."

In 1997, he issued a compact disc, Joseph Stephens plays Bach, Live from the Cathedral - meaning the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, where he performed in a Sunday afternoon concert series.

Dr. Stephens had been the organist at Lovely Lane United Methodist Church on St. Paul Street. He also performed at the Pro Musica Rara events and the Washington Bach Festival. He also taught at Goucher College and played for the Baltimore Bach Society.

No funeral is planned.

He leaves no close survivors.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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