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The University Magazine

Banding together

Music reconnects friends following a family crisis

From left are Ryan Cahill ’95, Ron DiFelice ’94, ’95, Dylan James ’98 and Matt Daniels ’95, ’99.

The James family on vacation earlier this year. From left: Savanna, Dylan, Isabelle and Robin.

They formed a band to play music for fun and to make a few bucks back in their college days in the ’90s.

They reunited for a more important reason. Ryan Cahill ’95 (biology), Matt Daniels ’95, ’99 (mechanical engineering), Ron DiFelice ’94, ’95 (chemistry) and Dylan James ’98 (civil engineering technology) got back together to make a CD in honor of Savanna James, daughter of Dylan and Robin Martin James ’94 (finance).

Savanna – now 8½ and doing great – was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare type of cancer, at age 4.

“We wanted to help in a meaningful way,” says DiFelice.

“The best thing we could do as friends of the Jameses was to be true to our music/roots and put out this CD,” says Cahill.

The result is Dickie Nyquist Explodes, a CD by We Love 2 Rumble Band – a new name for the group once known as Dickie Nyquist. The nine songs are new and original, written by DiFelice, Daniels or the two together. After a year of working out the music, the four friends got together to record at DiFelice’s house in North Carolina over four days in fall 2007. After final mixing, mastering and production, the CD came out at the end of 2008.

All proceeds from sales of the album go to The Jimmy Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, which was instrumental in Savanna’s treatment.

That part of the story began in May 2005.

“Savanna started having headaches,” recalls Robin James. The headaches got worse. Savanna’s doctor thought it might be sinusitis and sent her for a CAT scan that revealed a tumor in her skull. Within 24 hours, Savanna was undergoing surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Over the following year, she completed 14 rounds of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation treatment. Because a piece of her skull had been removed, she wore a hockey helmet for protection. In July 2006, a plastic prosthetic about the size of a fist was implanted.

“She’s unbelievable,” says Robin. “She did better than the rest of us. I don’t think she realized how sick she was.”

Savanna started kindergarten that fall, with “a buzz cut and a horrible, horrible scar,” says her mom. She still has checkups that include a chest X-ray, brain MRI and blood work every three months. Now in second grade, Savanna takes piano lessons, dance class and gymnastics, plays with her friends and her 5-year-old sister, Isabelle. In other words, her life is pretty normal.

But no one forgets. Every Valentine’s Day, the family puts on a party for the oncology floor at Children’s Hospital. Friends and family have also participated in the Jimmy Fund Walk each year. In August, Team Savanna’s Smiles will be cycling from Wellesley to Provincetown – 180 miles – in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a bike-a-thon supporting the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Jimmy Fund Clinic. Team Savanna’s Smiles, formed in 2006, has raised more than $100,000 to date.

The CD is also contributing to the cause. But it has had another effect. The project reminded four friends how much they enjoyed making music together.

Even before they met at RIT, all had played in bands. Daniels (guitar and vocals) and DiFelice (bass and vocals) recruited Cahill (drums) and James (lead guitar) to form a new band in 1995. They practiced in the basement of a townhouse Daniels and DiFelice shared and played covers of popular music at a few Rochester establishments as well as parties for RIT groups, particularly the lacrosse and rugby teams, Greek organizations and house parties at Colony and Racquet Club apartments.

“We didn’t have any illusions of stardom,” DiFelice says. “A hundred bucks was a big night for us.”

Dickie Nyquist had a short life. Within a year, members had graduated and gone their separate ways. Cahill became a physician; he has a family medical practice in Babylon, N.Y., on Long Island. DiFelice earned a doctorate and a business degree at University of North Carolina, and now owns a technology business and lives in Chapel Hill. Daniels lives in Pittsboro, N.C., and works as a mechanical engineer for Parata Systems. (Photos of the band used for the CD were shot by his wife, Megan Quinn Daniels ’97, photo journalism.)

Dylan James owns and operates a home construction and renovation business, Patriot Residential, with his brother, Anson, in the Boston area.

The four friends have kept in touch, despite time and distance. Music is one of the ties that bind them.

“When we were in school, playing music together and practicing, we got to be fairly tight,” says Daniels.

“Music is a means in which people can energize, relax and heal themselves,” says Cahill. “Everyone in the band can vouch for the impact of music in their lives. This band enabled us to deal with the stresses of life, learning at RIT and through performance, influence others in the same way.”

They plan to do a live performance at Brick City Homecoming (Oct. 9-11).

“We don’t want to lose touch with the music – or each other,” says DiFelice.

Kathy Lindsley