|Posted by Anne Siren on November 13, 2012 at 12:20 AM|
By Phyllis J. Neuberger
Monthly Spectacular Saturdays are a big deal at John Knox Village, or JKV, because of the fine talent and entertainment activities director Sara Berkowitz and her committee bring to the Village. Oct. 28 was a very special Spectacular Saturday when Florida Grand Opera, or FGO, arrived. Justin Moss, director of operations and five Young Artists and their accompanist came to perform arias for a packed auditorium of appreciative residents.
“It’s becoming an annual event,” says Moss. “We’re delighted to come up from Miami to perform and see Harriet Mertz and Sam Townsend who are so generous in their support for these talented young people.”
Mertz and Townsend beamed with pleasure as the lights dimmed and the highly trained voices of Korean Soprano, Hye Jung Lee, tenor Matthew Maness, soprano Lacy Sauter, tenor Matthew Newlin, and mezzo soprano Cynthia Cook filled the auditorium and the hearts of the audience. Justin Moss is well known for his one hour pre-opera lecture about the operas being staged each season in both Miami and Fort Lauderdale. On his visit to JKV, he introduced each of the Young Artists, the selection being sung and he explained a bit about its significance in the opera.
Music makes the world go ‘round for The Diva
Although being a patron for the Young Artists is a high note in her life, Harriet Mertz, known as The Diva, is involved in much more.
When she became the volunteer conductor of the Village women’s chorus, she pinned a sunflower on her 35 songbirds and renamed the group the NOTE-ables. She leads them in concerts in the Village and outside. They travel by bus to bring their music to churches, clubs and civic groups in Broward and even Palm Beach counties. “I see us as a music filled marketing event showing what fun we have in our Continuing Care Retirement Village,” she says.
Mertz’s life has been one filled with music, theater and celebrities. She still gives voice lessons to students in the Master Choral of the Palm Beaches. With a pocket full of degrees, she has sung, taught voice and directed choral groups in Miami, Palm Beaches, Japan and Taiwan.
In her own Electronic Media School in Miami, she instituted the first studio production for Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio. She has made a guest appearance with Minnie Pearl in the Grand Old Opera House, but admits “My biggest thrill was producing. ‘An Evening with Jerry Herman.’ Through Jerry I met many talented stars. While Andrea McArdle was starring in Annie in Miami, she developed a voice problem. I gave her a voice lesson over the phone. The second one was in person. I also met Mary Martin when she was starring in Miami and gave her a lesson.”
Mertz moved into JKV in 2007 with her husband John, now deceased. Her talent, generosity and colorful personality have made her a favorite Villager.
Sam Townsend, a music loving microbiologist
A dapper gentleman and member of the JKV Activities Committee, Sam Townsend has been a patron of the FGO since 1996. “I was a career microbiologist for 45 years with the VA Hospital in Miami,” he says, “but I was always a music lover. I sang in the chorus of FGO and helped with costumes back stage. I liked it so much, I apprenticed back stage and became a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage and Moving Pictures of the U.S. and Canada. “
After retiring, Townsend worked as a professional in the wardrobe department for Broadway and road shows including the Phantom, Nutcracker, Starlight Express, Cats, City of Angels, Secret Garden and more.
Now immersed in an active life at JKV, Townsend serves on many committees and was recently inducted into the 2012 Hall of Fame for his volunteer efforts in the Village. Busy as he is, he never misses a performance of the Florida Grand Opera when the season begins.
A modest man, The Pelican just found out, he has paid the health insurance bill for the members of the Young Artists for the past 18 years. It all began when he found one of the performers stumbling around with what turned out to be a broken foot. Townsend says, “He didn’t want to see a doctor because he didn’t have insurance. I took him to see mine and from that season on, I began to pay the insurance for the Young Artists’ in residence each year.”
Hundreds of Village residents thank Activities Director, Sara Berkowitz, for bringing these fine performers to entertain, and Mertz and Townsend for their financial support and encouragement of young talent.