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Saturday, July 2, 2022

91-year-old Villager brings enthusiasm to The Villages Pops Chorus’ upcoming concerts

For Mary Lou Merkner, 91, the sound of music is the sound of life.
“Without music, I would die,” she said Saturday after a preview performance of The Villages Pop Chorus and Band concert, “Together Wherever We Go.”

Mary Lou Merkner 91 belts out a song during The Villages Pop Chorus concert
Mary Lou Merkner, 91, belts out a song during The Villages Pop Chorus concert.

It will be performed Monday at 3 and 6 p.m. in the North Lake Presbyterian Church.  The concert began with a rollicking version of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” and ended with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway classic “Climb Every Mountain.”
Such was the combination of toe-tapping energy and spiritually invigorating music by the chorus, under the direction of Bill Davis.
Merkner put an exclamation point on the power of music singing “All the Things You Are,” another classic by Hammerstein and Jerome Kern.

She stood center stage and captured the melancholy mood and spirit of the song. Merkner was up to the task because music is the essence of her life.
“It has always been a part of me,” she said. Merkner has an advanced degree from Northwestern University and taught music in Indiana for decades. She also toured with the group Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.
She and her husband Jim have lived in The Villages nearly a decade.
Merkner’s daughters and family members traveled here this weekend to see the concert.  “There was plenty of music on display during the concert.  “There’s a tremendous variety of music in this show, and it spans from the 1920s to the present,” said Bill Davis, director of the chorus.

The mixture of musical eras was evident in a set list that included tunes from the likes of Elvis, the Beatles, Bobby Darin, Rick Nelson, Dion, “Mary Poppins,” Pete Seeger, Barbra Streisand and Irving Berlin.

Those artists turned songs into standards, but there is something unique about hearing them with the power of a 135-member chorus, to go along with a 12-piece band, led by Jo Ann Hanebrink on piano.
The concert moved into a Broadway mode early on, with “Together Wherever We Go,” by Stephen Sondheim and Jule Stein. The chorus members had some fun with this one, waving their song books from side to side while singing parts of the song.

Next up was Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Once again, the sheer power of over 100 voices singing a familiar tune, made it fresh. Another Disney tribute came with a couple “Mary Poppins” songs: “Step in Time” and “Feed the Birds.”

Bill Davis directs The Villages Pop Chorus Saturday in a preview of Mondays concert
Bill Davis directs The Villages Pop Chorus Saturday in a preview of Monday’s concert.

Bill Davis spent much of his youth playing in rock bands, and has a sense of popular music history.

Joe DiLeo and Barbara Kelty team up on It Had To Be You
Joe DiLeo and Barbara Kelty team up on, “It Had To Be You.”

The women and men in the chorus harkened back to younger days, singing Dion’s old hit, “A Teenager in Love.” The same could be said for another ‘50s’ rocker, “Hello Mary Lou,” by Ricky Nelson.

“The term ‘teen idol’ was coined by Life Magazine describing Ricky Nelson,” Davis said while giving some pop music history during an introduction.

The whole chorus brought some finger-snapping juice to Bobby Darin’s all-time hit, “Mack the Knife.”

The Chorus also took a turn on Paul McCartney’s Beatles’ romantic number, “And I Love Her.”

Solo performances highlighted the concert.
Alexandra Rae hit just the right jazzy groove on Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano.” Barbara Kelty and Joe DiLeo combined for a saucy duet on the standard, “It Had to Be You.”

The A Cappella Gold group had some classy harmonic fun on the old Frankie Lymon song, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.”  The Chorus’ Pop Folk Quartet turned solemn on Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”

The concert built to an emotional climax. Such numbers as “Evergreen” and “The Prayer” set the stage for the last number.
It combined two of the most cherished Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II works: “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “Climb Every Mountain.”

Mary Lou Merkner center and her family including great greanddaughter Lennon along with Bailey Piper Beth Merkner Sarah Shoup Chrisy Habersetzer
Mary Lou Merkner, center, and her family including great-granddaughter Lennon along with Bailey Piper, Beth Merkner, Sarah Shoup and Chrisy Habersetzer.

After the concert ended, Mary Lou Merkner held her great-granddaughter, Lennon, in her arms, surrounded by her family.

“We all love music,” Mary Lou said. “It’s a part of us.”

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