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Charles Meredith: Musical memories


Dear Friends,

The other day, one of my musical friends, David Fluck, asked me about Rita Bieber a wonderful pianist who presently lives at the Phoebe Home in Richlandtown. This amazing woman is approaching 100.

Larry Benner sent me a copy of Messenger, the quarterly magazine that chronicles life at the Phoebe Home. The Spring 2019 issue had an extensive article about Rita (whose full name is Marguerite). “She can remember the moment she realized she had perfect pitch,” the Messenger began. “Her mother was practicing on the piano, and Rita was listening when she heard a wrong note. ‘That E doesn’t sound right,’ Rita piped up. Here mother stopped playing and looked at her.

“What E?” her mother asked.

“That E you just played,” said Rita.

“How do you know it’s an E?” asked her mother, bewildered. Rita was right.

“With that shocking revelation, her musical career was launched. Rita studied music and organ at Penn State University (class of ’48) and has been playing and composing music ever since.

“Along with perfect pitch … a rare gift even for professional musicians … Rita has a remarkable talent for playing by ear,” Jan Hench the owner of McCoole’s said. “Rita’s incredible,” Hench added. “Rita had lists of titles for people to look at and you could just spout off a title at her or start humming the tune and she’d start playing. She never used sheet music. Rita was a popular act with diners who, in many cases came just to hear her play.” (MB and I included).

A few years ago, Mighty Betsy and I were dining at McCoole’s Red Lion in Quakertown. An elderly woman was entertaining the crowd on the piano. She was Rita Bieber and we became instant friends. MB and I would sing along as she played one “golden oldie” after another. After she played and (we sang) “There’s a Quaker down in Quakertown,” Rita suggested that we form a quartet.

In the 1950s, David Fluck and I played our trombones in the Quakertown Band. Sixty years later, we reconnected through singing, thanks to Rita. In addition, I called Larry Benner, the organist and choir director of St. John’s UCC in Richlandtown. Larry has an excellent voice. So does Rodney Henry, an attorney from Quakertown and a pal from our pre-kindergarten days. Richard Nice, the organist and choir director at Solomon’s UCC in Haycock occasionally joined in the fun.

For many years, our quartet would begin our routine with “There’s a Quaker down in Quakertown,” the 1918 song on the hit parade. Here’s the chorus:

There’s a Quaker down in Quakertown

When I am around, she sighs.

But down in her heart, I know,

She’s not so slow,

For oh, oh, oh, oh,

Those eyes!

Like the water still, she’s very deep,

She knows a heap, I found.

She has that “Meet me later” look,

And oh, she knows her books,

This little Quaker down in Quakertown.”

Ah, what memories. Incidentally, in the 2019 fall issue of the Phoebe Messenger, there’s an extensive article about Larry Benner.

“My family has been here forever.” he says of his fourth-generation residence at his beloved Richlandtown. “A talented vocalist and musician, Larry, a youthful bachelor at 74, started piano lessons at age six and organ lessons at age 13. In 1966, at the age of 19, he began serving as the organist and choir director for St. John’s UCC in Richlandtown, a position he still holds today.

“When Larry found out that he needed coronary artery bypass surgery, he knew his friends at Phoebe would take good care of him after his operation and get him back to what brings him joy … serving the community and creating beautiful music.

“In 1969, Larry gathered a group of choral enthusiasts, including his mother, to create a Christmas cantata. This respected choir, known as the Cantata Choir, will celebrate its 50th year of presenting holiday concerts with Larry as the director. In addition to the holidays, the Cantata Choir has added a spring Broadway concert to its yearly season.

So, it’s been a joy for Larry Benner, Rita Bieber, David Fluck, Rodney Henry, Richard Nice, and me, making music for our community.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith

P.S. And speaking about singing, Ann Hellman, the president of the Richland Library in Quakertown (founded in 1788) is also a singer. She has mastered the complicated Welsh language and is a Welsh chorister.

The annual meeting of the Richland Library had to be postponed because of the pandemic. But you’ll be happy to know that the library is in excellent shape with no debt and plenty of activity.