From the time she was a little girl, Merzy Eisenberg had a song in her heart, and ever since the time her sixth grade teacher asked her to sing a solo in the spring concert, Merzy has willingly shared that soprano talent. “I knew that I would always sing,” she said.
Merzy (pronounced MAIR zee) is now an octogenarian living on Milwaukee’s North Shore, and music continues to be a central part of her life. In fact, she currently belongs to four choirs, including the Milwaukee Jewish Community Chorale and the Bel Canto Seniors Choir.
These past months, living in semi-isolation because of the Covid-19 virus, Merzy hasn’t been able to meet in person with other chorus members or their directors. Fortunately, she is married to a man who loves music as much as she does. And fortunately, that man (retired United States Bankruptcy Judge Russ Eisenberg) is an accomplished pianist who is delighted to accompany his wife whenever she has a song in her heart that just won’t hold back. They also enjoy listening to music, both classical and show tunes, and to the free streaming of Metropolitan Opera on their website.
The two of them were making music together before they were married, when Merzy would perform such numbers as “I Enjoy Being a Girl” and “It’s Almost Like Being in Love” — and other songs from Brigadoon. Sometimes the performances were part of a public concert, other times for private soirees. Both Merzy and Russ were longtime members of the MacDowell Club, which promoted music and other arts in the community for over a century before it disbanded last year.
For many years before her retirement, Merzy taught modern Hebrew at Whitefish Bay High School and Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Milwaukee Jewish Day School. Although she didn’t have time during those years to join choirs, she took delight in perking up her lessons with music. She remembers one of her favorites, “The Conjugation Dance,” an original composition calling for many gestures and body language to make Hebrew verbs come to life.
“The impact of Covid-19 on my form of artistry is huge,” Merzy said in a recent interview. “Choir work by its definition is group work. The choirs in which I sing are composed of four parts: soprano, alto, tenor, bass. Thus, once we began to be quarantined, the choirs could no longer exist as they were.” And it’s not just the singing she misses. It’s the people. “Choirs often become vocal music communities. In some choirs the singers become so close they feel like families.”
To compensate for the missing musical dimension in her life, Merzy has already participated in two virtual choir experiences, one from synagogue Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun. She especially appreciates the efforts of Rebecca Renee Winnie, the director of the Bel Canto Senior Singers, for featuring a choral piece on Facebook every day. “Rebecca calls the project ‘Choral Connections Through Listening,’ Merzy said. “I take full advantage of that musical gift by listening every day and following through by learning more about the composer or the piece of music.” Merzy also expressed her gratitude to Enid Bootzin Berkovits, director of the Milwaukee Jewish Community Chorale, for offering Zoom meetings. “This helps me feel connected to the others in our chorus and I appreciate Enid’s efforts to produce a piece of virtual choir music.”
Merzy remembers those days before cellphones and the internet, when she kept in touch with family and friends by the almost lost art of letter writing. People thought twice before making a long distance phone call. Now there’s email, texting, Facetime.
Some of her chorus friends “get together via Zoom once in a while,” she said. “Everything helps.”
“I’m used to paying attention and receiving attention from people I love.” Nothing, not even the Covid-19 virus can interfere with that.