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Brother, can you spare a dime?

At Fountain Glen senior complex, music is in the air

Posted: July 21, 2008 12:12 a.m.
Updated: September 21, 2008 5:04 a.m.

Jerry Lench works the crowd at the Fountain Glen senior complex as he sings "Quiermo Mucho" during a performance that included students of his daughters vocal class.

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Jerry Lench finds dimes in the strangest places. People stop him in the hallway at the Fountain Glen senior complex in Valencia to hand him dimes, or they leave dimes on his balcony - only dimes. Lench, 82, isn't a coin collector, or looking for a handout. He attracts the shiny, numismatic portraits of Franklin Roosevelt because of his appearances at quarterly concerts singing his signature song, "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?"

The Fountain Glen concerts, which attract a full house in the complex's spacious community room, began in February 2007 when Lench moved to the complex from the San Fernando Valley to be near his daughter, Katherine Lench-Meyering. The most recent concert attracted more than 70 attendees.

Lench-Meyering, an accomplished Broadway singer and actress, is now a vocal coach in Valencia. She decided to stage the Fountain Glen performances as a way to introduce her father to his new neighbors.

"My dad was moving to this to new community and he didn't know anyone and I thought, let's give a concert to give back to the community and introduce him to his new neighbors," she said.

The concerts feature Lench-Meyering's students, which span all ages, and members of her talented family - as well as friends - singing a mix of music from contemporary musical theater numbers to standards.

"The songs I choose for the program are mostly numbers I feel would entertain people of a certain age," Lench-Meyering said. "I always loved these songs. My dad loves them and I love them. I felt I was born in the wrong age. I should have been a big band singer."

Lench's association with "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" originated at the first concert.

"It has become kind of ‘a thing,' the old folks tease me and say the concert can't finish without that song," Lench said. "It's a song I heard as I child during the Depression, when soldiers form WWI would come by and sing in our courtyard and the ladies would throw them money."

A WWII veteran, Lench was born in New York and joined the service at age 17. During the war his family moved to Southern California. After the war was over Lench followed his family out West.

"I've lived in Southern California for 62 years," he said.

Lench said he was always interested in music but never performed professionally.

"We were always a singing family, we liked to sing together," he said. In addition to Lench-Meyering, his son Dan Lench, performed at the Fountain Glen concert on guitar and vocals.

His formal profession was in public relations and Lench owned his own public relations firm which represented an eclectic group of clients, among them the musicians union, non profit groups in Israel, the California savings and loan association and political clients.

However, he often would find himself as a master of ceremonies at various events.

"He always knew how to tell a joke," Lench-Meyering said.

An expert in linguistics, in addition to English Lench speaks fluent Spanish, French, Italian, German and Yiddish with a smattering of Japanese.

"I spoke Yiddish before I spoke English and I still speak it, but I find it hard to find anyone with whom I can have an extended conversation. It's very rare that I find anyone who can speak the language," he said.

At the recent concert Lench put his multi-lingual skills to use, performing "Quierme Mucho" in Spanish.

Demonstrating his charisma Lench worked the crowd of seniors, mostly women, kissing a hand here, touching a cheek there.

Lench and longtime friend Shirley Shinn performed a memorable "I Remember It Well" that brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience.

His daughter, who rehearsed the couple, said they worked very hard at perfecting the piece.

"They worked like dogs, and it ended up being very charming," she said.

Lench said he was lucky to be able to work with his daughter on the song.

"I'm lucky I have a vocal coach who is brilliant (Lench-Meyering) and she worked us over pretty good and made us toe the line," he joked.

Dennis Poore, of Canyon Country, who provides piano accompaniment at the concerts, said he enjoys watching Lench perform at the quarterly concerts.

"Jerry Lench is a one-of-a-kind personality. He speaks at least four languages fluently, can charm a room full of people and is still making the ladies swoon when he sings. I want to be like him when I grow up," Poore said.

Lench-Meyering said performing for the seniors is a wonderful experience.

"They are the best audience and are so respectful of our performers, even the youngest," she said. "They come dressed up and seem to really look forward to the concerts."

Poore said he enjoys the quarterly performances at Fountain Glen.

"It's so much fun to be able to entertain the seniors, the looks on their faces when we play an old standard makes it a truly rewarding experience," said Poore.

The recent concert program included "Hurry It's Lovely Up Here" and "June is Busting Out All Over," sung by Lench-Meyering; "Here You Come Again" by Corinne Johnson; "Lucky" by Corinne Johnson and Alex Dominguez; "Gimme Gimme" by Alex Dominguez; "Mountain Greenery" by Dylan Lench and Katherine Lench-Meyering, "Help!" by Christopher Null and the Nullettes: "Ribbons Down My Back" and "On a Clear Day" by Melissa Null; "The Long and Winding Road" and "Younger Than Springtime" by Larry Heath; "Somewhere Out There" by Justine Kelly and Sean Kelly; "McEllicot's Pool" by Sean Kelly and the Singing Fish; "Gertude McFuzz" by Ashely Null and "Notice Me Horton" by Rachel Null.

Lench-Meyering said the concerts offer benefits to everyone involved.

"It makes me feel like nothing else ... It gives me a place to perform where I'm appreciated and lets me sing these old songs that I love, and it gives these young students who've never heard these songs a chance to hear them," she said.

Her future plans include offering an "all senior" concert at Fountain Glen with a workshop so the participants can practice their vocal and performance skills.

Lench said he is already thinking ahead to his next performances.

"I want to do a song in Yiddish and one in Italian," he said.

But he also knows he'll again have to offer up his special version of "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?"

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