Remembering the Founders
Now that Spanish River Concerts’ post-pandemic 2022 season is in the books, who better to acknowledge than the founders of Spanish River Concerts? They were my parents, and although imperfect just like all of us, together they truly made the world a better place.
My father, Seymour, was an accomplished engineering design consultant, and his side hustle was providing the entire support system for my mother’s small chain of clothing stores. While Florrie did all the buying and managed the marketing, advertising, selling, and personnel, Seymour made the time to handle the legal, financial, and physical infrastructure, using his brain and his back to do whatever needed doing. Florrie was the strategist and Seymour was the master tactician. If Florrie could dream it, Seymour could do it, and it’s really amazing just how much dreaming and doing they did.
Back when I thought they would live forever, I used to roll my eyes when Florrie would declare that Seymour was the wind beneath her wings; but in retrospect, I deem my mother’s corny metaphor as perfectly apt. I believe my father really just loved being on Team-Florrie, and didn’t much care which seat he occupied – pilot or co-pilot.
When they retired to South Florida, they lived retiree lives, socializing and playing bridge and tennis; but Florrie also rediscovered her creative side, pursuing her musical interests, and returning to her acrylic paints - eventually graduating from two dimensions to three by taking up clay sculpting. She had an insatiable need to create things – countless paintings and sculptures, but also custom clothing, earrings, necklaces, flower arrangements, tile-encrusted furniture, tufted tie-dyed window and doorway treatments, and even a giant stained-glass grandfather’s clock. She was prolific, filling their home with her wares, and there was always some support role for Seymour to happily play in her sometimes nutty, but always eye-catching projects.
I don’t know what specifically sparked her idea to create a concert series, but Florrie answered that calling as she did everything – with passion and force-of-nature-level determination.
Ron Tobias, the executive pastor at Spanish River Church, has been our business contact and friend from the beginning, so he predates me as a player in the Spanish River Concerts story. Eight or nine years ago, Ron told me about his first experience with my mother. Like he was sharing a biblical fable, Ron’s eyes sparkle with admiration as he describes how, back in 2003, this woman, Florrie Morgenstern, made an appointment to speak with him. At their first meeting, she presented to him her plan to rent the church’s worship center to use as a concert hall for four orchestral and dance performance dates the following year. What dates? She didn’t know yet. What performers? Not yet determined. Who would attend and fill the 1500 seats? She was working on that.
Ron goes on to say that he hid his skepticism behind a polite smile, and played along. They discussed the terms of the rental, shook hands, and Florrie said she would be in touch. After they adjourned, he figured he would never see or hear from her again. Of course, the rest is history, but Ron grins as he delivers the punchline of his account. He says that, ever since that first season came to fruition for Community Performing Arts (as it was originally named), he uses this story as a motivational tool when he talks with volunteers and staff embarking on new projects at the church. Ron is a key member in an organization that runs projects all over the developing world; yet, he saw Florrie, as did all who knew her, as remarkable.
Though I’m not one for sentimental gestures, before each concert since her death, I inexplicably find myself placing an empty chair next to the sound booth, right where my mother sat for each concert – knowing that it will remain empty for the performance, but also maybe hoping that her presence will continue to be felt by me and everyone else in attendance. It’s where she sat to best hear every note of every performance, not unlike gazing at one of her own paintings in just the right light – maybe partially motivated by pride, but definitely driven to evaluate what needed fixing. Sitting there was one of many rituals Florrie practiced on concert days, like typing up her pre-concert remarks on her computer – double-spaced, all caps, 20-point Times Roman, and printed on paper that she then crumpled to ensure the pages would easily separate as she read them at the lectern. Another concert-day tradition for Florrie was skipping lunch and deferring dinner until after the performance, fearing that her sensitive stomach would act up as a result of the pre-show jitters she regularly experienced, as though she, herself, rather than the scheduled soprano, might be called upon to belt out Queen of the Night.
Perhaps more than anything else, Florrie appreciated the transformational power of music, and although she was not there to witness it, the effect our 2022 season had on our members was testament to her belief. The appreciation members like you expressed at the concerts remains very meaningful to me; it’s what endures now that the final 2022 set has been struck. I know Florrie would have been overjoyed to have had a positive impact on so many lives when it was needed most. Our accountant certainly won’t remember it as our best season ever, but I will. The only thing that would have made it better still was if that chair next to the sound booth wasn’t empty.