By Miriam Longobardi
Photos by Cathy Pinsky & Jim D’Angelo
What do you get when you bring together heroes of the New York Yankees, musicians, businessmen and community leaders? The answer is new musical opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds courtesy of the Music Conservatory of Westchester and its benefactors. This past June, the Whippoorwill Club in Armonk hosted the 14th annual Golf and Tennis Classic followed by a reception, silent auction and star-studded awards dinner. This year’s recipient of the Community Vision Award was given to former Yankee All-Star and World Series Champion Mariano Rivera and his wife, Clara. What made receiving the award extra special was that it was presented to them by Rivera’s former teammate and musician, Bernie Williams of Armonk.
Amid the bustle of eager fans awaiting photo ops, Rivera and his wife took some time to talk about the rebuilding and renovations done to their New Rochelle church, Refugio de Esperanza (Refuge of Hope) Church, where Clara Rivera serves as pastor. The funding to rebuild the church came from the Mariano Rivera Foundation. “We are able to work with community doing something that we love,” Mrs. Rivera shared. She added, “We have the Foundation and we both work together to reach people and bring them together. We have been doing this type of work for many years.”
Rivera feels his calling is helping others. “It has truly been a blessing helping the community as much as we can. I am really happy with what we have done and hopefully we continue to do this work for many years to come,” he said about being honored with the Community Vision Award. When asked about the fact that Williams would be presenting the award, Rivera said, “Bernie has been a friend and a teammate for so long that having him here tonight is really special.” In addition to the work done with the church for his community, his fundraising is enabling two children to receive scholarships to the Conservatory, and they were also in attendance with the Riveras. “It is always rewarding to help children learn music. Music is something that connects all of us.”
Another honoree of the evening was Armonk resident and Chairman of the Conservatory Board of Trustees Robert Heath, who received the Distinguished Leadership Award. In addition to serving on the Board for the past twenty years, Heath is on several committees at the Conservatory as well, including marketing, events and the treasurer. He notes that the school is still a business and, having successfully run his own business for over twenty years, that expertise along with the talented faculty and staff help keep the Conservatory thriving. “I like collaborating with other board members. Rodd Berro and I are a great team. We’ll meet outside the office, go to the Beehive and work over lunch. There’s always a huge list of what you would like to accomplish, but at the end of the day you have to pick what will have the most impact.”
Heath is not only a businessman but an accomplished musician in his own right, and he described a new scholarship program being offered for adult students, particularly qualifying seniors. Like many people who took instrument lessons as a child, Heath stopped playing piano around his teenage years when school and other interests got in the way. “When I joined the board I realized I should be a customer here as well. I started taking piano lessons again at age 50.” While he had always had a rich musical life, having formed an opera group and conducted, his actual piano playing had taken a backseat. Since then he has performed in over fifty recitals as well as playing in small ensembles with other adult students at the Conservatory. “A lot of the students are really quite talented,” Heath shared. “Like any activity once learned but not done in a while, picking it up again is not super difficult, but it is super rewarding.” Colleagues of Heath’s offered their praise, saying even passing by and hearing him play in a practice hall is like a concert in and of itself.
Board President Rodd Berro elaborated on more programs being offered by the Conservatory. In addition to expanding their scholarship programs and adult education, another new initiative is the veterans program Healing our Heroes, which offers music therapy. Currently there are nearly 25 veterans participating. Music therapy takes many forms- taking lessons, playing music or just listening–whatever the therapist feels is appropriate for each individual case. Veterans are not the only ones benefitting from music therapy; music therapy has long been proven to help autistic children lower anxiety and improve communication skills.
In his fifth year as president, Berro admits he is not a musician himself although both his children attended the Conservatory. He hopes that the expanded programs being offered will help college-bound students realize that serious participation in music programs is as impressive on a college application as sports and academics. “Music is not just for music’s sake, but can help kids get into college,” Berro said. He takes tremendous pride in the Music Conservatory of Westchester.
Rounding out an evening celebrating all the honorees, Broadway stars were also there lending their vocal talents. Tony award winner Lena Hall, Tony nominee Constantine Maroulis, and Nick Cordero sang and entertained the crowd following the dinner and live auction. It was an exciting night to be among such diverse and talented people, all coming together to share the gift of music. In the words of Rodd Berro, “It’s a great school, we have a wonderful facility and staff, and we just keep moving forward.”
For information on the fall programs and opportunities at the Music Conservatory of Westchester, go to:
Miriam is a freelance writer, fourth grade teacher and single mother of two daughters living in Westchester.
A breast cancer survivor, she volunteers for the American Cancer Society and has completed four marathons and travels the world. Follow her on Twitter@writerMimiLong.com.