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The Music Man of Mérida

Merida from above
Credit: Prill | Bigstock

Leroy Osmon is a bit like a superhero. During the day, he works as a mild mannered real estate agent showing properties to mainly Americans and Canadians, but at night, he transforms himself into the music man of Mérida.

Leroy Osmon Mérida, Mexico
Leroy Osmon

Osmon, 69, has a music resume a mile long. He has received the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Standard Music Award for Composition 23 times and the Medallion La Ville De Contrexeville from France twice. As a composer he has three Grammy list nominations. If that is not enough, Osmon was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

He was born in Indiana but moved to east Texas when he was 8-years-old. He graduated from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in music and spent the next 18 years teaching public school bands in Texas before getting his master’s degree from Sam Houston State University and his doctoral degree from the University of Houston in 1992.

“I was the first Doctor of Music Arts (DMA) student in composition the school ever had,” Osmon said. “I did the doctorate program for personal reasons. I always joke that I had to get the doctorate degree because I couldn’t stand the fact that my wife had her doctorate and our mail would always be addressed to Dr. and Mr.”

Osmon’s wife of 35 years, Dr. Cay Smith Osmon, taught school and served for many years as the University of Houston’s assistant and then dean of graduate students.

Several years after receiving his doctorate, Osmon and his wife brought a close friend who was terminally ill to Mexico and lived with him in a beach home north of Mérida. Osmon said it was his friend’s dying wish.

“We had no knowledge of the area beyond the surrounding Maya ruins,” he said, “but fell in love with the place. Our friend, my assistant director Tom Eastman from Houston, passed away in 1996 and we organized a concert with local musicians and around 30 other musicians from Houston to commemorate him. After the ceremony we went to a hotel on the beach and the American who owned it told us he had a beach home and would sell it to us at a great price if I would help build a local classical music scene. He asked for US$5,000, so we went to the American Express office and took out the money from my card and bought our first house in Mexico, which we used as a vacation home for several years.”

After four years of visiting Mérida, Osmon retired in 2000 at the age of 51 and bought a new home in town. But after seven years of living in the home they had renovated, he was offered a job in Xalapa, Veracruz, that state’s capital city, as a professor at the conservatory of music.

“We lived in Xalapa for four years,” he said. “They were doing a lot of my music at that time. The dance company ballet chamber orchestra was using my work and the symphonic band invited me to guest conduct. We had a very nice home on a hill but missed Mérida.”

The couple returned to Mérida in 2011 and Osmon worked with the governor of Yucatán to create a symphony orchestra. He also helped to audition and hire some of the orchestra’s musicians.

“When we first moved to Mérida, there wasn’t a symphony,” Osmon said, “just a couple of small chamber orchestras. Now we have the symphony orchestra, a chamber orchestra at the University of Yucatán, a municipal orchestra and at least a dozen or more chamber organizations.”

Osmon is the director of classical music events at La Hacienda Xcanatun and also director of musical activities for the Hacienda Chicano Tune, which produces a concert series October through May of each year. He also is a real estate agent for Mexico International Real Estate in Mérida. So much for retirement.

Leroy and Cay Osmon Mérida, Mexico
Leroy  and Cay Osmon

“When we returned to Mérida from Xalapa, we bought a new contemporary home on the north side of the city,” Osmon said. “It had belonged to a federal judge so it had an incredible security system. Our home has four bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths, a pool and a three-car garage. It’s a little bit large, though, for two people and three cats.”

Mérida is well known for its large colonial-style homes in its city center that offer great value to expat home shoppers. Osmon spends much of his time showing real estate to expats.

“Recently, I showed clients from Los Angeles several properties downtown that were more than 800 square meters, or about 8,600 square feet,” he said. “Those large properties are selling for around US$155,000, but this one needed some work. Then we looked at properties all the way up to US$319,000, which were very large and often covered up to a half block.”

The expat community in Mérida and the state of Yucatán numbers around 10,000, Osmon guesses. The majority lives either in central Mérida or the beach towns north of the city and are mostly Americans and Canadians.

As long-time residents of Mérida, Osmon and his wife are passionate about their adopted city and sing its praises con fortissimo.

“In addition to our classical music scene, we also have several contemporary dance companies, a big jazz festival each year and an international music festival,” he said. “If you love art, culture and history, we have more museums than you could possibly imagine. A large Maya museum, for example, opened just a few years ago.”

A cosmopolitan city of over 1 million people, Mérida also has a strong restaurant culture that includes Lebanese, Korean, French, Italian and many other diverse cuisines, reflecting its role as a major international tourist center in Mexico.

Tourism is big business in this colonial city, attracting visitors from all over the world to its Maya culture.

“The people of Yucatán consider themselves first and foremost Yucatecans, not Mexicans,” Osmon said. “They are proud of their Maya heritage. They have a completely different cuisine and although they speak Spanish, many still speak Mayan.”

Pyramid of the Magician in the ancient city of Uxmal
Credit: f9photos | Bigstock

Many Maya historical sites are close to Mérida. Uxmal is just over an hour away and Chichen Itza is about two hours, but many other Maya sites are closer and more easily accessible.

The cost of living in Mérida is low for a city of its size. For example, Osmon pays just US$130 each year for the property tax on his very large home. Shopping also is abundant. One of the largest shopping malls in Mexico is under construction and will open next year. Osmon told us that the city also has the largest Costco store in Mexico and multiple Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in addition to Mexican giants Soriana and Mega.

Osmon also points with pride to Mérida’s personal safety record.

“Our city is the safest in Mexico,” he said. “Our homicide rate is just 2.2 per 100,000 people, compared with over 20 per 100,000 in Mexico and over 4 per 100,000 in the United States. Overall, we have one of the lowest crime rates of all North American cities. You can walk anywhere at night and not be afraid.”

For expats, healthcare is a key concern and Mérida delivers well in that area, also. Osmon said the city’s Star Medica Hospital is one of three hospitals in Mexico certified to treat the president of the United States and has full certification from the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, private health insurance is not expensive but covers almost all their needs.

“We pay less than US$600 a year for the two of us,” he said. “If we get sick, we call and set up our appointment and pay nothing. No co-pay and medication is also covered.”

You might suspect that Osmon and his wife are in love with Mexico and Mérida. You would be right.

“This is where we would live no matter how much money we had,” he said. “We love it because it never gets cold here. We love it because of the Mexican people, especially the people of Yucatán and the Maya culture. And, I know this seems odd, but we love it because it is flat here and easy to get around. We appreciate that after living in the mountains in Veracruz. You appreciate it even more as you get older.”