'Young at Heart'Senior Citizens Chorus to Rock Northampton
Published: Thursday, April 3, 2008
Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 17:05
Rock and roll has traditionally been our domain, for and by young people. Tradition, however, does not apply to Northampton's own Young @ Heart Chorus, which has been bucking convention in the best sense since 1982. This group of senior citizens, aged between 73 and 89, performs numbers by the likes of James Brown, The Clash and Coldplay - music, one member says, they once asked their kids to turn down but now these 25 geriatrics gleefully dance to onstage. Founded by residents of the Walter Salvo House, a residential project for the elderly on Conz Street, the Young @ Heart Chorus first started performing in 1983 under the direction of Bob Cilman, now 54. It currently has several veterans of WWII and the Korean War and three retired Smith College staffers, as well as a mix of trained singing professionals, experienced amateurs and complete newcomers to the stage as members. Local collaborations have included the Pioneer Valley Gay Men's Chorus, a group of Latino break-dancers and No Theater, whose continued affiliation with Young @ Heart led to a serendipitous European tour in 1996. Eleven subsequent tours of Europe, Australia and Canada followed the choir's spectacular first-time success - they have even performed for a cheering crowd of Norwegian royalty. Similarly, though originally greeted with derision, Young @ Heart also had the inmates of the Hampshire County Jail cheering, and in some cases blubbering, after a performance there last year.
All of the chorus' previous success is culminating in a major documentary feature, due to premiere in New York and Los Angeles on April 9 and, if all goes well, nationwide later this month. "Young @ Heart" the film follows the group as they prepare for a concert in their, and our, very own Northampton. The Boston Globe lauded the film as "possibly the most rapturously received documentary" at Sundance this past January and it has already elicited positive feedback from the likes of Vanity Fair and USnews.com. In an article covering the Utah film festival, Newsweek noted "this alternately hilarious and heartbreaking movie will send you out of the theater with a new lease on life." Indeed, the comedy of a troupe of grandparents earnestly singing "shake it like a Polaroid picture" la Outkast is tempered by the constant threat of death. As choir member Steve Martin, 79, effectively put it, "I don't know how many more 15 minutes we'll have in our lifetime[s]."
Be assured that the Young @ Heart have not met with such enthusiastic responses because they are elderly and cute - this group is talented, funny and, above all, inspirational. The student-run newspaper The Dartmouth notes in a performance review that "the Young at Heart Chorus didn't receive.adoration just for being old. The members of the troupe earned every round of applause they got." This sentiment is exemplified in a YouTube video of a rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You;" at the song's end the misty-eyed audience bursts into uninhibited, ecstatic applause.
Already this clip has been viewed over 600,000 times.
And now Northampton - this means you, Smithies! - will be privileged with a premiere of "Young @ Heart" tomorrow, April 4 at 7 p.m. before its official opening in New York and L.A. Tickets are ten dollars apiece for the showing at The Academy of Music, which will be followed by a Q&A session with the entire group.
The Young @ Heart Chorus has been proving for over 25 years that youth is more about psyche than physicality - you can groove whether your are 19 or 90. Cheers to that, I say. And also, of course - rock on.