Young at Heart

June 26, 2008

Young @ Heart is a chorus in Northampton, Massachusetts, as well as a movie about the chorus, its challenges and successes. Two things make this chorus different from any other: the average age of the participants is 80, and they sing songs you wouldn’t expect them to want to listen to, let alone sing, with enthusiasm and good spirits, songs like “Fix You” by Cold Play, “Schizophrenia” by Sonic Youth, the Clash, “I Want to Be Sedated,” by the Ramones, and more.

When the movie starts, many of the senior singers express a preference for classical music and opera. You have to wonder whether they are being forced to sing crazy rock music so people will laugh at them. In many of the early rehearsals, directed by the chorus leader, Bob Cilman, singers are expressing their dismay at music like “Schizophrenia,” and you start to feel a little uncomfortable about the whole thing. Maybe if they could sing opera and songs from the 30s and 40s, they would be happier. They would be just another old folks chorus (not that there are that many of them), though; they wouldn’t be going on world tours or be the subject of a movie.

Watching the rehearsals is a little painful. Singers are not in tune, or in time, and some are asleep. They do not learn quickly. You want Bob to give their solo to someone else who can handle it. You want them to sing something easier. You want them to drop this facade and sing the songs they know and love.

But as the move continues, you realize that singing and being in this group of singers, is vitally important to each and every singer. While they may plug their ears with cotton when loud rock music is played, they seem genuinely interested in broadening their musical horizons and giving their own expression to classic and contemporary rock music. Yes, it is still funny to see and hear old people sing “I Feel Good!,” but you are also convinced that they do feel good, and that music is why they feel so good. As one chorus member says, “music does a lot for your whole body. All the chorus members share a love of music with their good friends in the chorus, and they enjoy the thrill of making their audiences feel good too.

As the movie progresses, you get to know some of the individual singers, and some turn out to be very good singers. You mourn the loss of two members along with them, members who die while the group is preparing for a big concert. Members are united in their feeling that if (or when) they were to die, they would want the others to continue. The show must go on, and it does.

The movie contains several excerpts from Young@Heart performances, as well as three very well-done music videos. It is all lots of fun to watch, and the concert and video singing is very impressive. The members do finally remember their words, and they come in when they are supposed to, even though they couldn’t do it the day before.

Bob Cilman, who has led this group for 25 years, can be a stern taskmaster, though he is also quite sensitive to the frailty of his singers. He has witnessed deaths of many chorus members over the years, and, thanks to him, the show does go on, and it is a great inspiration.

Young@Heart is currently playing at the Regal Nickelodeon 5, 742 Nathan Ellis Highway (Route 151), in North Falmouth.

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