April 23, 2014

Forever young

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The Young@Heart Chorus comes to CVU

Sept. 29, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer correspondent

Young@Heart chorus director Bob Cilman (center) performs The Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’ with his group and Champlain Valley Union High School choral students. Young@Heart, a group of singers aged 73 or older, visited CVU on Sept. 23 as part of its first visit to Vermont. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

Their bones may be brittle and their hair gray, but in their hearts they’re as fresh and spry as spring chickens.

The Young@Heart Chorus, a group of rock ‘n’ rollers with a minimum age of 73, performed at Champlain Valley Union High School on Sept. 23. Although they have toured everywhere from Japan to New Zealand, the CVU concert marked their Green Mountain State debut.

“This is our first ever concert in Vermont,” said Young@Heart director Bob Cilman. “It’s strange, because we’re only about 45 minutes from Brattleboro.”

To be precise, Cilman’s well-seasoned choir hails from Northampton, Mass. Cilman and Judith Sharpe began the project in 1982 as a fun activity for seniors living at the Walter Salvo House in Northampton. The group has since expanded to include seniors living within a 40-mile radius of the city. Although none of the original members are still alive, the current crop of venerable vocalists has maintained the wildly eclectic musical tastes of their predecessors.

“I listen to all kinds of music, because understand, I have 15 children,” said 89-year-old Dora Morrow. “I had seven daughters and eight sons, and you know those sons listen to everything that come through. They had all kind of rock ‘n’ roll. They had blues. They had jazz. So I just listen to everything.”

Pretty much everything was just what the Young@Heart Chorus performed and ate lunch with CVU choral students. Highlights included a “Dancing in the Dark” medley — containing both the 1984 Bruce Springsteen rock composition and the 1931 Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz pop standard — and two Phish songs: “Free” and “Chalk Dust Torture.” The latter Phish tune featured guest lead vocals by a different kind of senior — CVU upperclassman Garrett Brown.

But the biggest response was for 82-year-old Louise Canady’s moving solo version of “Love Has No Pride,” which was a hit for both Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt.

“I’m just enjoying myself as an old great-great-grandma,” Canady said. “You’d never know it from my singing today, but I was trained strictly as a soprano. When I came to Bob, he tricked me. I lowered my voice for him because they were doing the drug music, you know.”

The CVU concert was made possible by the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington. It served as a warm-up for the Young@Heart Chorus’ gala show at the Flynn the following night.

“We have a long and wonderful relationship with the Flynn,” said CVU choral director Carl Recchia. “Mary, my wife, made me aware that the Young@Heart were coming. We made contact with our friends at the Flynn and that’s how this came about.”

Recchia screened the 2007 documentary “Young@Heart” — which chronicles preparations for a 2006 concert at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton — for his students prior to the visit by the film’s stars.

“I was bawling,” said CVU senior Alicia Phelps, referring to the fact that two of the chorus members passed away during the making of the movie.

But the film’s message is that life goes on and the show must go on, because singing is what keeps these elder musical statesmen forever young.

“I feel good,” said 81-year-old Helen Boston, quoting the James Brown classic that her friend Dora Morrow memorably covered at the Academy Theatre concert, “because God has been good to me, and I am so grateful for that.”

Fittingly, the Young@Heart Chorus ended the CVU show with a version of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”

 

For more information on Young@Heart Chorus, visit www.YoungAtHeartChorus.com

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