A year of singing with the Young@Heart chorus

For the Recorder
Published: 4/8/2021 10:15:12 AM

In the last 10 years, Iʼve had six life-saving surgeries on my vocal cords. I didnʼt think I’d ever be much of a singer anymore, but I was grateful to choose life over being a sometime-performer of Irish folk songs. And, while soloing wasn’t much of an option anymore, I could still sing harmony and was deeply involved with writing music and performing.

So I said yes to Bob Cilman when he asked me to join the Young@Heart Chorus about a year ago. He’d increased the chorus’ age to 75 — the age I turned March 22.

Iʼve known Bob for over 40 years, as he was my sonʼs preschool teacher when, as a student, he worked at Living and Learning in Amherst.

Anyone who has lived in the Pioneer Valley for any length of time knows that Bob, when he was in his late 20s, took a group of seniors and whipped them into a later globally performing phenomenon. When I joined the chorus, I wondered if its repertoire would still include music by the likes of The Clash, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith, Coldplay and The Stones — and how my Irish Harp and I would fit into the chorus’ unique musical genre.

Bob has selected a repertoire that’s so successfully counterintuitive to what might be expected from a chorus of this age group, with an average age of 85 (and five members over 90).

This is not the music associated with a group of mildly bewildered elder singers. It’s pulsing with punk, rock blues and jazz vibes. Singing it makes us feel like itʼs cool to be old; to be us.

Now at 76, I am the youngest in the current group but not the latest recruit. That honor goes to Violet Walker, who is also from Greenfield and who plays the musical saw, the violin and sings like the pro she is.

When I joined, the rehearsals were held remotely via the app Zoom.

Back in April 2020, little did we know the digital Young@Heart rehearsal and recording model would still be the primary way of meeting a year later.

I remembered watching the award winning documentary “Young@Heart” about a decade ago. I had missed those early years, which eventually led to national and international tours. Their work with theater organizations trained them in more visual and dramatic stagecraft, putting the group on another level of performance for global touring.

I missed all of that, but I’ve been welcomed by a panoply of Young@Heart portraiture over Zoom every Monday and Thursday, streaming live into my living room. Finding my feet in this brave old new world was challenging at first. And while we’re all together on the screen, we canʼt actually sing in unison. There’s algorithm that can overcome internet latency.

By the end of April last year, we’d held three YouTube and Zoom concerts. We’ve completed 38 new songs since then. It’s been banner year for the chorus, with a technical team of John LaPrade in Deerfield and Julia van IJken in Holland.

The chorus’ band features distinguished valley musicians Tom Mahnken, JJ OʼConnell, Jim Armenti, Mark Gianfriddo, Joe Boyle, Chris Haynes and Billy Arnold, who have recorded individual tracks, fused, spliced, melded and mixed hundreds of recordings. Bob has patiently coached and collaborated, taught, led and encouraged the chorus as he reinvents how each concert will take shape.

Weʼve seen ourselves on CNN and CBS; we’ve sang with childrens choirs in Chicago and Texas. In December, Young@Heart collaborated with a Japanese choir that saw the group perform in 2012 in Tokyo.

The choir from Japan modeled itself after the Young@Heart Chorus with a group of singing seniors. We streamed together across continents during a special Christmas concert.

Each song produced by Young@Heart represents many different recordings made alone at home. The parts come together into a virtual choir through editing after the fact.

Upcoming on April 17 at 7:30 p.m., Young@Heart will host a YouTube Concert featuring video recordings along with the music.

Each song will have its own mini movie that’s been shot at multiple locations using drones, iPads, iPhones and video cameras. Itʼs like MTV for super seniors — keeping us engaged and excited by whatever Bob will come up with next.

Songs will range from David Bowie to Iris De Ment, Patti Smyth, The Temptations, Al Green and Bonnie Raitt. For those of us in the chorus, the pandemic is only a slight inconvenience, as we sing and play our way back to normal life.

For more information on Young@Heart Chorus and to register for the April 17 virtual concert, visit youngatheartchorus.com.

Rosemary Caine is a Greenfield resident and a member of the Young@Heart Chorus.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


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