Young@Heart Chorus goes to the movies: New virtual show features short music videos

  • Image courtesy Young@Heart Chorus

  • Image courtesy Young@Heart Chorus

  • Y@H member Jack Schnepp, at left, is seen with his partner, Joyce Dearman, in the video for the song “Tonight” by Iggy Pop. Image courtesy Young@Heart Chorus

  • Y@H member John Rinehart, filmed at Deerfield Academy for the new virtual show by the chorus, “Something Inside So Strong.” Image courtesy Young@Heart Chorus

  • Y@H member Rosemary “Rosie” Caine is seen in a video from the coming Young@Heart virtual show, “Something Inside So Strong.” Young@Heart Chorus

  • Y@H member Jerry Little was filmed at his property in Plainfield for his performance in the new virtual show by the chorus, “Something Inside So Strong.” Image courtesy Young@Heart Chorus

Staff Writer
Published: 4/19/2021 2:37:51 PM

Among its long list of accomplishments, the Young@Heart Chorus was featured in an eponymous 2007 documentary that won a number of awards and ended up on the top 10 lists of several publications.

Now members of the elderly singing group are starring in their own music videos, shot by cellphone (and in one case by a drone camera), that are all part of what Y@H is calling a “Cinematographic Concert” to be screened online Saturday, April 17, at 7:30 p.m.

It’s the third virtual show the chorus has produced since COVID-19 arrived in March 2020 and the group was forced to abandon live performances and rehearsals. Since then, like performers everywhere, Y@H and its supporting band have moved to Zoom for rehearsing and arranging its music, and two previous virtual concerts featured tunes recorded remotely during the pandemic as well as clips from some past live shows.

But for the April 17 show, “Something Inside So Strong,” which is also a fundraiser for the chorus, longtime Y@H Director Bob Cilman said the group wanted to try something different.

“By January, after we did our holiday show (a Dec. 10 virtual concert), I think we’d all become kind of sick of being confined to little Zoom boxes,” Cilman said. “And since we couldn’t physically be together, we thought we’d do something that focused more on the individual members — and we’d also do something that suggests there’s a future” beyond the pandemic.

The April 17 show offers a range of new songs by artists including Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Al Green, Patti Smith, The Temptations, Iggy Pop, Bonnie Raitt and others. And, Cilman, says, each song is accompanied by an individual video, funny and sometimes poignant vignettes that have been filmed predominantly in and around members’ homes by other family members, friends, and in some cases by Cilman himself.

The performances are by one or two singers, backed by the band but not always by the whole chorus.

“We wanted to give a closer look at (chorus members’) lives,” Cilman noted. “It’s been a real eye-opener for me in some cases — I hadn’t seen where a lot of them lived.”

Chorus members, the group’s production team, and the band members all had a hand in coming up with ideas for which songs would be sung by individual members, with people’s own personal circumstances forming backdrops to their tunes.

For instance, chorus members Shirley Stevens of Amherst and Steve Martin of Springfield — Martin says the two are “an item” — are filmed mostly outside Stevens’ apartment as Martin sings the Dr. John tune “Right Place Wrong Time.” The video shows Martin driving up to the apartment, knocking on Stevens’ door, after which she refuses him entry and begins throwing some his stuff — shorts, slippers, a bottle of booze, a teddy bear — out the door.

All the while, Stevens is singing lines from the funk-blues song that underscores his imaginary transgression: “I been in the right place / But it must have been the wrong time / I would have said the right thing / But must have used the wrong line.”

“We were thinking of how to connect the story to the music, and I thought ‘Maybe we could do this outside a police station, or a prison, or a cemetery,’” Martin said with a laugh. “Then we came up with this idea — it just seemed like a funny way to frame the song.”

Cilman, who says both Stevens and Martin showed fine acting chops, also had the two ad-lib during an instrumental break in the song: Martin hollers “I’m sorry, Shirley! Take me back — please!” while Stevens says “No! Get out!” and slams the door, after which she clutches herself, saying, “Oh, I’m too old for this.”

Portraits of real life

For a more sobering but ultimately positive story, Jack Schnepp, a Y@H member since 1999, duets with his partner, Joyce Dearman, on the Iggy Pop song “Tonight,” which begins with the lines “I saw my baby / She was turning blue / I knew that soon / her young life was through.”

As Cilman explains, Schnepp’s health took a turn for the worse several months ago after a fall; he was eventually admitted to a hospice but then miraculously recovered. In the video, Dearman sings the song’s opening lines, with a slight variation to the lyric, to Schnepp as he lies in bed with his eyes closed. But he then opens his eyes and begins singing “Everything will be alright tonight.”

Another video features a solo vocal by Elieen Litke on “Let the Mystery Be” by Iris Dement, a song that Cilman says asks “the big question” of where we go after we die. The country tune, juiced along by some tasty dobro riffs by Jim Armenti, who typically plays bass and clarinet with Y@H, is a somewhat unusual sound for the chorus, “but it’s a theme everyone can relate to,” Cilman said.

He added that the Y@H band has done its usual yeoman’s work in building the backing tracks to the songs and in mixing the music. He also credits Julia van IJken, a content developer with Y@H, for the work she’s done in stitching together and developing ideas for the videos in the April 17 show. Van IJken, an artist and writer from the Netherlands, has been working with the chorus from overseas since discovering their work last spring, Cilman said.

Cilman and chorus members say the enforced isolation of the pandemic has produced one silver lining for the group: an opportunity to learn many new songs. That aside, the director says he’s hoping the chorus can get together this summer, first for a picnic, then to resume live rehearsals, and hopefully to stage a live concert in October.

“It will take a while to get back on track singing together,” he said. (The chorus, like other vocal and musical ensembles, can’t sing together via Zoom due to the lag time between different computers. Vocals are recorded separately and then mixed later.)

Stevens says she’s looking forward to that possibility. Rehearsing and performing via computer “hasn’t been great but it’s a lot better than doing nothing,” she said. “Bob has really done a great job of keeping us involved and trying new things.”

For his part, Martin says the chorus’ virtual shows, which can be viewed all over the world, will also hopefully continue to offer “a good lesson for elderly people: Don’t give up on life! There’s still a lot you can do.”

To watch “Something Inside So Strong,” register at Registration is free, but donations to Y@H are encouraged. Purchased tickets to the show provide additional benefits, such as entry to a post-event virtual backstage party with the chorus.


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