Deaths of 2 members add poignant note to chorus show
May 13, 2006
NORTHAMPTON - When the curtains open on the stage at the Academy of Music tonight, the adage 'The show must go on' will be especially meaningful.
Two members of the chorus will not be in the cast of this week's show 'Alive and Well.' Both men died recently.
Robert Salvini of Amherst died May 5 after a long illness. And Tuesday, the day of Salvini's funeral, Joseph Benoit of Chicopee died of a heart attack.
'What was impressive about both of those guys is that they wanted to be doing this very badly,' said musical director Bob Cilman. 'They got through illness to be doing this.'
Benoit had become a star in the Young at Heart Chorus, and would have had a number of songs to sing this season, including 'Wish You Were Here' by Pink Floyd.
Salvini had planned to make a special appearance on Saturday, singing 'Fix You,' by Coldplay, with Fred Knittle. Medical problems forced Salvini to quit the chorus in 2002.
Some of Benoit's songs will be cut, while Cilman will join the chorus to sing others, like 'Hey Ya' by Outkast. Knittle will take both parts of 'Fix You.'
But even with changes to the show and the news of Benoit's death following on the heels of Salvini's, the chorus did not consider quitting.
'When (the chorus members) were faced with the choice of doing it or not doing it, they decided that doing it would have been what Joe would have wanted,' Cilman said.
And they did it. At an invitational show on Thursday night at the Elevens in Northampton, Young at Heart put on a show that had the audience singing and dancing. But the chorus isn't in denial, said Diane Porcella, the chorus administrator.
'To a person, (the chorus members) all said the show goes on,' Porcella said. 'As a group, they're dealing with it by performing and singing. That's how they came together.
'Lenny (Fontaine) said to me, 'I lost a friend today.' And we all have. Joe was a super guy and Bob was a tremendous force.'
E. Robert Salvini, 75, joined the group in 1998, with a background in classical singing. Before Young at Heart, he performed with the Valley Light Opera.
Once, he was a runner-up on the TV show Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, recalled Patricia Larese, a close friend of Salvini.
Salvini moved to Amherst in 1983 and opened the Sunraise Printing Shop in Hadley, which he owned until his death.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen, and two sons.
Larese remembered Salvini's excitement over the coming show, even though medical complications kept him from most rehearsals.
'He had a chance to sing last week and was all excited (about the show). It just didn't work out,' Larese said.
A picture of Benoit with a fist thrust in the air at the head of the chorus appears on the poster advertising tonight's show.
Before joining Young at Heart, Benoit, 83, had performed with the Springfield Chordsmen Barbershop Chorus, the Chicopee Singing Swinging Seniors and the Second Armored Division Band. He sang with Young at Heart for five or six years, chorus members said.
According to his longtime friend and fellow chorus member Lenny Fontaine of Chicopee, Benoit spent a few days a week balancing finances for his son's construction company.
Benoit is survived by his wife, Claire, and his son and daughter.
'He was the guy that everybody likes. There's always one in the group,' said Liria Petrides of Amherst. 'I think that Joe lived as long as he did because he had a will to live.'
And the Young at Heart Chorus has a will to perform.
With only days before the show's debut this weekend, musical director Cilman has had to restructure the show, by deleting some songs, and adding others.
The show is set for 8 p.m. today at the Academy of Music.
In tribute to their two late members, the chorus will join a recording of Salvini singing 'Every Breath You Take' by the Police while a slide show of his appearances with Young at Heart lights the background. They will also sing back-up vocals to a video of Benoit singing 'One' by U2.
Members of the chorus say that despite the loss of two friends and singers, they will bring to their performances the energy that made them famous.
'Bob and Joe, their spirits are with us,' said Helen Boston of Florence. 'They would have wanted us to keep on going.'