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Press

Chorus trades rockers for rock 'n' roll

by Fred Contrada - The Springfield Republican
April 26, 2006

Stan Goldman feels good. You know that he would.

Stan Goldman feels good. You know that he would.


The guy's 76 years old and instead of spending his time being a retired English teacher in East Longmeadow he's a rock star of sorts with an internationally renowned group of elders gearing up for a gig in Zurich. What's not to like?


It's a Tuesday afternoon and I'm a fly on the wall at a Young@Heart Chorus rehearsal.


I've never had a backstage pass at a Stones concert, so this will have to do. For the unhip out there, the Young@Heart Chorus is a feisty band of senior citizens who have messed with the world's preconceptions about old age by doing songs by Led Zeppelin, the Doors and a number of other groups that many of their peers may be too old to recognize. Its members have ranged in age over the years from 70 to 100.


Hometown impresario Bob Cilman, the director of the city's Arts Council, started the chorus back in 1982, basically as a way to keep the old folks at the Walter P. Salvo House from being bored. Cilman saw some possibilities, however, and the thing took off.


Over the years, Young@Heart has brought its shows to such far-flung locales as Australia, Hawaii, Norway and Belgium. The chorus has had a 100-year-old chanteuse and a couple of septuagenarian gentlemen in drag during its illustrious tenure.


Young@Heart is bigger in Europe than they are at home. I used to attribute this to the enhanced sense of irony among Europeans.


Today, watching from my fly-on-the-wall spot, I realize I've been wrong about this. Young@Heart didn't make it big because it's funny watching old people sing rock songs. These folks have guts. Whatever age they happen to be, they're not afraid to try something new, to rock and howl in front of a theater full of people, and to have fun.


A film crew is in town today making a documentary about the chorus for a British television channel. Director Stephen Walker is working up a sweat changing camera angles as Jan St. Lawrence, 78, of Northampton and Louise Canady of Springfield handle the main vocals on the Allen Toussaint song "I Know That We Can" while the rest of the 25-some members chime in from their folding chairs.


In the middle of it all is Cilman in his Ernie's Texaco T-shirt, trying to squeeze every ounce of soul out of the crew. A whole lot of "great gosh a-mighty's later, Cilman says, "That sounds absolutely horrible, but we really have come a long way."


They laugh. It might take a while, but they know that they can.


Turning it up a notch, they switch to the "Godfather of Soul" and take on James Brown's "I Got You." Goldman arises from his chair. It takes him a while to get vertical and he never quite makes it. Nonetheless, he assumes his position up front next to Springfield resident Dora Morrow, 84.


The classic version of the song starts with a wildcat growl. Morrow, grandmotherly in her pink dress and cameo necklace, gives a house cat rasp that Cilman exhorts her to repeat in increasingly feral style.


Now it's Goldman's turn. The bespectacled senior leans close to the mike and, closing his eyes, lets go a wail that, if not enough to wake the dead, is sufficiently fierce to serve notice that he is not among them.


How does Morrow feel about this? She says she feels nice. Sugar and spice, now.

 

Fred Contrada is a staff writer with The Republican. He can be reached at fcontrada@ repub.com


©2006 The Republican

© 2006 MassLive.com All Rights Reserved.


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