The Young@Heart at The Egg
by Greg Haynes - Times Union
July 17, 2010
ALBANY – As they rightly point out on their website, the Young@Heart Chorus is “not about old people performing, but rather a performance that happens to feature older people.”
Yes, the 24-member chorus is made up of singers whose members range in age from 73 to 89. But they don’t sing the classical repertoire or even the songs from the big band era.
No, they sing rock songs – edgy rock songs. Some well known songs by rock superstars, but also some pretty obscure material by bands that have never risen above cult status.
Although the chorus was founded in 1982 and is based in nearby Northampton, Mass., their performance at The Egg on Friday evening was their Albany debut, and it was simply stunning. Yes, I know what you’re thinking – “old” people singing rock songs: Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that clever? Isn’t that the coolest gimmick?
And, yes, of course, the novelty of it is what draws people into the theater (and their performance at The Egg was completely sold for weeks in advance). And more than a few chuckles broke out in the theater when the gray-haired choir kicked off their concert by singing the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (featuring Louise Canady). But after listening to three or four songs from these singers-of-a-certain-age, the enthusiatic and adoring audience quickly came to understand the depth and universality of this two-dozen-member chorus.
For example, Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” might normally conjure up flashbacks of drug-induced hallucinations. But in the voices of the Young@Heart Chorus, it became a bold and powerful anthem about Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. The same goes for their swirling rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” with Patricia Booth as the Grace Slick-like featured vocalist.
Much of the credit goes to chorus director Bob Climan, who has carefully selected (and cleverly arranged) songs that address the aging process, the problems of the aged and, yes, even death – for example, Talking Heads’ “Heaven.” And the six-piece band onstage fearlessly rocked out, while at other times they seemed to almost disappear.
It was a night of wonderful music – from Michael Jackson to Fugazi, from Pink Floyd to Brave Combo – performed in a manner that can only be described as supremely heartfelt. The fact that it was a benefit concert for Community Hospice’s Camp Erin for pediatric breavement only strengthened the pull on the heartstrings. But make no mistake, this chorus is not a novelty. They stand tall on their own musical merits. And their music is not only inspiring, but also simply glorious.