Senior citizens rock out in Davis Square
by Jack Nicas - Sommerville News
June 08, 2008
A gang of 27 singing seniors came to Somerville Friday for their Boston-area concert debut. It was the second show of the Young at Heart Chorus tour, aptly titled “Alive and Well.” They don't evoke the ghosts of their era, such as Glen Miller or Duke Ellington. Instead, the 72 to 88 year old performers cover tunes by the likes of the Ramones, Lou Reed and Coldplay.
The chorus was started in 1982 in the Walter Salvo house, an elderly housing development in Northampton. Bob Cilman, executive director of the Northampton Arts Council, took on the task of organizing and directing the band of playful performers.
Cilman runs a tight ship, known to pull acts from the lineup if rehearsals are missed or lines can't be remembered, assumingly reoccurring events. Stan Goldman, a 78-year-old Brooklyn native who raises from his wheelchair to lead the chorus' spirited rendition of James Brown's “I Feel Good” said of Cilman: “He chews nails and spits rust.” However, the entire group agrees that Young at Heart couldn't exist without him.
For many of the performers, the Young at Heart chorus has become a reason to live, especially those with many friends and family members gone. For others, like Len Fontaine, an 88-year-old bicyclist, it's a way to “expand my horizons.”
Each one of their songs is carefully selected, serving as commentary on their advanced age. This includes “Golden Years” by David Bowie, “Stayin' Alive” by the Bee Gees, and “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones; three crowd-pleasers that have been made into full-length music videos.
The chorus began Friday's show huddled together as the curtain raised, the spotlight illuminating them. The chords to “You Can't Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones sounded and they provided the opening chorus. Louise Canady, 79, then handed off her cane and stepped up to the mic for her solo. From there on out the house was rocking.
For the next two hours, the group performed non-stop with the exception of a brief intermission, not even bothering to pause between tunes.
They had the crowd bursting into spontaneous fits of applause, clapping to the beat of the high-energy numbers, such as Bruce Springsteen's “Dancing in the Dark” and Allen Toussaint's “Yes We Can Can.” Their heartfelt version of Bob Dylan's Forever Young barely left a dry eye in the house.
Their age range also proved to have no bearing on their vocal range. Cilman said to the audience, “Are you ready for some opera?” followed by the group showcasing their talents on a rousing rendition of Queen's “Bicycle Race.”
The audience was in awe by the first intermission and in love by the encore. The chorus received two well-deserved standing ovations following both the main performance and encore.
Cilman signed off by saying, “We're so happy to be in Boston, and it won't be long till we're back!”
The troop had then reached their bedtime and shuffled off stage, waving goodbye.