Thursday, August 30, 2007

Young @ Heart

A while back I posted a video of Young @ Heart Chorus in action ... however, something inside made me revisit them - and I am glad I did.

When the Young@ Heart began in 1982 the members all lived in an elderly housing project in Northampton, MA called the Walter Salvo House. The first group included elders who lived through both World Wars. One of the members had fought in the Battle of the Somme as a 16 year old and another, Anna Main, lost her husband in the First World War. Anna was a stand-up comic who at 88 told jokes that only she could get away with. She sang with the chorus until she was 100.

By 1983 the original group was ready to create their first stage production. They enlisted the support of Roy Faudree from No Theater to stage “Stompin’ at the Salvo”. The show sold out four times and brought in a broad cross section of younger and older people from the community. It also brought new performers.

In 1996 No Theater was in Rotterdam performing in the annual R Festival. Roy asked the organizers about the theme for the next year’s festival. When he discovered that it was Forever Young, he told the organizers about Young@Heart and plans began to bring the group over to Europe. This was the first time they would create a stage production that just included members of the chorus. Mixing songs and costumes from past shows with some new music they created “Road to Heaven” staged by No Theater. The response was phenomenal and the chorus went on to 12 more tours of Europe, Australia and Canada from 1997-2004.

The current performers in Young@Heart range in age from 71 to 88. There are some with prior professional theater or music experience, others who have performed extensively on the amateur level, and some who never stepped onto a stage before turning eighty. None of the current performers of Y@H were part of the original group that formed in 1982, but they have kept alive the spirit of the early pioneers and continue to push the group into glorious new directions.

The spirit found within Young @ Heart can totally rejuvenate you on a day when you are beaten down, or just feel old. I am inspired by Young @ Heart and - after taking a moment to watch the videos below - I hope you are too.

And finally - the video i posted a while back. The performer here is Fred Knittle, who suffers from congestive heart failure. This song was intended to be a duet between Fred and another chorus member, Bob Salvini. Sadly, Bob died of a heart attack and it was left to Fred to carry the song on his own. If I'm correct, the people you see crying at 01:13 are Bob's family. The lady you occasionally see mouthing the lyrics in the audience is Fred's wife. This is powerful.

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