4 Stars – Inspiring

From the opening note to the final moments of a chorus member’s life, this documentary by Stephen Walker is masterfully presented.  Using the repetitive symbol of vehicles on all types of Massachusetts roads, Walker allows us to travel with the “Young @ Heart” chorus not only through the seven weeks of preparation for their next concert, but through the winding turns of some of the member’s final miles as well.

The creation of musical enthusiast Bob Cilman, “Young @ Heart” is a chorus of people whose average age is 81.  Having been hired by a senior center in Northampton to bring music into the lives of their octogenarians, the spontaneous outburst of one of the senior women singing a rock song changed his playlist.  At this point years later, the experience that was begun that day has grown into a fully functional musical group that has performed in venues across Europe and even sung for the King and Queen of Norway.

The genius of the film is in two areas: the music Cilman selects for the chorus to sing and the humanity with which they sing it.

Although the seniors themselves explain that they like classical and opera music most and some have season tickets for the philharmonic orchestra, this chorus sings rock anthems, with syncopated, synchronistic patterns that challenge their minds and invigorate their hearts - literally and spiritually.  Unexpectedly and endearingly these people reach into their own souls and enrich ours.

The chorus has a variety of participants but, with an artist’s heart, Walker bonds us to a selected few.  Ninety-two year old Eileen captures us by her believable rendition of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”  The double implication of this engaging woman in the final weeks before she goes to be with God seems comfortably appropriate as she flirts with the men in her group who drive together from their nursing homes to the rehearsals. 

One of the most difficult songs Cilman asks his choir to learn is Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” made popular by the Pointer Sisters.  Though they continue to struggle with the 71 “cans” within the song, Cilman insists that the members learn all the words.

Spicing up the documentary and the upcoming concert are some wonderfully produced music videos.  Sung in the lounge chairs and wheelchairs of a nursing home, The Ramones’ “I Want to Be Sedated” takes on a whole new meaning.  And Fred’s starring role in the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” finds him strutting the lanes of a bowling alley in his white suit dragging his oxygen tank.

Putting a smile on the faces of all who see them perform and touching the hearts of all who travel this filmed journey with them, the “Young @ Heart” chorus gives us a joyous celebration of life as the music touches not only the chorus but also all of us who have the pleasure of travelling with them for a time and celebrating their performance.  The music performed, the humanity shown and friendships formed give us all a new vision of what our elderly years could be like.

  1. When you are older, how do you intend to spend the days of your life?  Would you join a chorus such as this and put yourself on stage even though your mind might fail to remember the words during your solo?
  2. Most of us know older people who are full of joy.  What is the ingredient you notice most often that accounts for this joy in their lives?
  3. The loss of chorus members is difficult but expected.  Their grief is given expression in the songs they dedicate and the memories and dreams they share.   What do you use to express your grief?
Posted on May 11, 2013 and filed under 4 STARS, INSPIRING.