Film Review: Age irrelevant to unique chorus

For more than two decades the Young @ Heart chorus from Massachusetts has travelled the world singing songs and inspiring audiences wherever it goes. But there’s something very different about this group.

"I had been looking for some time to do a film about old people, but I thought it was really hard to do without being kind of boring and educational," Young @ Heart director Stephen Walker said. "I suddenly realized this was the key. To do a film using music – and music that people of younger generations would identify with. And suddenly there was a whole world open to me."

Walker was certainly onto something, as his film is closer to a really good episode of Behind the Music, and far from boring. The group’s set list includes music from Sonic Youth, Tom Waits, James Brown, Coldplay, The Clash and many others.

"Their singing was rather extraordinary for people of that age; their way of interpreting their songs and the performances were fantastic," Walker said about the chorus members. "The fact that they sang songs that were new, suddenly in their mouths had different meanings."

This anachronism is the work of director Bob Cilman, who said the group sort of evolved out of the tedium of working with elderly people.

"It takes you," Cilman said. "What’s so great is the people are real and that’s why I’ve been so excited about the project for so long. I’ve met the greatest people, and they just really work very hard on this stuff and they make it so much fun. It’s a great part of my life."

The group certainly had humble beginnings, but with each passing year, Cilman chooses songs that are more artistic and moving, yet shocking, and the choir is sometimes reluctant to go along with his decisions.

"There’s a very human aspect to them," chorus member Louise Canady said about the chosen songs. "They say more than we thought they did. I think the music gets in the way of the stories they’re telling."

None of the chorus members were born after 1940, so many share the same set of experiences and tastes.

"We’re all on a sinking ship," chorus member Leonard Fontaine said vivaciously.

This almost casual attitude toward death is shared among the group, which feels that it is simply a fact of life – no more, no less.

"We just pass it on," chorus member Dora Morrow said regarding the constant threat of death. "That’s something we know is gonna come, so we just push it aside and keep going."

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