Tonight PBS showed an incredible documentary about the Young @ Heart Chorus. As you can see, they are a senior citizen choir, and then some, with the average age being 81 years old. This particular choir doesn't just sit around in rocking chairs singing Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home." Their repertoire is contemporary pop, rock, alternative and blues, sung without apology. The conductor is known to be somewhat of a taskmaster and perfectionist. But why not? He wanted correct pitches and rhythms, and there was no reason to coddle his choir. I think after four scores and several years, they were old enough to hear the truth, and there was no age limit on expectations.
It was amazing to watch this group of people rehearse (and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse) and then perform. Of course, it wasn't just a matter of old folks getting on stage and wailing out a couple of tunes. This choir had other issues they had to face. More than once in this documentary, a choir member was taken to the hospital. And yet the choir sang on. Some died. And yet the choir sang on. To hear an elderly woman sing Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" in memory and tribute to a fellow choir member who had passed the day before, the words suddenly become less about an angry, angsty and hurt breakup, and more about loss and honoring a memory.
It's been seven hours and fifteen days
Since you took your love away
I go out every night and sleep all day
Since you took your love away
Since you been gone I can do whatever I want
I can see whomever I choose
I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
I said nothing can take away these blues
`Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares to you
In one of their performances, they crank out a version of "I Feel Good"made famous by James Brown. You cannot help but feel the fun, the joy and the celebration of life.
Speaking as one who eats, drinks, and breathes music as both performer and teacher, there is something indescribably wonderful and magical about singing and the human voice. It's an instrument that exists within us day in and day out. It is an extension of our physical and emotional selves, and is an integral part of our culture. It explores and defines emotions, generations and genders. It sings the stories of history, and provides commentary. It makes us laugh and cry and think. It allows us to look back in remembrance, and forward in hope. It celebrates everything we are and hope to be. My joy in being a performer has nothing to do with fame, applause, high notes and sparkly gowns. It's is the opportunity to be the voice and soul of both poet and composer. The joy of being a teacher is equally great, because through my work I am able to help others find their voice. It is a wonderful and humbling activity to help others discover that unique love of musical expression.
All you have to do is turn on the television to discover there has been a real resurgence in the vocal arts. If you look beneath the surface desires of fame on American Idol, if you see past the unpredictability of reality competitions like America's Got Talent, and if you can forgive the out and out silliness of Glee, they share a great and common bond. It is the simple and profound love of singing, the joy the comes in expressing yourself in song, and the community that comes in sharing music with others. It doesn't matter if you're eight or eighty eight, everyone has a song.
And it's all very, very good.