‘Young at Heart’ has the secret for youth

This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing a film that is truly life affirming. “Young at Heart” is the story of a group of about two dozen septuagenarians and octogenarians plus one nonagenarian who have become an international hit as a chorus group.

The group is from North Hampton, Mass., and was started by Bob Cilman at the local senior center. He started it in 1983 and it has been going strong since then. While over the years the group has lost and gained members, the bond among them has kept them together.

The movie follows the chorus as it prepares for a new season with personal interviews of some of the members plus Bob, who is their musical director. It shows them learning their songs, Bob expressing frustration with the lack of forward progress and what happens to members in their personal lives leading up to the concert, which ends the film.

The music selection is more than eclectic. It ranges from James Brown to Coldplay and beyond. Despite the featured performers’ preference for classical and operatic music, they give everything a chance. Bob adds to their charm by arranging the music so the lyrics come alive with meaning because of, not in spite of, the age of the singers.

“Staying Alive” will never just be John Travolta strutting down a New York City street. It will also be what it means to an 80-year-old dying of congestive heart failure as he carries his oxygen tank while singing as he struts down a bowling alley with two young women on his arms.

The movie is not just about the power of music to lift people out of their lives but also about how we all lift each other out of our lives. It shows, in spades, the strength these things give us.

Time and again, the members talk about how important the chorus is to them. The motivation to be there to practice, to sing and to perform all gives them a reason to get up and moving in the morning.

It just underscores how important it is to have a direction and purpose in life.

As the baby boom population ages, the needs of seniors is becoming more paramount in society.

Efforts to make places, events and services all accessible are as much driven by ADA compliance as it is by business’ recognition that if they want this demographic to stay with them as they get older, then some things will have to change.

It is no longer enough to offer a senior discount. Theatres and show venues also need to offer listening devices and accessible seating. Housing standards need to continue to move toward accessibility with the larger doorways, hallways and appropriate bathroom fixtures. Smart builders recognize that family needs now include having the parents come home, not just the children.

During the filming of the movie, two key members of the chorus died just before their season opening.

While their pain showed, they all knew individually and collectively that going on with the show would be what their departed friends would have wanted them to do. It was not simply that the show must go on, but rather going on was the best way they could pay homage to their memories.

“Young at Heart” truly is a living example of “you are only as old as you think you are.” Despite all the infirmities and diseases that accompany aging, these folks have found their fountain of youth in their music and the accompanying companionship.

It is a life lesson we all could follow.

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