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Kensington knitters, painters help heal young hearts

July, 2010

Imagine the raw fire of James Brown belting out “I feel good!”

Then imagine the same tune delivered by someone about four times older, with white, or no hair, perhaps using a walker.

Laugh, if you want.

Then, if you can skip over what is lost and tune in to what remains and is enriched in this imaginary metamorphosis, you’ll have before you the pulsating life force that is music. And it’ll feel good, guaranteed.

For one night only, within the framework of the Just for Laughs Festival, The Young@Heart Chorus will ignite the stage with songs you may have heard, by Jimi Hendrix, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, The Clash and more.

Lucille Brisebois takes inspiration from nature. Photos: Kristine Berey

Much of the repertoire is a recent discovery to the singers themselves, since they range in age from 73 to 89 and most say they love opera. And by the time the Rolling Stones hit the airwaves, many were too busy to listen to the radio.

“They don’t have rock’n’roll imprinted in their brain,” explains choir director Bob Cilman, a ’60s child who was the director of the “meal site for elderly, low-income seniors” where it all began 28 years ago.

“They take the music, having no idea what it is, they start singing it really poorly, then do something with it to where they get to a point where people want to hear it.”

The choir has toured internationally, their renown fuelled by the 2006 documentary Young@Heart, in which the group was followed for two months rehearsing for a concert, while living their lives.

Part of the proceeds from Kensington’s art sale go to Batshaw, at the suggestion of Betty Martin

How does one work with a group of seniors, most having had no formal musical training, singing songs they don’t know and don’t necessarily like?

“You’ve got to find where they have strengths,” Cilman says.

“We have a lot of people who aren’t great singers, but they have wonderful characters and personalities that make them absolutely riveting on stage.”

The excitement is created by the fact that the singers are internalizing something completely new to them, Cilman explains.

“Sometimes people have incredibly trained voices, they are amazing singers, but on stage they come across as boring, because they’re not willing to stretch.”

Much of the work is improvisational in nature. “Sometimes you can hear something in rehearsal, but it only comes once.”

After a rollicking performance, you may feel joyful, inspired. You may be moved to explore different styles of music, searching for beauty where you thought it could never be found. In a best-case scenario, you may feel as did one member of the audience, describing her reaction to the show in the documentary: “I will never complain about being too tired or too old again.”

Young@Heart plays at Theatre Wilfrid Pelletier, Place des Arts on July 13, 2010. Tickets: 514-845-2322, or



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