Jill Robinson didn’t expect to be bonding with her grandchildren over a Miley Cyrus song, but thanks to Young@Heart, they now have a shared interest in the latest pop music. From Pink, to Imagine Dragons to Meghan Trainor, 75-year-old Jill is well familiar with the artists gracing the music charts.
Jill puts it down to the Auckland-based Young@Heart Chorus, of which she has been a member for three years.
More than 30 singers, all over 70-years-old, make up Young@Heart, which started nearly six years ago.
“I’ve always loved music and singing,” says Jill, “but it gets harder to find people who want to sing along with you at this age. My sister and I found out about New Zealand Young@Heart and along we went. It’s perfect for us.”
Jill says it’s “lovely” being part of a group with a shared passion for music.
“It zaps you up. I’m performing with a whole lot of people who seem to be more energized. I think it’s the passion for music and singing and having fun.”
There’s a lot of laughter during rehearsals and Jill admits sheepishly that Chris sometimes has trouble bringing their focus back to the task at hand.
As the group’s name suggests, Jill believes being part of the chorus helps members feel young.
“Everyone faces the same stuff that ageing brings along – you know, health problems – but it seems something that people just stride over, move across and cope with.”
The music, while modern, is carefully selected. The lyrics of songs like Meghan Trainor’s Good to be alive and Miley Cyrus’ Younger now really resonate with the singers.
Musical director Chris Bevan says songs like Lesley Gore’s You don’t own me and Pink’s What about us have even become like the group’s protest songs for older people. They’re also not afraid to poke fun at themselves, she says, with songs like Elton John’s I’m still standing generating much humour among the group.
When Chris introduces a new song to the group, chances are not one of them will have heard it before. But Jill says they are quick to pick them up.
“Chris presents them to us and we listen and think ‘Oh my goodness’ and there’s all these raised eyebrows and mutter, mutter. After about six times people are starting to hum along.”
Chris’ involvement came about when she was asked to prepare five New Zealand members to tour with a United States Young@Heart group around New Zealand. Inspired by their hard work and dedication, Chris happily took up the challenge given by the director of the US Young@Heart to start to New Zealand-based group in 2012.
Chris says some come to the group with a lifelong passion for music, while for others it is a completely new hobby.
“We have one who said she always wanted to be a pop star and now, in her late 70s, it’s becoming a reality.”
Chris says there are so many benefits – socially, health and particularly cognitively.
They have to memorise the whole programme, which can include up to 16 songs for a big show.
In addition to big shows, they’ve performed at schools, retirement villages and even the Wiri women’s prison. The best reaction comes from school children. Jill says there are always gasps from the kids as they recognize the music, and they like to sing along.
The chorus is currently gearing up for two shows in Christchurch accompanied by a live band. One show will be open to the public at The Piano and there will be a private show at one of Arvida’s Christchurch retirement villages.
Chris says they couldn’t do it without the support of Arvida who is their principal sponsor.
“Their whole thing is about living well and that is what the chorus is all about – living life to the fullest in every way they can.”
Young@Heart’s ‘Younger Now’ show will be at The Piano Centre for Music and the Arts in Christchurch on Saturday 9 June at 7pm. Tickets available from www.iticket.co.nz.
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