By Laura Porter
WORCESTER – Young@Heart is back – and better than ever.
The Western Mass-based chorus, comprised of singers who range in age from 73 to their 90s, is celebrating its 35th year in 2017.
On the anniversary tour schedule is a visit to Mechanics Hall in Worcester, where the group will present “Young@Heart Chorus: Still Got It” on Sunday, Oct. 15 at 3 p.m. Proceeds will benefit both Mechanics Hall and the Jewish Federation of Central Mass (JFCM), who are partnering to bring the group to the community.
Toby Richmond z”l, the president of Federation who died this summer after a short illness, will be honored both in the program and before the performance.
“Toby was an exceptional leader, an extraordinary president and a very, very successful fundraiser,” says Steven Schimmel, executive director of JFCM. “The caliber of this program is an appropriate tribute to her memory. When you have someone who gave as much of herself as Toby did, you should find every way to memorialize her and continue her legacy.”
Barbara Rossman, who is coordinating the concert with Mechanics Hall Executive Director Bob Kennedy and a small committee of volunteers, emphasizes that “we want to make it a total community event. The profits will go to charity, but we want to reach out to the entire area and to all people because that’s what Young@Heart represents.”
In 1982, Young@Heart began as an activity for residents of Walter Salvo House, a housing project for seniors in Northampton. Organized by Bob Cilman and Judith Sharpe, the group gave the first of its many subsequent stage performances in 1983 in Northampton. Shows across the country and European tours followed, and an award-winning documentary, “Young@Heart,” was released in the United States in 2008.
The minimum age to join is 73, and rehearsals take place in Florence. Members must live within 40 miles of the town all year long. Some of the singers have previously performed as professionals or amateurs in the theater or the musical world; others have “never stepped onto a stage before turning eighty,” notes the website.
The membership has, of course, changed radically over time. None of the original performers, one of whom fought in the Battle of the Somme during World War I, now remain. But as director Bob Cilman writes on the Young@Heart Facebook page, the current performers “have kept alive the spirit of the early pioneers and continue to push the group into glorious new directions.”
The concert at Mechanics Hall next month will be the group’s second visit to Worcester.
In 2008, they also played Mechanics Hall, presenting an afternoon concert on behalf of Jewish Family Service (now Jewish Family & Children’s Service) and an evening concert benefiting Temple Sinai (now incorporated with Temple Emanuel as Temple Emanuel Sinai).
In fact, Barbara Rossman and Toby Richmond were the coordinators of that first visit, a decision they made after seeing the documentary together with their husbands and another couple.
“We fell in love with them,” Rossman recalls. “My husband, Paul, turned to me and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to bring them to Worcester?’ I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ And I turned to Toby and asked her, ‘Want to do it with me?’ She said, ‘Sure!’”
In the wake of the tremendous success of the film, the chorus was then in great demand, but “we finally convinced them to come with us.”
It was a triumph.
“We sold out Mechanics Hall [for the afternoon concert] in six weeks,” she says. “Temple Sinai then asked if we could get them to stay longer. We added a second performance, and the hall was three-quarters full. We netted $103,000 for the whole thing.”
The Willows of Worcester is the presenting sponsor.
Mechanics Hall, Federation and Young@Heart will dedicate the concert to “those who came before us and left a precious legacy.”
“This is an event that we know will bring joy to the many hundreds of people who will attend,” says Schimmel. “And that’s very befitting of what Toby would have wanted for the community.”
Tickets: $25 and $50; VIP tickets: $100 and include a high tea reception after the concert with the cast, catered by Tastings and with wine from Total Wine. For tickets, contact Mechanics Hall at mechanicshall.org or call the Box Office at (508)752-0888. Those who wish to purchase a supporter gift can contact Barbara Rossman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (508) 755-5858.