To celebrate the season and honor a friend: Y@H chorus offers virtual holiday show and remembers the late Andy Walsh

  • The Young@Heart Chorus and its band will perform “Come and Get Your Love,” a virtual concert Dec. 12 to celebrate the holiday season and to honor the memory of former chorus member Andy Walsh, who recently died. Photo courtesy of Y@H Chorus

  • The Y@H Chorus, seen here at Northampton’s Academy of Music in Nov. 2019, will stage a virtual show Dec. 12 as a thank you to supporters. Photo by Julian Parker-Burns/courtesy Y@H Chorus

  • The late Andy Walsh, a longtime member of the Y@H Chorus, will be honored during the group’s Dec. 12 virtual show. Image courtesy Y@H Chorus

  • The late Andy Walsh, a longtime member of the Y@H Chorus, will be honored during the group’s Dec. 12 virtual show. Chorus director Bob Cilman is at right. Photo by Paul Shoul/courtesy Y@H Chorus

  • The late Andy Walsh, a longtime member of the Y@H Chorus, will be honored during the group’s Dec. 12 virtual show. Image courtesy Y@H Chorus

Staff Writer
Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Young@Heart Chorus crossed a significant barrier earlier this spring when members began rehearsing via Zoom. Then in early October, the popular elderly singers performed their first virtual concert and, sparked by some video introductions by musicians and celebrities such as David Byrne, Edie Falco and Paul Shaffer, the concert also raised significant funds for the group.

Now Y@H is offering up a holiday show both to say thank you to supporters and to spread a little cheer as everyone struggles with continued fallout from the pandemic.

The concert, which can be seen online Saturday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m., is titled “Come and Get Your Love,” and Y@H Director Bob Cilman says that’s the key message.

“I’ve never been a big holiday-show kind of guy,” he said. “We’ll have a few holiday songs in the show, but really this is about just sharing the love — and this year, I think we all need it.”

In addition, Y@H joined the Springfield Symphony Orchestra last December at the latter group’s holiday concert to sing four songs “and we had a great time,” added Cilman. “So this year, given all that’s happened, we thought we’d do our own holiday show.”

The one-hour concert, which is free but requires registration through the chorus website (youngatheartchorus.com), will feature “a bunch of new music,” as Cilman puts it, including songs by Madonna, Green Day, The Pretenders, Sly and the Family Stone, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and more. There are also some holiday-related tunes (“Happy Xmas” by John Lennon & Yoko Ono, “Hanukkah in Santa Monica” by Tom Lehrer).

Speaking of Yoko Ono, Y@H will be sharing the virtual stage with members of Forever Young, a chorus of elderly Japanese singers, on a few other Yoko Ono songs. The Japanese singers also take part in “Happy Xmas,” as do members of the Chicago Children’s Choir, who have collaborated with Y@H on a number of past shows.

The concert’s title is taken from a song by Redbone, a Native American rock band of the 1970s. The show will feature versions of songs that were recorded in Zoom sessions, and it may include some taped interviews with individual members as well, Cilman said.

As he had noted earlier this year, Cilman said one small silver lining during the pandemic has been that the enforced isolation has made for some very productive rehearsals for the chorus (and its crack backing band), enabling the group to earn a lot more music. “Everyone has been really focused,” he said. “I can’t remember a time we’ve learned so much new material.”

A tough loss

Saturday’s show, sadly, is taking place in the shadow of the recent death of one of Y@H’s most popular members. Andy Walsh, who joined the singers in 2009 after moving to the Valley with his late wife, Patricia, from eastern Massachusetts, died in late November. He was 92.

The concert will be dedicated to him, Cilman said.

He recalled that when Walsh first came to the group, he offered to play the violin — he’d been a member of the Quincy Symphony Orchestra for 27 years — but that Cilman encouraged him instead to sing. And despite not having any background in pop music, Walsh took to Young@Heart’s repertoire brilliantly, Cilman said.

“Andy was one of the best interpreters of songs I’ve ever known,” he said. “He just had an amazing ability for finding something unique in everything he sang, and he had a natural instinct for being on stage…. You really didn’t have to give him any direction at all, and it was always such a pleasure to see him.”

The rangy Walsh became known in particular for singing lead on the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” in which he’d deliver a paraphrase of a line in the song that always got a cheer in local shows: “We’re gonna come around twelve with some Northampton girls that’s just dyin’ to meet you.” He also made a splash on “I Put a Spell on You” by Screaming Jay Hawkins and “Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell.

A video montage Y@H put together to honor Walsh includes snippets of some Zoom interviews in which Cilman can be heard asking Walsh what he thought of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones before he sang “Miss You.”

“I didn’t know who he was,” says Walsh.

“Losing Andy has been really tough for all of us,” said Cilman, who noted that he and chorus members spent a good deal of time before their first Zoom rehearsal after Walsh’s death, sharing stories and memories about him. Not being able to be together physically at that kind of moment makes the loss even more difficult, he said.

But by dedicating the show to him and continuing to sing, the group hopes to channel Walsh’s spirit and commitment to the chorus. “We knew Andy was pretty frail, but he kept showing up for rehearsals right to the end,” said Cilman. “We’ll always remember him for that.”

Donations to the chorus can be made when registering for “Come and Get Your Love.” Y@H is hoping to raise $25,000 from the show.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.