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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Golden Oldies

A colleague of mine, whom I asked if he would be interested to take part in one of our projects in the field of music and the elderly, mentioned the television series 'Golden Oldies'. I had completely missed it (not much of a television man, me) but it was a series about how a rock choir consisting of elderly people was formed and how they prepared for a (yet to come) performance in Amsterdam's Carré, one of the most respected concert venues in the Netherlands.

I googled the programme (which is inspired, of course, by the American documentary 'Young at Heart'), and found  some news items on it. One mentioned that this programme would finally draw the elderly out of their old-fashioned repertoire they use to sing (old children's songs, folk songs, popular songs from the 50s, cabaret and musical repertoire, classical music) and into the exciting world of pop and rock. So I prepared to write a blog about that - about the idea, again, that some repertoires are inherently better than other repertoires. I would write that I am, of course, in favour of elderly rock choirs, but that the main point is not to dismiss elderly people singing 'old-fashioned' repertoire. The question is not about replacing a 'bad' repertoire by a 'good' repertoire, the question is inclusivity. The question is about acknowledging any repertoire that is sung by people as inherently useful. Maybe not for you, no - but most of the world is not about you anyway.

However, when preparing to write the blog I watched the first episode of the series, and that changed my mind. Yes, it is a slightly clumsy copy of 'Young at Heart'. Yes, there is a certain undertone in the series of dismissal of what 'the elderly' 'usually' do - but that undertone is far from dominant and is often replaced by a visible sympathy of the young presenter and the even younger choir director for the elderly people they meet. And yes, of course it is a televised series and therefore it sometimes is a bit over-dramatised. There is the 'personal interest'/'emotion tv'-thing coming into it,where the presenter tries to reconcile one of the older participants with her son, a completely unnecessary and distracting addition to the series (why do television presenters think they are allowed to perform therapy on - and by - tv?). And the working towards a great concert on the CarrĂ© stage to my mind is too much in line with what Bruno Nettl so rightly calls our 'ahletic view on music' - music is only worthwhile if it is fast, loud, high, long, great; there is no place for the mediocre in our minds. Which is a pity because it makes that many people refrain from the joy of making music because thy think they are 'not good enough' or 'too old' or whatever.

But what I like is that much of the documentary does convey, in between the little prejudices and the grand expectations we cherish so much, something else: that elderly people are just people; that when they sing, they are just singing; when they have joy, they simply have joy; and when they have high hopes, those hopes are the same as yours and mine. And that made the first episode eventually quite pleasurable to watch.

Now may I ask you: if you are a musician and have time and energy for something new, start a Golden Oldies choir or seopmthing similar. I know - although the television series stresses the novelty of it - that there are many of them around already; my own town has a very succesful one. But there is room for at least ten more in my town, and for hundreds of them in the country. A great way to earn your money, and a great way to discover new places to work as a musician - outside of the domain of the athletics of music, outside of most of your grand expectations, but (maybe: therefore?) enormously rewarding.

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