Bendigo choir raises the roof

By Rosa Ellen
Updated November 6 2012 - 7:09pm, first published October 9 2011 - 2:11pm
The Forever Young Choir perform last week. Picture: JIM ALDERSEY

IT is the final rehearsal before the Forever Young choir’s debut concert at The Capital and the collective butterflies-in-the-stomach, as choir leader Laura Dusseljee puts it, “are flying in formation”.After a moment of shuffling on stage, the opening piano chords of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction stir from the teenage rock band up the back, and the groove is set.Singers begin to snap their fingers and work their feet; members give each other knowing looks as the electric guitars step up.With an average age of 70 (the oldest member being 90) it hasn’t taken long for the large and endearing choir to garner an enthusiastic following in Bendigo.Since starting in February, the group has built up a cracking repertoire of songs, from 80s’ anthem You’re The Voice to lyrical Bob Dylan, soulful Amy Winehouse and sensitive pop Coldplay. Though many of the younger choir members would be well familiar with the Rolling Stones and Beatles material, some of the more rollicking performances were chanelled through unlikely songs. “That we could pull it off, that the seniors did not baulk at the repertoire, was wonderful,” Laura says.More so that all the performers were utterly convincing in their versions of the songs.The Ramones’ punk hit I Wanna be Sedated had one little boy still singing the chorus as he walked downstairs at interval.Gritty “young” songs were never going to be easy for the singers to vocalise, Laura says, but that was one of the challenges the choir set itself.“I loved it,” Laura says of Wednesday night’s grand performance. “The punk rockers have a small musical vocabulary but I thought it would be an absolute hoot.”The day before the big night Laura found out that the choir’s third opening song – U2’s Desire was the least enjoyed by the singers.“It was particularly a non-favourite. I warned them when we started that they wouldn’t like all the music but they had to give it a go,” she says. “They thought Desire was too dirty in sound. It doesn’t have the structure or flow. It’s a song that makes a statement – I thought it was sensational that they didn’t say anything about it, they went ahead and gave it a go.”Giving it a go was a major purpose of the Forever Young project.Girton Grammar music teacher Laura pitched the idea to the school as a joint performance for Seniors Week.In the end she had 200 people signed up to help with the production. “I’ve been wanting to do it for years. When I suggested it to the school they seized on it,” Laura says. To recruit singers, the indefatigable music teacher began calling aged care residences and established singing groups.“I spoke to some old age homes and I phoned old age citizens’ societies. We also recruited from word of mouth. People heard about it in the Bendigo Advertiser and on the radio.”After months of rehearsals, the choir had grown to 53 members with three Girton Grammar bands to accompany them through a mixed repertoire of rock, jazz, punk, metal, pop and disco.“It’s just so nice to see the young and the old mingling,” singer Jan MacDonald, says. “It bridged the gap completely.”With a strong, warm singing voice that beautifully suits the longing tone of Queen’s Love of My Life, Jan’s solo was also a step out of her comfort zone.“I came off the stage one day and one of the young girls came up to me and said ‘I think you’re awesome.’ I nearly fell over.”By opening night, nerves have dissipated and the stage is set for a feel-good extravaganza.The stage of The Capital theatre is emblazoned with a winged tattoo heart and the ‘Forever Young clinic’ set up on either side of the space.Two caped nurses assist the elder members to their seats and a wavering heart monitor is projected onto the back of the stage. The tongue-in-cheek hospital theme extends to the foyer, where patient biographies written by Girton Grammar year eight and nine students are displayed on the wall.The Forever Young singers walk onto the stage in black T-shirts.After a second, the Pistol Grips - four Girton Grammar musicians dressed like the brothers Gibb, start plucking the strutting beat of Stayin’ Alive.In the deep red walls of the ornate Capital, the theatre suddenly feels like a big heart, pumping with life.“Hi Mum!” shout a fan club from up the back of the theatre.The audience tap feet and cheer as the choir sing their way through Rehab, Desire, Light My Fire and the stirring Queen song Who Wants To Live Forever, which brings tears to the eyes of some on stage.With tickets selling out within weeks, the appeal of Forever Young goes well beyond the 60-plus age group singing on stage.In one memorable night, Bendigo heard from rich and talented voices and the resulting magic did a great deal for everyone’s health.Already, there are plans afoot for next year’s production.“They’re thinking of songs for next year,” Laura says. “Lady Ga Ga apparently.”

Get the latest Bendigo news in your inbox

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.

We care about the protection of your data. Read our Privacy Policy.