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Clubland: On the road with Young@Heart

Young@Heart director Bob Cilman, left, and chorus members hold an impromptu rehearsal backstage before a concert in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. In the foreground, John Rinehart practices his solo, Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.”

PHOTO BY KEN MAIURI Young@Heart director Bob Cilman, left, and chorus members hold an impromptu rehearsal backstage before a concert in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. In the foreground, John Rinehart practices his solo, Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.”

Editor’s note: Ken Maiuri, Young@Heart’s pianist, is traveling with the group on its tour of The Netherlands and Belgium.

Rotterdam, The Netherlands, not yet 9 a.m. — it’s rainy and very grey but the sunny cacophony of a marching band bounces off the wet city streets and up among the buildings. The sharp drums echoing around the concrete are disorienting and dazzling; I go to the hotel window, crane my neck, head downstairs to investigate.

The Young@Heart Chorus, based in Northampton, is here on tour in unseasonably chilly Holland and other curious members are already out on the sidewalk, bundled up in coats and scarfs. The avenue in front of the hotel is blocked off, and we soon find out why: it’s the finish line of a relay race.

It’s not a little local event: it’s the yearly Roparun, sponsored by the international Roparun Foundation, which raises money for those with cancer. It’s a two-day epic trek with more than a hundred participating teams (which include runners and cyclists). The race starts in Paris and Hamburg and ends exactly here, on this Rotterdam thoroughfare.

The marching band launches into “Proud Mary.” The windy street is lined with cheering locals in rain slickers, police officers and food carts offering suikerspin (cotton candy), churros (a Spanish fried dough pastry) and patats (french fries, usually topped with a heaping glob of mayonnaise). There’s also a yellow school bus emblazoned with a big red, white and blue chicken, selling an “American Chicken Burger.”

Down the street are finish line bleachers, and blaring serendipitously from the speakers is a Eurodisco version of a 1978 hit by the Dutch trio Luv’, entitled “You’re the Greatest Lover.”

This happens to be one of the songs that the Young@Heart is covering on this tour of Holland and Belgium. It’s been a tradition that when the group goes to another country, members learn songs from that place. Sometimes the songs are still in English, like the Luv’ song, which sounds like a cross between a sugar-sweet ABBA tune and a polka.

But sometimes, the best choices are in the native language, so a number of chorus members did some serious homework to handle lead vocals in Dutch. Gordon Tripp learned “Vlaanderen Boven,” a 1978 song by Raymond Van Het Groenewoud that seems to rip off the melody to “Under the Boardwalk” and sings the praises of the northern part of Belgium (“Flanders Above”). I don’t know the language but I can definitely understand and relate to the first line, which sings the praises of “mussels with fries.”

The Belgian medley also includes a jagged rock anthem in English from e_SSRq80s Brussels-based band TC Matic, “Oh La La La,” an almost industrial stomp which new chorus member Bill Shepherd has attacked with gusto, turning his voice into an acid gargle for sarcastic lines like “Have a good time / too much nothing / tutti frutti wooty / too many singers / too much songs.”

Those tunes have yet to be tested in front of an audience (the Brugge shows happen later in the tour), but the Rotterdam crowd came alive for the Dutch medley, which starts with the classic rock opening crashes of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.” There’s rowdy foot stomping and hand clapping in the audience as Steve Martin adds some swaggering Springfield soul to lyrics like “The road has got me hypnotized / and I’m speeding into a new sunrise.”

Soon Shirley Stevens, Pat Cady and Lu Cauley make their way to the microphones to sing the jaunty Luv’ song. Some of the women have learned the kitschy dance moves from the old music video and are tickled to see many in the smiling crowd doing the hand gestures right back at them — a point, a coy shake of the fingers, a sunny “jazz hands” wave.

“Professor” Tom Mahnken kicks off the medley’s third song on saxophone, turning the hook of Madonna’s “Holiday” into a slower, jazzy melody as Arthur Klein and Andy Walsh take over the front of the stage for a tag-team, party-starting cover of MC Miker G and DJ Sven’s old-school “Holiday Rap” from 1986, a No. 1 hit all over Europe (and a top-10 hit in Canada, though it was completely ignored in the United States).

Things shift into a gentle piano figure for the final number, the emotional 1972 anthem by Ramses Shaffy, “Zing, Vecht, Huil, Bid, Lach, Werk en Bewonder” (“Sing, fight, cry, pray, laugh, work and admire”). Ron Kolinko and Pat Booth each take a verse, singing in their best Dutch: “For the one in the corner behind glass / for the one with the slammed-shut windows / for the one who thought he was alone / you must know this now: we are all together.”

Soon the entire chorus is joining in on the refrain, which builds with each repetition. “A supernova on a slow boil” is how one fan recently described the song’s powerful arc, and by the fourth and final full-voiced “Zing! Vecht! Huil! Bid! Lack! Werk! En Bewonder!” you can see from the stage that folks in the audience have linked arms, swaying back and forth; the entire theater seems to be singing together.

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