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Making A Difference By Helping Seniors Rock Out

By Amelia Santaniello, WCCO-TV

EDINA, Minn. (WCCO) -- A few years ago, local choreographer Matthew Michael Ferrell fell in love with the documentary Young at Heart. The film follows a group of New England seniors who sing rock music. Ferrell saw it 10 times.

Finally, he decided to try to see if any older Minnesotans would be interested in singing music by more modern artists like Queen, the Bee Gees and Aretha Franklin.

Fast-forward to March 2011.

Alive and Kickin', a 23-member singing group, marked its one-year anniversary. Ferrell loves how his experienced singers lend new meaning to lyrics.

"When they sing these words like, 'We are the champions,' 'Staying Alive' is another song we do," said Ferrell. "It really means something when you're 94 years old."

WCCO's Amelia Santaniello surprised Ferrell with a Making a Difference Award at rehearsal on Monday in the sanctuary of Edina Morningside Community Church. Ferrell's prize is a $500 check from WCCO-TV and American Equity Mortgage.

"I can't believe it," said Ferrell. "Who did this?"

It was 71-year-old Jan Blegen's idea to nominate Ferrell. Blegen said the weekly rehearsals are a high point in her week.

"When you get up and sing, I just forget everything including my bad back and everything that bothers me," said Blegen. "I forget about it."

Blegen and her fellow choir members put on an impromptu mini-chorus for us.  Their founder was right. When the senior belt out Queen's lyrics about life, it does mean more:

            But it's been no bed of roses
            No pleasure cruise -
            I consider it a challenge before the whole human race -
            And I ain't gonna lose -

            We are the champions - my friends
            And we'll keep on fighting - till the end -
            We are the champions -
            We are the champions
            No time for losers
            'Cause we are the champions - of the world -

Ferrell has the group performing tunes most of the group's members don't know -- songs like Respect, Born to Be Wild and Forever Young.

So far, they've done mostly nursing home gigs and corporate shows. They're currently getting ready for a three-show engagement this summer at the Old Arizona Theater.

The oldest member of Alive and Kickin' is 93-year-old Cal Sathre.

"I've been singing all my life in choirs, male choruses, solo work -- this is more inspirational than anything I've ever done," said Sathre.

For a few hours every Monday, thanks to Ferrell, the chorus members don't fell old, achy or ill.

"It's like all of that goes away," said Ferrell. "For those three, four hours, whatever it is, we just get to live."

For more information on Alive & Kickin', you can e-mail them at

Paula Engelking, Producer
Contact Paula

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