With their gray hair and dark suits, the grassroots vocal group Suiyuan Old Boys has risen to instant fame among residents in Hangzhou with their lively performances of hit songs.
Comprised of four people aged 80 to 93, the group has staged several performances in the Yuhang district in the provincial capital of East China’s Zhejiang province. Their performances show how retirees can enjoy their lives after work. Their signature cover songs include "You Raise Me Up", originally composed and performed by the Irish-Norwegian duo Secret Garden, and "One Day When We Were Young" by Austrian tenor Richard Tauber.
“We were simply trying to entertain ourselves. We did not expect any fame or spotlight,” said Wang Jing, an 80-year-old member of the group.
Wang, the dean of a hospital in Hangzhou before his retirement, said the group was initially awestruck by the media spotlight, as fame was the last thing they wanted.
The other three members of the group, also well-educated, are: Wang Dezhong, 93, the most senior member of the group and a graduate of the National Central University who is a former official with the Fujian provincial department of petroleum; Fu Weihua, 86, the former dean of the Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences; and Wang Zhecheng, 81, a Chinese language major with Peking University, who is the former editor-in-chief of a magazine in Hangzhou.
The four barely knew each other until they moved into the neighborhood about a year ago. “I held a party in my home and we did a chorus of the song 'You Raise Me Up', and then we had this idea of forming a vocal group,” Wang Dezhong said.
Lou Yilin, Wang Zhecheng’s wife, has become the group’s director. “We figured out that the four members are fluent in English. But none of them have received any professional training in singing,” she said.
Lou said the group has decided to work more on costumes and makeup to improve their impact on stage. They wear masks on stage, but remove them while giving their names after each performance. So far, they have staged six live performances.
Wang Zhecheng said the reason the group initially won so much attention is because of the country’s aging problem, not necessarily the quality of their performances.
The rapidly aging population has posed a key challenge to China. More than 15.5 per cent of the population, or 212 million people, were 60 or older by the end of 2014. The number could reach 300 million, or 18 per cent, by 2025, according to estimates by China’s National Working Commission on Aging.
“Many people still have 20 years of time after their retirement. People are concerned about how this group of people should spend their time,” Wang Zhecheng said.
What the vocal group wants to display to the society is a new way of living for seniors, he said. “We hope our way of living can provide a reference for other elderly people.”