The couple of dozen residents of Kearsley, a nursing home in West Philadelphia, are in wheelchairs. Some are nodding off. Some seem bewildered and confused.

But once the New Horizons Senior Glee Club begins singing and swaying, belting out big-band favorites and popular tunes from Broadway, eyes widen, knees jiggle, feet tap, faces smile.

The lively "Bumble Boogie" impels Sarah Hart to wave her arms in the air.

"I loved it," Hart, 89, says after the concert. "It done something to me, made my spirit rise. It's like the wind. You can't see it, but you feel it. Hallelujah!"

Equally pleased are the performers, all happy carriers of the entertainment gene, all radiating joy.

"It's a terrific serotonin upper," says Shari Steinberg, 66, of Narberth. "You don't have to take antidepressants if you join the glee club."

Jim Bracken, 79, a fine Irish tenor who sang "Almost Like Being in Love" from Brigadoon, says: "Sometimes we perform for people who are so disabled they can't applaud. But you can tell they're thrilled, and that makes you feel like you're doing something worthwhile. We get more out of it than they do."

The club's success hinges mightily on the woman who accompanies the group on piano.

Burton Young, 81, the apparent love child of Abraham Lincoln and Groucho Marx, resorts to repetition to emphasize his regard: "She's a genius, a genius, an absolute genius."

Others describe her as "the glue," "the linchpin," "the heart," "the driving force."

The object of their affection is Selma Savitz, celebrating 20 years as the glee club's director. Its members call themselves "goodwill ambassadors of music," and they live up to their name by spreading glee at schools, colleges, churches, synagogues, community clubs, and retirement homes.

The club is based in Narberth, where it rehearses at the New Horizons Senior Center in the United Methodist Church. The 35 volunteer singers and musicians in the ensemble range in age from 59 to 90, and they give about 35 concerts a year. (Donations from host facilities are requested to cover expenses.)

The group includes a "recovering lawyer," a doctor, a semiretired printer, a tree surgeon, a cantor, a nun. Members not only sing but also play instruments - accordion, trumpet, guitar, banjo, violin, drums. They slap bongos and shake maracas, tambourines, and cowbells.

The songs come from the Great American Songbook - Gershwin, Kern, Porter, Berlin, movies, musicals, and big bands.

"I have a classical music background," says Savitz, 73, a modest, gracious grandmother of five who lives in Bala Cynwyd with Samuel, her husband of 52 years, "but my passion is the great popular musicians of that era. Their songs have endured because each one is a gem."

Many members remember the music from their youth. It is fondly recalled as well by the audiences they delight at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. To share the music with younger folk, the club performs a "Kids on Stage" program at elementary schools.

Savitz has experience engaging young people. Before rearing her three children, she taught music for five years in what was the Nether Providence School District. She returned to work as a career counselor at Temple University, where Saturday-morning music workshops rekindled her passion. Through a newspaper ad, she learned that the Lower Merion Senior Glee Club, the predecessor of New Horizons, was seeking a director.

When she took the job, she was 53 and the club had only 15 members, all considerably older, who performed only five times a year.

"I decided I could be more helpful to people through music than I could as a counselor," Savitz says. "In music, I could see the immediate pleasure in making it, and in the people listening to it."

Savitz grew up in a musical household in West Philadelphia. Her Aunt Rose played the piano for silent movies. At Temple, Savitz majored in music education.

"I play the piano, and I have a good ear," Savitz says, "but I'm not gifted with a voice." She compensates with other skills - her ability to teach, to transmit joy, to inspire excellence.

"I want to underline how essential she is," says Anita Beckett, 73, a retired special-ed teacher from Merion. "She's instilled a camaraderie and encouraged people to help each other. I firmly believe that without her there would be no glee club."

Besides leading rehearsals and playing piano, Savitz creates the programs, picks the songs, and customizes arrangements. She also fields the many requests for appearances - more than the group can handle - and books engagements.

"I get as much pleasure from interacting with the community as sitting at the piano," Savitz says.

The members are as enthused about the club as their beloved director.

"A loving, happy family" is how Linda Schwartz, 68, a professional organizer from Bala Cynwyd, describes it. "The most positive learning experience I've ever had."

Jammie Brown, 64, of Broomall, a retired administrator, recently joined New Horizons, lured by "the quality of the singing."

"They're really good," she says, "and the people all have your back. No one is trying to one-up anyone."

For Burton Young, a retired Blue Cross sales rep from Wynnewood, and his wife of 53 years, Jeanie, 78, the glee club "keeps us alive."

"It's an ageless group," Jeanie says. "We're all young at heart."

Sister Nell Carbin, who just turned 90, joined the club less than a year ago because, "I like the music and the companionship and being able to go out and give pleasure to others."

"The enthusiasm" is what keeps Ron Scott, 80, commuting for rehearsals and performances every week from his home in Punta Gorda, Fla.

"We don't need to go to Carnegie Hall," says Scott, a semiretired "reformed lawyer" who developed his bass voice singing in the glee clubs at Episcopal Academy and Dartmouth College, "but we do insist that the audience has a good time."