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November Soul

11/25/08 7:55AM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST) Commentator Deborah Luskin recently attended a concert of gospel music that offered a welcome contrast to the darkness of November - and turned into a celebration of community life in Vermont.

(LUSKIN) I've been thinking a lot about endings lately. My parents' have become elderly; I recently wrote about how death changes a physician's medical practice; and I've put the garden to bed and battened down the house for the winter. After all, it's November, and daylight's fading.
    
To paraphrase Ishmael, the narrator of the novel, Moby Dick, whenever "it is a damp, drizzly November in [my] soul," I don't go to sea - I listen to music instead.
   
Earlier this month, I attended The College Gospel Concert, held as a benefit for our local hospice. This concert didn't just pick me up, it raised the spirits of the 750 people at the sold-out Latchis Theater, the largest of Brattleboro's community showplaces for the arts.
   
In Vermont, being indoors with six hundred and forty-nine others is a big deal, and I love living in a community where that many will come out and listen to music and support a local cause. And it wasn't just any local cause, but the Brattleboro Area Hospice, a volunteer organization dedicated to providing compassionate care to the dying and grieving, helping us all cope with death.
   
Nor was it any ordinary venue, but the Latchis Theatre, a 1933 Art Deco gem now owned by the Brattleboro Arts Initiative, another volunteer organization, this one dedicated to guarding this landmark building as a precious community resource and center for the arts in southeastern Vermont.
   
That evening, college choirs from Amherst, Yale and Harvard sang gospel - songs of praise - that lifted everyone's spirits, reminding us that praise trumps complaint. But that's not all. Our own high school madrigal singers performed as well. A group of maybe a dozen students brought the hometown crowd to its feet. But that's still not all. One of the songs they performed was a world premier of  "A Change in My Life" written by Billy Straus, an award-winning musician from Putney.
   
By the end of the concert, we all had to sing, and Samirah Evans, a blues singer blown to Brattleboro by Hurricane Katrina (Louisianna's loss, Vermont's gain), led us in a medley of song that rose to the rafters and beyond.
   
So here we were. It was the Day of the Dead, and we were supporting our local hospice and singing the praises of life and love and being human together.
   
It was a fitting start to the month of November, and it reminded me not only how music can warm the soul, but also that we don't need to wait for the end of the month to give thanks. The concert was a celebration of community - volunteers rescuing a landmark building, volunteers organizing this massive concert, volunteers ready to hold our hands as life expires. I left that concert glad all over, and thankful once again to live in a place like Vermont.
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