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Cummings: A Cappella

03/01/12 5:55PM By Dede Cummings
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(Host) Commentator Dede Cummings is a writer and book designer who recently attended a concert of a cappella music in Brattleboro that lifted everyone's spirits.

(Cummings) When a really good a cappella number is pitch perfect, in sync, and ends on an explosive note, the music-loving audience in Brattleboro's Latchis Theater knows just what to do - they roar - literally. The noise is deafening.

The zodiac mural on the ceiling of this historic theater may have flaked a bit on a recent winter night, as the audience roared like thunder for several of the best college a cappella groups in the country - all of which had Brattleboro connections.

The Mandarins from Syracuse was led by Brattleboro native, Kayla Rice. Kayla has strong roots here: she sang in chorus, madrigals, and co-founded the all-girl group, Spiralia, at Brattleboro Union High School.

She's a bit shy, but she stepped up to the mic and greeted the audience. She told us that she's been coming to this annual a cappella show since 7th grade, and always wanted to bring her own group to sing for her hometown. They did, and the audience loved it.

Backstage, I was greeted by UVM's affable Top Cats, with their signature rolled-up tuxedo slacks and bare feet. Devon Barley is a boyish singer who became a finalist on NBC's, "The Voice." He insisted that coming back to Brattleboro's a cappella concert for the second time was even more exiting than going to Hollywood!

Then he and the rest of the Top Cats proceeded to sing Happy Birthday to the son of our lighting director from Williamsville. In his T-shirt and jeans, twelve-year-old Jake was beaming.

This concert was a benefit for The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, the Vermont Food Shelf, and other organizations. The community donated food for the singers, and the singers donated their time. This year, they had help from Vermont clowns, Peter Gould and Stephen Stearns, who raised extra dollars for Tropical Storm Irene relief.

The singers hailed from Katmandu to Weybridge, and the show had a joie de vivre, which ignited audience and singers alike.

Michael Okidara-Okigbo, lead singer for The Dartmouth Aires, stood outside the stage door on Flat Street. His eyes widened as I told him that just a few months earlier, the entire street had been under water, and all the businesses wiped out.

But on this night, the feeling of rebirth was palpable, as the Aires took the stage for the highly anticipated last act in which Michael sang a rousing spiritual. I stood on the side of the main floor of the Latchis Theater and looked at the rapt audience. Some were openly weeping, and I too felt a surge of emotion. I felt proud of Vermont, proud of our strength and unity, our diversity and hard work; but mostly, I felt an unseen Phoenix in the theater, a quiet bird perhaps, but one that was rising up, and beating a steady wing.
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