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The Last Dance: Life, Love & Loss in Words & Music

Guilford, Vt. – Friends of Music at Guilford’s (FOMAG) annual Midwinter Musicale begins at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 17, in the sanctuary of Guilford Community Church. A propos for Valentine’s week, this program is a multimedia consideration of love, as it is woven inevitably through the weft of life and loss, and it includes elements of music, movement, and the spoken word.

Last summer, Jessica Gelter, a former trustee and occasional soloist for Friends of Music, proposed performing David Lang’s “Death Speaks” song cycle. Lang had won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2007 “Little Match Girl Passion,” a choral work based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. To create this 2011 companion piece of five love songs in the voice of Death, Lang combined excerpted texts from a study of over 600 lieder by Franz Schubert. Mezzo-soprano Gelter will perform the resulting 25-minute work with violinist Michele Liechti, guitarist David William Ross, and pianist Keane Southard.

To build a concert-length program around the Lang piece, four gravestone epitaph settings by Putney composer Tom Baehr will be reprised by the reconstituted RIP Singers, who presented a full concert of similar works in 2014. They will also perform Baehr’s recent setting of “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas, with piano accompaniment by Southard. The RIP Singers include Tom Baehr, Amy Cann, Christina Gibbons, Tom Green, Jenny Holan, Steve John, Bruce Landenberger, and Andrea Matthews, all members of other regional choral groups and choirs.

To complement the music through other expressive modes, FOMAG administrator Joy Wallens-Penford envisioned including the literary arts, particularly poetry that offers solace and inspiration in the face of death, which can seem to signify not only the end of life but of love. A few selections expanding this limited view will be read by actors Adrienne Major and Tom Green. Poets include Kahlil Gibran, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Henry Scott-Holland, as well as Valerie DuBois of Chicago, whose post on a poetry site in early January was selected only a couple of days later.

Relevant prose possibilities began to rise to the fore one by one as well. Jess Gelter asked for a version of “The Little Match Girl,” so a summary of that heart-rending tale awaits the FOMAG audience. Then FOMAG member Valerie Abrahamsen offered to read from her 2015 book “Paranormal: A New Testament Scholar Looks at the Afterlife,” based on research into near-death experiences. Listeners will note that these two works share some common themes and offer an element of hope.

Other published viewpoints on the topics of death and love and moving forward include the first chapter of Robin Truelove Stronk’s irreverent memoir “Vet Noir: It’s Not the Pets, It’s the People Who Make Me Crazy,” which deals with the euthanasia of a beloved cat. Since the author, now a full-time artist, spends winter in the tropics, Guilford veterinarian Laurie Schneski will step in as reader for this down-to-earth and entertaining episode.

When Guilford-based poet and author Verandah Porche lost her husband Richard Coutant in 2015, just six weeks after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, the decision was made to bury him on the property he so loved and tended at Total Loss Farm in Packer Corners. She will read her poignant and poetic essay on their story, published in the Spring 2016 issue of Northern Woodlands magazine.

Blending poetry and movement is interpretive dancer and hand-signer Beverly Miller, who lost a grown son a few years ago. To move through her own grieving process, she began writing daily haiku and taking nature photographs to pair with them. While Miller interprets a baker’s dozen of the haiku being read by Adrienne Major, the paired images will be screened for the audience to enjoy.

Various resources on death and dying will be made available for attendees, including the opportunity to order copies of some of the works being presented on the program. Beverly Miller is coordinator of the local chapter of The Compassionate Friends, a national organization serving families grieving the loss of a child and will be glad to speak to anyone interested in participating.

Admission at the door for “The Last Dance” is $15 per person, which includes a teatime reception of warming homemade soups, hearty breads, various sides, and desserts, with mulled cider and other hot beverages. Guilford Community Church is at 38 Church Dr., Guilford, off Bee Barn Rd. and Rt. 5 in Algiers village, just a bit over a mile from Exit 1 off I-91. The facility is handicap-accessible.

Friends of Music at Guilford is a community-based music organization known for presenting unusual repertoire and offering its core programs on a donation basis to make music accessible to as broad an audience as possible. For further information and a season calendar, contact the FOMAG office by phone at (802) 254-3600, email, or visit online at and Facebook.

FOMAG’s 52nd concert season enjoys media sponsor support by Vermont Public Radio and through the Vermont Arts 2017 and 2018 programs of the Vermont Arts Council.