Next Stage Arts at night.
Courtesy photo, via Vermont Arts & Living (
Next Stage Arts at night.

Nourishing the soul

Who would have imagined worlds coming together in music that set our hearts beating in new ways, mixing and matching our beauty and brilliances to make us weep, rejoice, and get up and dance?

Carolyn North ( is a writer of books that address "the interface between matter and spirit."

PUTNEY-Growing up in New York in the 1940s, going to Radio City Music Hall was the most special treat a kid could imagine, so for my fifth birthday my parents took me there to see Walt Disney's new movie Bambi.

The theater was huge and dark, the screen full of moving color, and the story so devastating to me that when the Hunter took aim and shot Bambi's mommy dead, I screamed in terror and could not stop. I had to be carried out of the theater, sobbing hysterically in my father's arms.

I recalled that piece of my history when I first arrived in Putney about two years ago and attended my first show at Next Stage - a historic venue in my new community where musical art forms are encouraged to be reinvented, where community includes the children and the old folks, where the walls are covered with new frescoes, and where the elevator works!

That first concert I came to opened my heart - to the little village of Putney, where such things could happen, and to my own grandparents, who had escaped the Russian shtetls just two generations earlier. I was born into desperation and chutzpah, as was the congregation of former slaves with whom I sang Gospel for eight years in a California church.

Who would have imagined my worlds coming together in music in a tiny village in Vermont through visionary folks committed to creating new forms of collaborative art that set our hearts beating in new ways, mixing and matching our beauty and brilliances to make us weep, rejoice, and get up and dance?

For me, it has felt like coming home, finally, to where boundaries can be breached in the interest of community and art can be encouraged to be more exciting than any limiting definitions that restrict creative artists to try out new stuff.

In these days of radical changes, fear, and separation, the sky (and beyond) has no limits. Learning how to improvise may have to be a priority, I believe.

While the choir shouts out and the trumpet blares new sounds, I cannot help but rise from my seat, clapping out the beat and rocking, grateful to be right here in - of all places! - southern Vermont, in a tiny community getting it together in new ways, through music.

* * *

I am rocking and laughing, and there on the stage are fabulous musicians - both in the theater and in the outdoors during Summer Bandwagon concerts - and the ice skating rink, where an ice dancing company swirls in ice skates to new music and Keith Marks, Next Stage's executive director, is urging us all to get up out of our seats, clapping out the beats ,and dancing! Laughing!

Who can resist?

God bless the vision of this irrepressible man who, with a cohort of employees and volunteers, has created a Putney-size Lincoln Center to bring us original mixes of talent from - literally - all over the world!

I love the surprises, like an African marimba player improvising with a concert pianist as a cellist sits cross-legged on the stage in duet with a North Indian sarangi player to the beat of a North Indian raga, while we in our seats can hardly sit still until some brave soul takes to the floor, dancing, and soon we all are out there moving to the beat, flexible kids in pigtails and the white-haired, like me, shimmying and laughing and doing do-si-dos to beat the band!

Sometimes, I try to remind myself that perhaps, at this very moment, somewhere in the world a fatal bomb is being dropped on a village, and how can I be having such a wonderful time when I should be out there protesting and raising money?

But the music does not stop, so neither do I.

* * *

As long as the music is there, in our own town, and we are welcomed with our kids and our visiting uncles and aunts, and we can find one another - under the skies during summer Bandwagon concerts, and in our homey little theater that once was a place to worship and celebrate life's passages - it can sustain us. It can bring us together when we feel isolated and scared.

For me, it is lifeblood and prayer - soul food, as it were.

Keith said to me, when we first met: "When we first came to interview for the job, and I saw the beauty of this place, and the Milky Way spread out in the sky, I figured I had found my place - to be a family, raise our kids, do important work in the world, and live a sane life."

The vision, which I consider essential for us all especially at this time in our history, is that the arts are essential vessels for human health - body, heart, and soul - and that community is how we share the wealth of health through our artists.

This Voices Essay was submitted to The Commons.

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