The Western Wind years
For many years Presidents Day weekend at West Village Meeting House was synonymous with Western Wind, an a cappella group from New York City. In 1991 the first three-day singing workshop kicked off with a joyful Friday evening public concert and filled the West Village Meeting House with songs of all genres for singers of all ability levels. It was All Souls minister, Tony Acheson, who in 1990 met this internationally acclaimed vocal sextet at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY and invited them to do something similar at WVMH – and they did!
Amazingly, Western Wind entered not only into every nook and cranny of the building with small ensemble groups practicing everything from Renaissance motets to Fifties rock ’n’ roll, from medieval carols to Duke Ellington, but for over 10 years they also entered into many aspects of our church community. A 2001 Church newsletter states that, “This year 18 members of the All Souls congregation housed 38 singers.” Western Wind enriched the Sunday service integrating it into their workshop schedule. A 2002 Order of Service mentions an anthem, “The Way,” led by Western Wind co-founder, Elliot Levine, for All Souls choir, the church congregation and workshop participants, as well as a song Elliot wrote especially for the children, “The Song of the Ant.”
For much of the Western Wind era I was a key coordinator. I felt like an All Souls ambassador of sorts as Western Wind had a following of people from a distance who came to Brattleboro to participate in the workshop. People would arrive at this place on a hill in the middle of woods in the dusk of a winter’s late afternoon. They’d register and then go off to find dinner in town before returning for the evening Western Wind concert. I’d often make a big pot of stew for the Western Wind crew who had just driven up from NYC and were registering participants, figuring out spaces, and rehearsing for that evening’s public concert. We could count on cookies and sherry for the reception following their concert.
There was always unpredictable winter weather to contend with. I remember one very snowy Presidents’ Day Friday when no one could get up the slippery driveway and I called Dan MacArthur who, with his truck somehow managed to get everyone up to the top of the hill!
Two songs that remain strongly in my memory are The Lion Sleeps Tonight, sung by Western Wind co-founder, Billy Zukof and Elliot’s arrangement of e e cummings poem, “i thank you god.” I agree with Tony when he says that, “Remembering Western Wind, and collaborating with them, puts a VERY big smile on my face indeed!” Over these three days, over the course of a decade, the West Village Meeting House offered an inviting space to deepen connections among friends new and old, enrich our lives with music and strengthen our church community in many ways.