ARTBITS by Richard B. Harper

VOLUME 7 * * All Arts News On the Web * * January 23, 2003


      ArtBits always features a calendar of the goings on of Franklin County artists. Check out these events around Franklin County. Each issue includes the entire text of our weekly newspaper column.


      The First Congregational Church presents Kim and Reggie Harris in Music and the Underground Railroad Sunday on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the First Congregational Church, 27 Church Street, St. Albans. "This concert is one of a series of Underground Railroad songs and stories of freedom and faith," Pastor Mark Kennedy said. It is part of the year-long bicentennial celebration at the First Congregational Church.
      The Underground Railroad is the stuff of legend and song. Music and the Underground Railroad is a concert of songs, stories, and narratives about slavery and the quest for freedom in the 19th Century.
      In the early-1800s, more than three million people were owned as slaves in the United States; thousands fled north to escape bondage. The majority of escaped slaves made the dangerous trip across the slave states to free territory without organized help.
      The Underground Railroad arose before the Civil War to help slaves find safe shelter in free states such as Vermont and in Canada. In many cases, northern free blacks planned, communicated, and carried out the escape network. The "stations," an informal web of supporters' houses, barns, and hiding places, allowed the fugitives warm meals, safe beds, and clothing. Most historians estimate that between 50,000 and 100,000 slaves rode the Underground Railroad. It was mostly illegal. Owners and slaveowners' agents acted under the federal Fugitive Slave Acts which provided for the return of runaway slaves.
      St. Albans has many strong connections to the movement. The main corridor for runaways going through eastern New York and western Vermont ran through Vergennes, Burlington, and St. Albans; fugitives could then travel by boat up Lake Champlain to Canada.
      "One of the leading anti-slavery people in Vermont was [U.S. Senator] Lawrence Brainerd, known in our church records as Brother Lawrence," said Pastor Judy Kennedy. "He and his wife Fidelia were very active in the Underground Railroad. He was a conductor and was statewide chairman of the Vermont Colonization Society," and an officer Vermont Anti-Slavery Society. History professor Wilbur Siebert called him the "leading anti-slavery man of Vermont."
      Music and the Underground Railroad uses original music, sing-a-longs, audience participation and a multimedia presentation to understand the secrets and passions of this era. In costume, the Harrises reveal the hopes, the power, and the eventual triumph shared by the network of people of all races.
      Now living in upstate New York, Kim and Reggie Harris were born and raised in Philadelphia. They are an engaging wife/husband team with stunning vocals and strong harmony. They have performed with Vermont's Rachel Bissex, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing arts, the Smithsonian Institution, and are featured on WMAC, Northeast Public Radio. Their tours include schools, colleges, theaters, festivals, clubs, museums, and churches across the U.S. and Canada. They are Appleseed Record label artists with four releases including a new CD, Simplicity.
      Upcoming First Congregational Church bicentennial activities include a community dance on February 2 and the VYO Fiorello String Quartet on February 9.
      Music and the Underground Railroad is sponsored by the All Arts Council, Brady and Levesque, the First Congregational Church, Heald Funeral Home, Vermont Conference of UCC Uprooting Racism Taskforce, and the Vermont Council on the Humanities.
      Admission is free. "One of the things this church tries to do is not charge admission to the sanctuary," Pastor Mark Kennedy said. Donations will be accepted to fund ongoing programs like this one.


      The AAC Concerts for Grumpy Grownups returns with Orchestral Favorites, the second concert of the Vermont Youth Orchestra's 40th Anniversary Season, next Friday, January 31, in the MVUHS Theater in Swanton.
      Orchestral Favorites includes Cesar Franck's Symphony in D Minor and Rossini's Overture to The Thieving Magpie. The Symphony is a tuneful and exciting masterpiece; Rossini's Overture is also a concert staple, from its dramatic, martial opening through a series of exciting crescendos to a rousing close. Eli Chalmer will be the soloist for the Trombone Concertino by Lars-Erik Larsson, and Theaura Ziegler will be featured in the first movement of Elgar's Cello Concerto.
      Admission is $5/adults, $2/senior citizens and students, children under 12 free. Tickets for all events in this series are available at Better Planet Books, Toys, and Hobbies and at the Kept Writer in St Albans, Enosburg Pharmacy in Enosburg Falls, Swanton Rexall in Swanton, and at the door.


ST ALBANS--The Kept Writer presents singer/songwriter/guitarist Lyle King on Friday evening. Mr. King won the Advance Music Acoustic Guitar Search and recently released his debut solo album, Left Standing. On Saturday, hear blues you can use from Jim Branca.

FAIRFAX--The Fairfax Community Library hosts the Community Art Show on Sunday, 1-4 p.m. The library will display the fine art of ten area artists. Poet Geoff Hewitt will read from his own work at 2 p.m. Mr. Hewitt has published three collections including the recent Only What's Imagined. Refreshments will be served.


      Vermont was active in the anti-slavery movement. Although it is known that slaves escaped through Vermont to Canada, until recently there has been little documentary evidence of who they were, how they escaped, what their routes were, or how and where they hid. Today, scholars are discovering new materials on the Underground Railroad and the Vermont Historical Society is bringing their work to teachers and making it available on line.


      ArtBits features a quick weekly peek at the bookshelf or night stand of the folks you know in and around Franklin County. That popular feature has a page of its own at the Franklin County Bookshelf here on the AAC site.


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      This article was originally published in the St Albans Messenger and other traditional print media. It is Copyright © 2003 by Richard B. Harper. All rights reserved. Archival material is provided as-is. Links are not necessarily maintained (if a link in this article fails, try or your favorite search engine).
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