Michelle Liechti of the Brattleboro Music Center, left, and Phil Bloch from the band The Burners, right, help 85 year old David Gibbs play the fiddle once
Michelle Liechti of the Brattleboro Music Center, left, and Phil Bloch from the band The Burners, right, help 85 year old David Gibbs play the fiddle once again, at the Thompson House in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Saturday January 26, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A duet in the dining room of the Thompson House left a resident grinning from ear to ear.

"I've never had a lesson," said David Gibbs. "I'm a natural I guess."

On Friday afternoon, Michelle Liechti, an instructor from the Brattleboro Music Center, played fiddle alongside of 85 year-old Gibbs, who had told staff members at the Thompson House that his dream was to play fiddle again. He used to play in groups in Thompson House, but after his fingers went numb, he was unable to play for five years.

Liechti, along with musician Phil Bloch, who plays bluegrass, classical and jazz music as a freelance musician, helped get Gibbs working with the bow again. After a few minutes, Gibbs played some music, with Liechti helping him to hold his bow arm in the right position, Bloch playing fiddle right next to him.

"I knew it!" said Liechti. "I knew you could do it!"

Gibbs' arm had to get used to the positioning again.

"In the morning, he said he didn't think he could do it," said Thompson House Activities Director Sandy Ware.

Gibbs' older brother died during D-Day. He was part of the 101st Airborne. His brother had been teaching another one of Gibbs' brothers, and Gibbs picked up the instrument quickly just by watching. He was given the fiddle after his brother died.

In the 1970s, Gibbs played all over Brattleboro and Connecticut. He played with country and bluegrass bands, such as Patsy Fagan and the Mixers and the Green Mountain Wranglers.

"At one time, I had five violins," said Gibbs.

He remembered specifically playing at a place called the Green Door and told the Reformer that the building has since been converted into a pizzeria.

Back then, Ware said that there were 42 bars in Brattleboro.

"All of Elliot Street had live music," said Ware.

Gibbs talked about how he used to repair his own instruments as well as how he had played for 400 people at a bowling alley that had been converted into a music club.

Liechti told Gibbs she would bring a violin over for him to keep under his bed. Then, every month, when Liechti comes to work with the quartet of Thompson House residents, which she organizes once a month as a volunteer from the BMC, she will spend some time with him.

This had been the third event in a series called "Dreams Happen" that Ware has helped to set up.

"We try to make their dreams happen if we can," said Ware.

One person who had their dream fulfilled wanted to learn how to swing from the trapeze bars. That person was taken to the New England Center for Circus Arts and had been able to learn how to swing and hang from the trapeze bars. A second person wanted to go horseback riding again and had the chance to do so.

Liechti is also freelance musician. She has played in different orchestras. Currently, Liechti plays with the British Baroque revival orchestra, the Arcadia Players, which is based out of the Hampshire County area.

"This was the best jam ever," said Bloch as he left the Thompson House, saying that he hasn't smiled that big in awhile.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.