Hometown singers return for a cappella concert

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BRATTLEBORO — When six of New England's finest scholastic singing groups groups take the stage at the Latchis Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 2, there will be more than just rich harmonies and bubbly energy in the air. Emotions will be running high, too - for five singers, in particular, and for their family members, friends, and former teachers, who will be cheering them on from the audience. That's because Brattleboro's Sixteenth Annual Collegiate A Cappella Benefit Concert, a fundraiser for the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC), represents a homecoming of sorts for a handful of talented young musicians who grew up and developed a love of music in the Brattleboro area. Now they're singing in college, and the Feb. 2 concert gives them an opportunity to return to Brattleboro, with their new groups in tow, and perform once again for an appreciative hometown crowd.

"The 'hometown singers' are what makes this concert extra special," said BMAC Director Danny Lichtenfeld. "On any given weekend in New England, you can probably find a bunch of college a cappella groups singing somewhere, but this concert is different. It's a testament, on multiple levels, to Brattleboro's deep commitment to the arts and unusually strong sense of community. The performances are always great, and it's also a really heart-warming event."

According to Lichtenfeld, the community-focused nature of the concert traces back to its inception in 2004, when former BMAC board member Dede Cummings proposed an out-of-the-box fundraiser for the then-cash-strapped BMAC. Cummings' son, Sam Carmichael, was a student at Brown University and a member of the Brown Jabberwocks, and several of Carmichael's friends and classmates from Brattleboro were singing at other colleges around the Northeast. Cummings thought: Why not invite them all to perform back home in Bratteboro, and donate the ticket proceeds to BMAC?

"The beauty of Dede's seemingly simple idea," said Lichtenfeld, "is that the concert not only provides an opportunity for our community to celebrate kids who grew up here and are now spreading their wings in the wider world, it also serves as a powerful testament to the quality of music education in our area. And if that's not enough, it also highlights the interconnectedness of the arts in Brattleboro - you have a musical performance taking place at a historic theater to raise funds for an art museum. If that doesn't speak to the special nature of this community, I don't know what does."

This year's "hometown singers" are Ian Epstein, Zeb Hathaway, and Julia Waldron of Brattleboro; Emma Urbaska of Newfane; and Jack Spanierman of Putney. All are graduates of Brattleboro Union High School, except Urbaska, who graduated from Leland & Gray Union Middle High School. Epstein is a sophomore at Boston's Berklee College of Music, where he sings with The CharlieChords. Hathaway and Spanierman are members of the UVM Top Cats. Waldron is in her senior year at University of Maine, where she sings with UMaine Renaissance. Urbaska is a sophomore in UVM's newest a cappella group, Zest. All five were active in vocal and instrumental music activities throughout high school. Several of them were also involved with New England Youth Theater, Brattleboro Music Center, and the Vermont Jazz Center.

"Coming home to the Latchis is definitely a highlight of my year," said Hathaway. "I can remember sitting in the audience as a little kid, watching the groups up on stage, and hoping that I would get to do that someday. Now, as one of the performers, it makes me think a little differently about who's out there in the audience and about the positive influence my group can have on another generation of singers from Brattleboro."

The CharlieChords, Top Cats, Renaissance, and Zest will be joined on Feb. 2 by the Dartmouth Decibelles, whose members include Breanna Sheehan of Putney (who is studying abroad in New Zealand this semester), and the Tufts Beelzebubs, whose ranks do not currently include a hometown singer, but whose alumni include Lichtenfeld, Brattleboro native Penn Rosen, Putney School Director of Admissions John Barrengos, and local physician Gary Clay.

The Sixteenth Annual Collegiate A Cappella Benefit Concert takes place at the Latchis Theatre on Saturday, February 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at www.brattleboromuseum.org or by calling 802-257-0124, ext. 101. The concert is generously sponsored by Brattleboro Savings & Loan, with additional support from The Richards Group, Berkley & Veller Greenwood Country Realtors, Mary Meyer Toys, and Brattleboro Community TV.



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