Light in the darkness

Island artists and musicians present free ‘Offerings of Music and Light.’

Lia with Armen Hanjian and Phil Dietterich outside the church. —Courtesy Claire Ganz.

There aren’t many of us who love that it gets dark so early, starting with the time change in November. Then right on the heels of this is the hectic rush of holidays; first Thanksgiving and then the December celebrations, including all the accompanying commercial trimmings.

Well, rest assured, I have a solution to bring joy from the power of shared community, the arts, and candlelight. Lia Kahler, whose family has been living on the Vineyard for years, makes it her mission to bring joy and light into people’s lives through her “Offerings of Music and Light” community gatherings for three Sunday nights, starting the first week of December. She is on the outreach committee at the Chilmark Community Church, and is both reaching out and contributing to the community in a big way. Although the events are sponsored by the church, Kahler wants to make sure everyone understands that the evenings are a spiritual and community event, not a religious one.

“This brainstorm came about when I realized that I have SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and so I know what it feels like to have the seasonal disorder come upon you, and l know that music, light, and community help,” Kahler said. “I said, OK, I’m going to reach out to people either I know or whom I’ve heard about. And I’m going to find people of different faiths, different denominations, all five townships, different genres of music, and levels of performance ability from amateur to professional, and ask them if they would be willing to give six-minute performances as a gift to the community.”

Kahler went on to explain, “Each program begins with a community sing of carols. We find that no matter whatever anyone’s faith is, they enjoy singing carols, including atheists. Then we have about nine people perform, and then close with a candle lighting with everyone singing ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ Then we go back into the community room, and Claire Ganz, who is also on the outreach committee with me and who is a wonderful baker, is responsible for organizing the goodies for the receptions. Judy Mayhew also helps out with the baking.”

While still very much in the process of tracking everyone down to get firm commitments and fit performers into the right slots, Kahler shared some of who she knows will be in the lineups.

“I always have some really interesting instruments. Last year we had the singing saw, Irish pipes, and a drummer from the Wampanoag tribe. Some of those who are confirmed for this year are the Mrs. Biskis, a wonderful trio with Ellen Biskis, Taurus Biskis, and Chris Carol. Kate Taylor is singing for us this year. Jerry Yukevich will be reading poetry, and Adele Dreyer will be playing the piano. Martha Hudson and her daughter Becky Williams will be singing, and Jesse Keller Jason, one of the main people from the Yard, will be dancing for us. We have at least 24 different performances from either individuals or groups, Warren Doty with Jack Cushman and Andy Goldman, Jan Heyer on cello, Phil Dietterich on organ, Valerie Sonnenthal on tuning forks, and the Vineyard Sinfonietta.”

Kahler explains that they’re trying something new this year. She read about Maria Ventura, who started Darkness into Vineyard Light, in which she organized a walk to raise money for the Island Intervention Center. This inspired Kahler to put out jars for donations, with permission from the church, to help with suicide prevention. “To bring the light so somebody can see hope,” she said.

But Kahler stressed donations are completely voluntary, and said, “We want to keep the concerts absolutely free. Putting together the concerts and providing our beautiful, acoustically wonderful sanctuary and the community room and food, that’s all gifts from the church to the community. Everybody’s performance is a gift to every other performer and every member of the audience. I love the Vineyard. My family has been on the Island for a long, long time. Most of my relatives are on the Island, and I just feel that the year-round community in particular is just such a special, special thing. There is such a sense of community.”

“Offerings of Music and Light” at the Chilmark Community Church is free and will be held Dec. 2, 9, and 16, starting at 5 pm and lasting no more than an hour and a half, with refreshments served afterward. Each of the three programs is unique; there are no repeats of performances between the evenings. Look for the announcement each week in The MV Times the Thursday before the event to see who is performing that upcoming Sunday night.