County native and Vermont poet laureate Ellen Bryant Voigt recently had a unique role in the success of Vermont Symphony Orchestra's “Made in Vermont Music Festival.”
She teamed with composer Ken Langer to create Voices of 1918, performed by the orchestra at 10 locations during the seventh annual music festival in September and October. Langer is chairman of the Fine Arts and Performance Department at Lyndon State College.
Voices of 1918 combined Langer's music with Voigt's poems from her book Kyrie, which contains moving and powerful poems about the devastating flu epidemic of 1918 in which a half-million Americans died.
“It seemed to me to be a story worth telling and a story worth putting to music,” said Langer in program notes that accompanied the concerts.
His musical themes and the orchestra instruments speak for characters in the poems which relate the epidemic that claimed 500,000 lives in the United States alone and an estimated 25 million worldwide. The epidemic hit during World War I and affected servicemen from Fort Devins to Dunkirk. As many American servicemen died from the disease as died in combat during World War I.
Voigt is only the fourth person to be named poet laureate of Vermont. Vermont's first poet laureate was Robert Frost.
Voigt grew up on Cherrystone Road in Chatham, the daughter of Lloyd and Zue Bryant.
She graduated from Chatham High School and Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and received a master's degree in fine arts from the University of Iowa.
Voigt has lived in Vermont for 30 years. She and her husband, Fran Voigt, have two children.
Her books include Claiming Kin, The Forces of Plenty, The Lotus Flowers, Two Trees, and Kyrie.
She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.
Voigt's sister, Joan Shelton of Chatham and a friend, Gail Phillips of Chatham, visited Ellen and attended two performances of Voices. Shelton said the music and poetry were captivating.
“Everyone was so taken away by the music. It just sort of wrapped around you,” said Shelton.
She indicated they were “leaf peepers” because they went when the fall foliage in Vermont was at its peak.
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