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After more than 50 years in central Vermont, musicians Steven and Kathy Light prepare for final show

 A man with white hair and a white beard sits on a stool behind a xylophone. A woman with brown-grey hair sits next to the man on another stool.
Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont Public
Steven and Kathy Light sit for a portrait in the basement of the Goddard College’s library with Gamelan Sulukala. The Lights have been part of central Vermont’s music community since the 1970s, and this month they're moving to Minneapolis to be closer to family.

For the past half century, musicians Steven and Kathy Light have lived in central Vermont, leading several well-known local ensembles and teaching hundreds of students.

This month the Marshfield residents will leave Vermont. And they’ve been saying goodbye with a series of concerts, one with each of the ensembles they’ve led. On Saturday night, they’ll perform with Gamelan Sulukala at the Haybarn Theater in Plainfield — their final show in the Green Mountain State.

The gamelan the Lights will play on Saturday is in the basement of the Goddard College library, where I meet the couple this week. A gamelan is the ensemble of instruments used in traditional Indonesian music. The room is filled with an array of instruments — bells, gongs and xylophones.

“It's somewhat equivalent to an orchestra, but each set is kind of an entity unto itself,” Kathy says. “It has a specific tuning that doesn't match up to any other gamelan anywhere, so each one has kind of a personality.”

 A room filled with xylophones and bells.
Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont Public
Gamelan Sulukala is stored in the basement of Goddard College's library. The gamelan was given to the college in the 1990s by an anonymous donor.

The gamelan at Goddard, named Gamelan Sulukala, was donated to the college in the 1990s. For years the gamelan sat in storage. Then in 2013, the Lights formed an ensemble to play it.

Now 16 people belong to the group, which plays both traditional gamelan pieces and original compositions.

“The way the music fits together is very simple and very elegant and very elaborate — all at the same time,” Kathy says. “To me, if you love Baroque music, and you love minimalism, you just have to love gamelan.”

The Lights have led two other music ensembles beside Gamelan Sulukala. One group plays medieval and Renaissance music; the other is a klezmer band.

“Traditional music of a variety of cultural backgrounds has just, I think, been a real important focus for both of us in different ways,” Kathy says. 

"This is where we were meant to be. It was possible to be in this community that I think allowed us to be the kind of experimenters and generalists that we are."
Kathy Light

Kathy and Steven Light met as students at Goddard College in the 1970s, and aside from a few years in New York for graduate school, and tours with groups like Bread and Puppet, they’ve been in central Vermont ever since.

“This is where we were meant to be,” Kathy says. “It was possible to be in this community that I think allowed us to be the kind of experimenters and generalists that we are … I don't think every community, maybe, is as totally welcoming, and appreciative of that.”

They also both taught at a number of local schools, from kindergarten to college.

“You get to really experience young people’s maybe first encounter with something creative, and something eye-opening,” Steven says. “And that's just a great thing, and a really wonderful thing.”

The Lights decided last year to move to Minneapolis to be closer to their daughters and grandkids. The klezmer band and medieval music group won’t continue once Steven and Kathy leave Vermont; the gamelan ensemble will go forward with new leaders.

Kathy says it hasn’t quite sunk in that they’re leaving.

“How does it feel? I may not know until after Saturday,” she says. “It's good, because this kind of busyness is really good. It's like, now I can focus on what do we need to do to be ready for Saturday, and then we'll move the instruments back, and then we'll see.”

“It's very complicated to give up what we're giving up,” Steven added. “The pros and cons are irreconcilable.”

The Lights say they plan to get involved in the Minneapolis music community, but they’ll also be spending plenty of time with family. Steven and Kathy say they’ll still visit Vermont — and maybe even get the klezmer band back together for a reunion show.

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Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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