T.H. Smith of Steuben plays the fiddle while other performers sing during a rehearsal of “A Winter Harbor Solstice Celebration” at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor. PHOTO BY JACK DODSON

Solstice celebration to be staged in Winter Harbor

WINTER HARBOR — On Nov. 20, a brisk Monday evening as the sun went down on Main Street around 4:02 p.m., according to the National Weather Service, 15 singers and musicians gathered for a rehearsal at Hammond Hall.

“Until the dark time ends,” they sang in a swelling a capella, “we need the comfort of singing voices, until the dark time ends.”

Led by Steuben musician Allison Aldrich Smith, the group was practicing for the first “A Winter Harbor Solstice Celebration” being held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, under the auspices of Schoodic Arts for All. The happening will feature songs and short skits aimed at bringing people together in the face of harsh winter evenings.

The celebration, billed as “a festival of lights for the darkest time of the year,” builds on various traditions celebrating light during shortened winter hours, and welcoming the return of longer days following the winter solstice on Dec. 21.

From left, Vicki Lutz of Gouldsboro, Allison Aldrich Smith of Steuben, Harbor Eaton of Gouldsboro and Holly Duesenberry of Gouldsboro practice their songs and dances for “A Winter Harbor Solstice Celebration” set for Dec. 9.

The celebration’s program will feature the Solstice Village Singers, Schoodic Children, Down East Troubadours and the Mainely Mummers.

Smith moved to the Schoodic area in March and discovered that there was no event celebrating the winter solstice and approached Schoodic Arts for All’s director Mary Laury.

“This is a celebration of the winter solstice in that the darkest time of the year is approaching but we know that the sun will return,” Smith said. “This is a way to bring people together from all walks of life.”

Smith, 58, has participated in solstice celebrations either as a performer, director or audience member since she was a teenager. She is a musician who lives in Steuben with her husband, who is an artist.

In New Hampshire and Boston, where Smith previously lived, she worked as an elementary school teacher.

“It’s become such a fabric of my life,” she said of solstice events.

Downeast Maine is well positioned for hosting such an event. In this region, straddling the edge of the Eastern Time Zone, light disappears earlier here than on much of the East Coast. So celebrating the gradual lengthening of days, Smith said, is important, because the lack of light feels very present in this area.

When she proposed it, Smith’s idea was received enthusiastically.

“It’s just plain fun, that’s what it is,” Laury said. “It’s a community thing — grassroots.”

Smith envisions the celebration becoming an annual event and hopes it will grow each year. This year, performers will have practiced for six weeks in the lead-up to the show.

The piece Laury loves most is Smith working with children in the Schoodic area. Smith has been traveling to Ella Lewis Elementary School in Steuben and Peninsula School in Prospect Harbor, teaching solstice-related songs to the children. During these sessions, Smith will walk down the hall, playing the accordion, with children following in a line behind her.

“Like she’s the pied piper,” Laury said.

The children also have been making crafts like lanterns that will be on display during the celebration.

Performer Carl Karush, of Franklin enjoys the chance for people to gather and sing.

“I have participated in theater arts and music here for many years,” he said. “I love to do that kind of thing.”

Part of the celebration, to him, is to embrace positive experiences despite the harshness of short days during the early winter. During the rehearsal, he donned a large wizard’s hat and played the mandolin. He practiced his lines for the short skits performed between the songs, and laughed with co-performers as they made adjustments to their work.

“The dark time of year becomes harder, especially as you get older,” he said. “What better thing to do than get together with song and laughter.”

“A Winter Harbor Solstice Celebration” will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, at Hammond Hall at 427 Main St. Admission is a $10 suggested donation. For more info, call 963-2569 and visit www.schoodicartsforall.org.

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.

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