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Musical masterpiece

Bennington: Man’s lifelong passion is decorating for the holidays

  • Joe O'Brien of Bennington designs his annual Christmas lights display, with half of the yard's lights coordinated to music playing on 88.7.
  • Joe O'Brien of Bennington designs his annual Christmas lights display, with half of the yard's lights coordinated to music playing on 88.7.
  • Joe O'Brien of Bennington designs his annual Christmas lights display, with half of the yard's lights coordinated to music playing on 88.7.

What began as a hobby has since become a local Christmas tradition of sorts. Joe O’Brien of Bennington began designing Christmas light displays as a teenager living at his parents’ house in the area. The displays have evolved over the years, and he now spends hours coordinating the lights to music that plays on the radio.

“I get letters from people in the community, people will tell me they like it. It feels good,” O’Brien said in an interview Monday.

He estimates that he first began creating his displays in 1990. He taught himself everything he knows about lighting and coordinating the lights to music.

The display that takes up his entire yard fronting Route 202, just down the street from Harris’ Mini Mart, is broken into two sections he refers to as in-motion and static. The static section features more decorative lights like reindeer, snowmen and bears, and they stay on the whole night. The motion section is the half of the yard where all the lights are coordinated to music.

Passersby can stop out in front of O’Brien’s home and tune into 88.7 FM, and enjoy watching the lights move to the loop of music.

“There’s four or five songs that play, and each song took about four or five hours to program,” O’Brien said.

He uses a low-power transmitter and an FM modulator to transmit the music to the local radio station, and coordinates the light program on his computer.

Everything he has learned about programming lights to music and display help came from the website doityourselfchristmas.com. “It’s like a community. You go on there and you ask a question and people will help you out, and you can learn how to do anything,” O’Brien said.

Every year, he likes to add something new to his display. This year, he added the candy cane-like design for a tree with multiple cords of lights. Working with this design with lots of individual light strands was the biggest challenge this year, O’Brien said.

“It takes about three weekends [to complete the display], I get the whole family to help,” O’Brien said.

His display in Bennington began with the giant Christmas tree in the motion section, comprised entirely of lights with a large light-up star on top. He said this will be his 16th year designing his display at his home on Route 202.

A friendly Christmas light display battle began many years ago between O’Brien and a neighbor down the street, Fred Sweatt. “It was an unspoken battle,” O’Brien said. “He would have something new, so I’d get something new.”

The friendly battle ended about five years ago. “I think he stopped when I started adding music.”

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