In Remembrance of David Wells

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Yellow Barn invites all visitors to share their thoughts and stories of David. This memory bank will become the basis for a collection of tributes, recordings, photographs, and other memorabilia that Yellow Barn plans to publish in conjuction with the opening of Yellow Barn’s summer season during the first week of July, 2013.

If you wish to contribute photographs or other items to this collection, please send materials to Yellow Barn, ATTN: David Wells Collection, 63 Main Street, Putney, VT 05346, or by email to For more information about Yellow Barn's plans to honor David, please contact Catherine Stephan, Executive Director, at (802) 387-6637 or

Read David's history, view photographs, and listen to recordings of David

Read Yellow Barn's directors' reflections on David

Watch the August 2012 memorial service in the original Yellow Barn (courtesy of Brattleboro Community Television)


David simply was responsible for changing the course of my life. As a teacher, mentor, and friend, his influence on that never waned (as well as his dedication to the Alexanian edition of the Bach Suites). Even later, after our paths only crossed now and then his presence would suddenly be there. I am so happy that I wrote him pretty much every year thanking him for the guidance and friendship he provided me and my wife Kumi Sato. We will both miss writing to him. We will miss him.

Thank you David for all that you gave us. We will always remember our long walks with you, your teaching, kindness and generosity of spirit. Our deepest condolences to Janet and the Yellow Barn family.

Most of you knew David as a musician's musician -- a gifted inspiration and model to a whole generation of wonderful students/artists. But I was privileged, towards the end of David's teaching life, to experience another side of his beautiful personality, when I was a member of several amateur string groups which he coached, and in which, on occasion, he even played. How he loved to challenge us! Among other things, we worked on a Boccherini guitar quintet that we never would have dared without him.

David knew we would never reach public performance level, but he constantly encouraged us, gently but firmly, and always with his wonderful sense of humor, to listen to each other, really to think about the music, and of course to play our very best. To be his student, even a rank amateur, was an honor and a joy.

I have only the fondest memories of David who sometimes stayed at our house in Hartford when teaching at the Hartt School ('76-'81?). His gentle humor and kind spirit enriched our lives. I am grateful to have known him.

As I think about David it is impossible not to see his smile, recall his contagious energy and reflect on the many inspiring moments we shared over the years. His deep commitment to musicianship and all that entails made a profound impression on me as a young cellist and last with me to this day. Beyond that, he lived what he believed and did so with tremendous warmth and authenticity that was so very rare.

Jane and I are saddened to learn of David's passing. I knew David as an inspiring coach at Hartt College and later at Windham College where we teamed with Joseph Schor as the Windham Trio. The establishment of the Yellow Barn is a true testament to David's love for chamber music and teaching.

I hadn't seen David Wells much in many years, but as a child encounters with David were more frequent. He was a deeply influential person and musician for both of my parents, as well as for me. I believe it was the moment, maybe 37 years ago or so, I heard him playing a rendering of the Bumblebee on solo cello at my family's home in Connecticut that I decided to start taking cello lessons. His delivery of that piece that day, sitting next to the futon was as moving emotionally as it was awesome in its blinding speed and precision. The vitality of his musicianship was really something to behold, every time I ever heard him play. I didn't last long as a cellist myself, but I'm so thankful to be among the relatively few people in the world who had the privilege of hearing David play, as well as watching him take a nap on the couch.

All at Mohawk Trail Concerts send heartfelt condolences to Janet and Yellow Barn. As I remember that our organizations are indeed "twin-aged" I also recall with great pleasure being with David and my late husband violinist/composer Arnold Black, at the Composers & Chamber Music Conference in Bennington, VT many years ago - sometime in the late 1960s, definitely before our organizations saw their initial beginnings.

The love of music and determination to ensure that it is sustained for others was their joint raison d'etre. May we all be inspired to continue this legacy as we mourn David's passing.

David created a remarkable institution which still reflects his humanity and musicianship. As a somewhat recent arrival to the traditions that are part of Yellow Barn, I've felt his presence at every concert, most especially this summer with the complete Bach cello suites played in wonderful combinations by students and faculty. His legacy is in each individual who is part of Yellow Barn.

David's devotion to playing and teaching was exemplary; his constant, steady support of Yellow Barn in the last twelve years was greatly appreciated; we will now miss his presence at our rehearsals and performances. I only wish he could have yet been at the last two concerts of the Festival. He surely would have been overjoyed by such music so wonderfully performed, in his honor.

I was a newcomer to Vermont and the Windham Orchestra when shortly after joining, I was asked as a favor to take David to and from rehearsals as he lived along my driving route. I knew him initially only as the older gentleman cellist seemingly intent on drawing as much music out of his instrument as possible. After one car ride together, I knew I was the favored one.

Over the course of our many miles together, David was very curious about me but it was always respectful and driven by kindness. We talked music, family and life as all were intertwined. His intuition was remarkable but perhaps even more was his brave acceptance of his illness which he viewed with remarkable scientific detachment.

Shortly before leaving New England, my wife and I spent an afternoon with he and Janet in their living room listening to some of their old recordings. Although as David said, he still 'had juice,' there was a valedictory wistfulness which remains etched in our memory.

David was the personification of kindness and courage. He was also an extraordinarily gifted musician and teacher and although he will be missed, his legacy will live through those he has touched.

I studied privately with David in the mid-sixites when I was an undergraduate at Columbia. I remember taking the cross town bus to the wilds of East Harlem to Manhattan School and several times borrowing a car and driving to Hartt in Hartford. David was not simply an inspirational teacher but he took me seriously as a young man trying to find himself. He encouraged and stoked my enthusiasm and curiosity about much more than music. At one point in my junior year I told him I was thinking of becoming a professional cellist and what did he think? I remember David taking in my question and not answering immediately as he seemed to be growing a thoughtful response. He said something like "Matt, are you willing to give up everything in your life for the next ten years--your interest in history, sports, beer, movies, etc? It was a gentle way to point me in a direction that has made the cello an important part of my life but allowed me to make a good living pursuing my intellectual interests. Forty years and many teachers later I still feel touched by David's essential goodness and his interest and willingness to see me as I was then. It is so rare to have someone truly see us. This desire for being seen is an essential part of our humanity and one of the sadnesses most of us carry is that it does not often happen. David had many gifts but this one above all I remember, cherish and still draw dividends. He made the world a better place. A mensch indeed! Godspeed, David!

I am very sad indeed to hear that David has passed away and am doubly glad to have been at-and to have seen him at-the concert in his honor a few weeks ago. David and my mother had great respect for each other, and given their age difference, I always chuckled when, with a twinkle in his eye, he would greet her as "young lady." It is always difficult to have perspective about one's own time, but it seems to me that David was a member of an artistic generation that left both the local and global communities exceptionally richer for "having been." Those who follow will have to work hard to carry forth their legacies as that generation looks down from what we can only hope is an art-resplendant heaven.

When I think of David, my first thoughts are of pure kindness. He welcomed me to Yellow Barn as a 14 year old -- much younger than most other participants -- with a generosity of spirit I will never forget. I also loved his interest in offbeat exploration. Not sure another festival ever existed where one might end up lying on the floor in a circle, heads together, whistling . . .

I have been thinking of David, Janet, and Elmar all week long. I was planing to call David this week to tell him that I had won an audition to play the role of Pablo Casals in a movie directed by Lee Daniels called "The Butler." In this 2013 release "we" play the Mendelssohn D minor piano trio in a replication of the 1961 White House concert honoring Casals by JFK and Jackie. I showed Lee Daniels a picture of Casals that I took when I met him in Puerto Rico in 1960. That was the same year I became a student and friend of David and his family at Manhattan School. I also showed Lee a picture of David giving me a lesson in Easthampton with his "little red cello" that formerly belonged to Casals. I was David's assistant at the first Yellow Barn where we all worked like crazy scraping tar and old oil and axle grease from the floor. I designed and built the entrance sliding screen door which lasted for years. Several years later I had the never forgotten experience of playing the D minor trio with Elmar and Janet coached by David. I've carried his wisdom and caring and understanding with me for fifty two years and I will miss him.

Kind, sweet David, you will be fondly remembered. xox

I'm deeply saddened by David's passing. For as long as I knew him, he was kind and nurturing to to everyone he could share his love of music with. It was the greatest privilege to know him and to play alongside him in the Windham Orchestra.

Sad news, we offer our condolences to the family.

I just learned of David's passing, and I am so sad to hear the news. Just tonight, in fact, I was telling my husband about my Yellow Barn audition for him, so many years ago. I still apply some of the principles he taught me about chamber music. Sending my heartfelt condolences to the family.

David was a savior in my life. Wonderful teacher and unsurpassed friend. Recognizing a harmful relationship was unfolding in my life, he called me at home in Maine and asked me to come to his home that summer to talk about what had happened and discuss healthier paths. People who selflessly go above and beyond show the beauty of life - especially to the young and confused. He was a gift to so many. Thank you, David.

During my six years with Mr. Wells, I learned about the cello, but I also learned about generosity of spirit, and simply how to BE. I can't perform and teach today without constantly referencing David. He was much more than a great cellist and teacher; much more, even, than a great musician--David was a great human being.

David you will always be in our hearts and never forgotten. You gave us your music, your spirit and always your love - you were a gift to the world and all of us. Deepest Sympathy and love to Janet.

We are very sorry to hear of David's passing. Our condolences go out to the Wells family.

An artist, a mensch, one of the kindest people I ever met.

In 1974, after a casual kitchen table interview, David and Janet hired me to do a little typing and help them bring together a few of David’s students to make music in rural Putney – at first for one week in June.

It was on-the-job training for all of us as one season extended into two and then three and David’s vision coalesced around a divine mixture of music, a simpler country life, healthy food, and a nourishing web of musician and community relationships.

Those first 14 years had highs and lows – with concerts featuring many cello solos. But what was never compromised was David’s driving vision of the ideal musical life that students, teachers and audience could share. He was a beloved and benevolent tyrant. In his gentle, loving way he pushed us all – musicians, board members, administrators – to eternally work towards the dream that fired him as we reached out to our neighbors, the town, and ultimately to the country, and the world.

As perfectionists, musicians are not the easiest crew to work for. But the years I spent building this organization were ones of great personal growth for me as David’s dream of light, love, and celestial tones grew into the vibrant world of the Yellow Barn Music Festival.

Linda Rubinstein
Executive Director

Sandy and I will truly miss David's presence but his spirit will always be part of our lives. David and Janet and Sandy and I go back a very long way. I was in my early teens when I first met them and Sandy perhaps too. Her sister Jackie was a student of David's at the Manhattan School Preparatory Division. David was a great spiritual influence both musically and spiritually. My fondest remembrance was playing the Mendelssohn C minor piano trio with David and Janet at Yellow barn. It was a true fusion of mind and spirit between us. I think David taught so many people how to be comfortable and accepting of themselves and others and so I think he will be comfortable where he is now.

Our love follows him.