YellowBarnBlog

Model shifts from festival to residencies

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Grek Sukiennik, a reporter for New England Newspapers, wrote this story about Yellow Barn's 2020 Summer Season published on May 21 in the Brattleboro Reformer:

Yellow Barn, seen here during a 2017 concert, will replace its usual summer chamber music festival with Artist Residency performances, which will be streamed online. (Photo: Zachary Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)

Yellow Barn will still be making and presenting music this summer — just not the way the festival has presented chamber music for the past 50 years.

The Putney-based chamber music organization will host a series of artist residencies this summer in lieu of a full summer festival season, and will bring the festival back for the summer of 2021.

The summer residencies, with visiting artists who will be staying locally, will be streamed online free of charge from the festival's Big Barn starting July 10 — the day that its planned summer festival would have begun. The organization's mobile musical stage, the Yellow Barn Music Haul, will continue visiting locations throughout the area, with the hope of presenting live music on its mobile stage when regulations permit.

The news comes as multiple summer classical musical festivals in the region have canceled their 2020 summer seasons in light of the pandemic. Marlboro Music, Manchester Music Festival and Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Lenox, Mass., have all announced they will not operate this summer.

"More than anything else we really do care about the well-being of musicians that come to these places every summer," Artistic Director Seth Knopp said of Yellow Barn's musical community. "We are really sad that we can't continue to grow musically with each other."

While the regular festival concerts and the audiences that come to see them are important, Knopp said, "our initial motivation was to bring people out of isolation and into a place of being able to focus on what they love to do most — which is being in residence, working together. That is what motivated us."

The decision came as the organization's board of directors determined the festival could not continue as panned. Instead, Yellow Barn, which pioneered the first residency program for professional musicians in the U.S., will use that model instead of its usual summer gathering on the campus of the Greenwood School in Putney.

Resident musicians, all hailing from within driving distance of Southern Vermont, will live in separate guest homes and maintain social distancing while working on projects that will be presented at the Big Barn performance space — without an audience present.

Meanwhile, participants in Yellow Barn's Young Artists Program "will explore 'from-a-distance' how we use our inner sense of hearing in interpreting without the benefit of making music together," the group said in an announcement. "We will better understand what we are missing by casting light on the work we can only do alone, striving (while failing) to communicate as fully as if we were with one another."

Knopp said festival organizers feel the pain the COVID-19 virus has caused in human illness and the loss of gatherings. However, he added, for musicians living with the ramifications of the pandemic, the situation has presented opportunities for quiet reflection and artistic expression.

"In the case of musicians who are so used to communicating with audiences through music, it doesn't necessarily represent an empty time. It represents a time that holds possibilities of reflection," Knopp said. "Silence is very meaningful in music, and stopping to think and listen to the world around us has been an unusual opportunity. There's something quite beautiful about stopping and listening to the world."

Knopp said he and Executive Director Catherine Stephan have been in regular contact with other festivals and organizations in the music world, in conversations and in larger online conference calls. The sense of loss is universal, Knopp said.

"People are distraught that they can't do this, not just for the younger musicians but for the whole community," he said. "Nobody is doing this for any reason other than a love of music and making music together ... the sense of absence of that is quite palpable among everyone involved."

To Our Yellow Barn Family

Friday, May 15, 2020

In this singular moment, when our human condition is truly universal, what each of us has to offer becomes essential. Science and faith, solace and sustenance: all are essential, and each must find its path to serve a common need.

Music, our universal language, must also find its path, even at a time when there is so much to hear in silence, and at a distance from where its most essential qualities are “virtually” impossible to communicate. This balance has been the focus of our concern as we have contemplated Yellow Barn’s summer.
 
As always, reflecting upon our very beginning has brought clarity. In that first summer, even before our original barn was used for performances, Yellow Barn was small enough to be hosted by individuals who opened their homes so that musicians could pursue their work, both separately and together. 
 
While we are not able to gather our entire Yellow Barn family this year, we are creating a series of summer Artist Residencies. The first residency program in this country for professional musicians, Yellow Barn’s Artist Residencies offer an unforeseen model for this time, allowing some of our musicians to be here as representatives of the whole, living in separate guest homes, rehearsing while physically distancing, and streaming performances from the Big Barn. The first performance will take place on what would have been our Opening Night together, July 10th.
 
Participants in the Young Artists Program that precedes Yellow Barn each summer will explore “from-a-distance” how we use our inner sense of hearing in interpreting without the benefit of making music together. We will better understand what we are missing by casting light on the work we can only do alone, striving (while failing) to communicate as fully as if we were with one another.
 
Throughout the summer and into the fall, Yellow Barn Music Haul will continue to visit health care facilities and food distribution sites, assisted living communities and rehabilitation centers, neighborhoods and individuals. As soon as it is safe to bring musicians on board, Music Haul will lower its stage for open-air concerts throughout the region.
 
Ours is not a summer lost but a festival delayed. Every musician who had planned for a Yellow Barn experience this year is invited to join us in 2021, an invitation we extend to all those who make Yellow Barn the magical place that it is. We look forward to our reunion with great hope and anticipation.

—Seth Knopp and Catherine Stephan

Music Haul Visits Brattleboro Memorial Hospital

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Howard Weiss-Tisman, reporter for Vermont Public Radio, wrote this story about Yellow Barn Music Haul's COVID-19 relief tour.

▶️ Listen to the story as it was broadcast on May 4, 2020

Photo: Yellow Barn artistic director Seth Knopp, left, and executive director Catherine Stephan stand near the group's Music Haul in front of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

Vermonters have been helping their communities get through this pandemic by sewing face masks, delivering food, and by donating their time and money. In Windham County, the Yellow Barn Music Festival has been doing its part by bringing music to the places that need it most.

The Yellow Barn Music Festival has this tricked-out U-Haul trailer they call the Music Haul. It’s got big speakers up top, and it’s all wired up with a good sound system.

And Yellow Barn executive director Catherine Stephan said when they don’t have to worry about social distancing, they can squeeze six musicians back there, with their cellos and violins, and put on a concert wherever they park the truck.

“We can take Yellow Barn, and take music anywhere, and transform a field, a sidewalk, a playground, the entrance to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, into a performance venue,” Stephan said.

She spoke to VPR standing next to the truck, which played a Beethoven piano concerto while parked in front of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

“And the idea is that maybe listening becomes more fundamental when you approach it that way," Stephan said. "When people come across it by accident and then they decide to stay and listen, there’s something in that process that’s really magical. And we see people come to life.”

They can’t tote live musicians around these days, so it’s all pre-recorded, but the Music Haul has been busy. They’ve been visiting assisted living homes and food drop-off sites, and recently, they were at the hospital playing music during the afternoon shift change, as doctors and nurses walked past.

Tony Blofson is a doctor at BMH, and he stopped, sat down on a bench and listened for a little while.

Blofson said just like the rest of Vermont’s hospitals, Brattleboro Memorial prepared for the worst and was ready to treat dozens and maybe even hundreds of COVID-19 patients. It’s starting to feel like Vermont might have avoided that scenario, even as major American cities have seen hundreds of deaths a day.

Blofson said he’s beginning to think about what a post-COVID-19 world will look like.

“We don’t know how we’ll look on the other end, but we’ll get through,” Blofson said. “And there’ll be change that will happen from it, and hopefully some good positive change that comes from what we’ve learned. And some people of course don’t get through. But as a society and a civilization we will. Once again, learning that we’re not really so much in control.”

Seth Knopp is artistic director at Yellow Barn, and he’s the guy that programs the playlist. During the hour the Music Haul hung around the hospital, Bach and Beethoven played, and there was some Stevie Wonder and Louis Armstrong, too.

Knopp said as soon as it was clear the coronavirus was here to stay, he decided he needed to get the Music Haul on the road.

“Music is one of the reasons to regain our health, to regain our equilibrium as a culture,” he said. “Not to have health, but to have health so that we can bask in what's so beautiful about life. And I think that it gives us something to shoot for, and to remember, 'This is the goal. This is what we’re waiting for.'”

When the pandemic is over, the Yellow Barn Music Festival will cram the live musicians back in the truck. We’ll need them then, more than ever.

Music is Essential

Monday, May 4, 2020

Jim Lowe, reporter for the Rutland Herald, wrote this story published on May 2:

Music is essential: Vermont musicians bring solace to their community

Photo: Yellow Barn Music Haul brings music to Brattleboro's Thompson House Rehabilitation and Nursing Center

Few arts organizations were prepared for COVID-19, but Putney’s Yellow Barn Music Festival found itself poised to perform. It had built its Music Haul on an old U-Haul truck in 2015, creating a flexible performance stage and vehicle to project recorded music. A banner on top says it all: “Music Is Essential.”

“After the 2016 election, we played music in downtown Brattleboro,” explains Seth Knopp, pianist and Yellow Barn artistic director by Zoom.

“People sat and listened and we could tell that there was something they needed to hear,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily a protest, but it was kind of finding oneself inside again. Music is such a wonderful vehicle for that.”

With the current health crisis, Music Haul is answering the call again.

“We’re playing for food drops and assisted-living facilities, for individuals, lines of people at stores like the Brattleboro Co-op and the Putney General Store,” he said. “People can be taken away for a moment and find hope in themselves.”

But there’s a more personal reason as well for Knopp and his wife Catherine Stephan, a cellist and the festival’s executive director.

“We’re also finding that Music Haul for me, Catherine and Yellow Barn can feel helpful without speaking a word — just playing music, which is what we do best,” he said.

Yellow Barn Music Festival, founded in 1969 by cellist David Wells, is one of Vermont’s foremost summer chamber music festivals. But through the years it has grown past the summer season to feature residences — the country’s first for instrumentalists — and other programs throughout the year, and its reach around the United States.

Yellow Barn is one of the few festivals that haven’t canceled yet because of the pandemic. A decision is expected by mid-May.

“We haven’t decided which version of Yellow Barn is going to take place this summer,” Stephan said. “Music Haul will play a part undoubtedly.”

The idea for Music Haul came from a chance moment in New York City.

“I was watching people listen in while a technician worked on a piano (across the street) from Carnegie Hall,” Knopp said. “The door was slightly ajar and I noticed that people would stop and peek in. I realized that very often it’s difficult, let alone in that part of New York City, to stop and pay attention to an errant sound.

“I realized that it was a sound that wasn’t expected and wondered to myself if, after that initial curiosity, we could hold them in place with something that was truly artistic — that we might have a kind of opening that people might not necessarily be willing to take a chance on otherwise.”

Music Haul began with the purchase of an old 7-foot U-Haul in 2015, and an invitation to architect John Rossi, founder of VisibleGood, a Massachusetts-based company that specializes in rapid shelter deployment, to join the project.

With the help of industrial boat builders, it became a traveling concert venue for as many as six musicians, fully-equipped with interior and exterior performance spaces, a high-quality internal/external sound system, video capabilities and climate-controlled passenger and storage areas, including storage for percussion, string instruments and a piano.

“We always refer to Music Haul as ‘she,’ because she’s basically a boat,” Stephan said. “The wrapping was created by graphic artist John Kramer with photos of our summer performance venue, the Big Barn.”

In fact, they see Music Haul as a performance barn.

“What makes it unique is that it is a complete concert venue,” Stephan said. “When it’s fully a stage, it has fantastic sound and it can take up to six musicians. … It’s really tricked out. We can deploy in about 15 minutes and immediately transform where we are to a concert venue.”

Music Haul made its debut at the Putney Central School and went onto a half a dozen other Vermont locations in 2015. It has traveled the country, appearing in major cities, including Baltimore, Boston, Dallas and New York.

While many performing arts organizations lie dormant during the pandemic, Yellow Barn looks to remain relevant.

“A time like this is a time that asks organizations to react creatively, and not to try to fit systems that are no longer valid in this moment, to try to create new ideas, new ways of communicating from performer to listener to music. I think that’s a really exciting challenge,” Knopp said.

But Yellow Barn’s delivering good music is about much more than its own visibility.

“I would say that Music Haul is political,” Knopp said. “There’s certainly something powerful that music has to offer. It can answer people’s needs in every way. It can provide solace to people.”

Learn more and recommend a visit

"Music Haul is a reminder of who we are"

Monday, May 4, 2020

Brent Hallenbeck, a reporter for Burlington Free Press, wrote this story published on May 1:

Vermont organization finds way to conduct music tours during pandemic

Photo: The Yellow Barn Music Haul stops by the Putney General Store in Southern Vermont

It’s been a while since you’ve seen a musical touring act, hasn’t it?

It has been for just about everybody, since the COVID-19 pandemic ended all public gatherings in Vermont in mid-March. One entity in southern Vermont, however, is keeping the concept alive.

Yellow Barn is a chamber-music center and artist retreat based in Putney. Since 2015, the organization has had a tricked-out former U-Haul truck dubbed the Yellow Barn Music Haul that brings recorded music and live classical musicians to neighborhoods around the country.

With almost all gatherings off-limits these days, Yellow Barn is driving the truck to hospitals, assisted living facilities and other institutions in and around Vermont to infuse these dark times with the joy of music.

Executive Director Catherine Stephan said recent visits in southern Vermont featuring pre-recorded music have included assisted living facilities where residents, some of whom can be seen dancing, listen with the windows to their rooms open. The Music Haul stopped by Brattleboro Memorial Hospital to play for staff coming and going during shift change.

“You can tell that it changes what many people find isolating, which is the routine” of life during the pandemic, according to Stephan.

“We’re all experiencing a different sense of time,” she said. “There is a natural coming-together of focus. We’re all experiencing something similar. I find myself experiencing the same thing throughout most of every day. With music we’re all experiencing something together, but it breaks that routine.”

The Music Haul, Stephan said, reminds listeners at a time we are distracted of why music is so essential to our lives.

“When you’re fighting for life – in some cases literally at a hospital – there is the thing that makes it worth fighting for,” she said.

Music from Brattleboro to Baltimore

Yellow Barn began in 1969 and draws professional musicians from around the world for residencies and performances including a summer festival. The Music Haul was conceived of as a way to take music out of the sometimes-intimidating confines and etiquette of a concert hall and bring it to the people, often when they least expect it.

“It’s in our DNA to educate, those of us in the music world,” said Seth Knopp, who's been Yellow Barn’s artistic director for 22 years. “Music was not written to educate, it was written to communicate.”

The Music Haul often goes into neighborhoods where the arts can be hard to find. Knopp said Yellow Barn spent a couple of months in residence in the Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray died in police custody in 2015.

By going into economically depressed neighborhoods where residents have an “everyday awareness of the tenderness of life,” Knopp said it’s easy to see how music brings “all colors of the rainbow” together simply to enjoy music.

“It has been quite extraordinary to see how that neighborhood is transformed just by having that music from the Music Haul,” he said.

Performances available throughout Vermont

Because of state-imposed limits on the number of people who can be near each other in a workplace at one time, Stephan said the Music Haul is only playing recorded music for now. When musicians perform from the truck’s built-in stage, that setup requires a sound engineer and small crew.

Stephan said the hope is to have musicians perform this summer in a way that fits with COVID-19-related guidelines in place at the time. The Music Haul is available to play at institutions throughout Vermont for no fee, according to Stephan. The repertoire includes music played by Yellow Barn musicians and ranges from Beethoven to The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel.

Knopp said the touring Music Haul is important because music is a communal experience. He said this in a conversation with the Burlington Free Press that began as a video conference call that cut out three times before the conversation was carried over to a phone call.

“(The Music Haul) is a reminder of who we are as a culture,” Knopp said. “This is who we are. We are not the virtual beings we have become.”

Learn more and recommend a visit

"We want Music Haul to do as much good as it can"

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, Yellow Barn Music Haul has been visiting food drops, health care institutions, nursing homes, and housebound individuals, playing recorded music for the enjoyment and well being of all. 

Nancy Olson, reporter for The Commons, wrote this story published on April 29: 

Yellow Barn Music Haul brightens the scene

Mobile music venue pressed into service to brighten the dark days of the COVID-19 battle

At this challenging time of disruption and social distancing, when people need something to help cheer them up, it’s Yellow Barn Music Haul to the rescue.

The Music Haul, a retrofitted 17-foot U-Haul truck, is visiting area food drops, nursing homes, health care institutions, and housebound individuals, to play recorded performances of music, ranging from the Beatles to Beethoven, for the enjoyment and well-being of all.

“Certainly in this time, we want music to do as much good as it can,” said Seth Knopp, artistic director of Yellow Barn, the internationally renowned chamber music center located in Putney. “Our emotional health is as essential a part of ourselves as our physical being, and needs nurturing.”

Knopp curates the playlists.

“We play a variety of works,” he said. “The bottom line is music is music, whether it’s Bach or the songs we grew up with. Sometimes the list goes out the window, and I choose in the moment when I have a sense of the location and the listeners. The main idea is all music for all people.”

The Music Haul has what Knopp calls “incredibly good speakers” on its roof that are impervious to inclement weather. The truck itself is also is visually pleasing, with a late 1960s vibe; 1969 was the year Yellow Barn was founded and the year the Beatles released their Abbey Road album.

“Music Haul was out after the 2016 election, playing in downtown Brattleboro,” said Catherine Stephan, Yellow Barn’s executive director. “It’s been part of the Strolling of the Heifers parade, the NECCA groundbreaking, and the Putney Central School Lantern Supper. Performances have taken place at the Brattleboro Retreat and the Chelsea [Royal] diner, as well as on Main Streets throughout Windham County. It’s the perfect resource. The question is always ‘How can music be helpful?’”

Once the shelter-in-place order went into effect in Vermont, she said, the opportunity arose to provide the relief of music.

“We first reached out to the Vermont Department of Health,” Stephan continued, “and are following their guidelines for physical distancing, face coverings, and other safety precautions.”

With Vermont schools closing, and the need for the Windham Southeast School District to provide meals to families, the Music Haul has played at meal pick-up sites.

In this situation, it’s not a communal listening experience, Knopp said, because people don’t linger —they’re there for a few minutes to pick up their food, then they leave.

When the Music Haul plays at a residence, however, it’s different.

“We went to Thompson House and parked outside,” Stephan said. “The residents came to the windows. Some of them were waving. We could see some were dancing.”

The music was even audible at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, said Maria Basescu, Yellow Barn’s managing director. A nurse heard the music on her floor and came outside to say how much she appreciated it, adding, “We thought we were in heaven.”

Music Haul is also a traveling stage, opening up into a space for live performances.

Yellow Barn bought the used truck in August 2015, and invited architect John Rossi of Visible Good, a Massachusetts-based company that specializes in rapid-deployment shelter systems, to join the project.

Artist John Kramer created the truck’s wrapping, using exterior and interior images from Yellow Barn’s summer performance hall, the Big Barn, in Putney.

The Yellow Barn team designed this self-contained, traveling concert venue for as many as six musicians, fully equipped with interior and exterior performance spaces, the high quality internal/external sound system, video capabilities, and climate-controlled passenger and storage areas, including storage for percussion, stringed instruments, and a piano.

In October 2015, the Music Haul made its maiden voyage, traveling from Putney south to Baltimore, Md., and west to Dallas, Texas, playing 10 locations in seven days. In West Baltimore, the performers visited the same neighborhood where Freddie Gray had died in the custody of police that April.

“Music Haul played Bach Partitas,” Stephan said. “To see the way people came to life, it seemed the day was transformed. They listened, they danced, they waved. It was an instant connection.”

In recent weeks, the Music Haul has played its recorded music in Putney for the workers at Soundview Paper, on Elliot Street near the Brattleboro Fire Station for people in the neighborhood, at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, and at food drops in Brattleboro and West Brattleboro.

Someday, when the coronavirus restrictions loosen and people can gather again in groups, the Music Haul will show how it transforms into a concert venue for live performance.

Until then, however, it will travel around, providing recorded musical interludes as a necessary diversion.

Learn more and recommend a visit

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