Honoring David Wells

On Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at seven in the evening, David Wells, Yellow Barn’s beloved founder, died peacefully in his home surrounded by family and friends.

David’s deep desire to connect with others through music was reflected in his profoundly beautiful music-making and a teaching career that spanned fifty years. He left this note, asking that it be shared at this time:

To All My Students Over the Years:

I wanted you to know what a central place you occupied in my life. Some of you I met during my early days at the Manhattan School of Music, others at the Hartt School of Music, the New England Conservatory, Princeton University, the Westminster Choir College, the 92nd Street Y, Windham College, or at our beloved Yellow Barn in Putney.

I hope I helped you mature as musicians, but did you know that you in turn were my inspiration? You helped me develop, not only as a musician, but also as a fuller human being. How fortunate I was to know people like you, so full of life. Throughout the years I felt as though we became family. For this, I thank you.

The youngest of six children, David was born in 1927 in East Chicago, Indiana, to Samuel R. Wells, a school principal and Helen Beatrice Kester Wells, a piano teacher. David began playing the cello at the age of nine, in memory of his oldest sister, herself a cellist, who was lost in a car accident. His most influential teacher was the renowned pedagogue Diran Alexanian, with whom he studied at the Manhattan School of Music, earning Masters degrees in both Music and Music Education.

David’s vibrant playing found voice in a performing career that embraced the repertoire for solo cello, concertos with orchestra, and chamber music. He performed with the Manhattan Trio, the Hartt String Quartet, and after marrying Janet Rosenthal in 1954, the Wells Duo, a collaboration that was heard in major American and European cities. When asked recently why musicians play chamber music, David replied simply, “It is what we do to spend time together, like dancing on a Friday night.”

In 1968 David and Janet moved their family to Putney, Vermont with the dream to find a home, with a barn attached, which would serve as a summer music retreat for David’s students. In 1969 Yellow Barn came to be. It soon became a family project. Their eight-year old son started a concert lemonade stand, making change from a shoebox under a card table. Their older son took charge of landscaping the property. Even their dog Benjamin was presented during a concert, where he debuted his famous “Dumky” Trio howl.

Students lived with the Wellses and their friends in Putney, and were given $5 a week for breakfast. They ate dinner on the Wellses’ screened porch. They practiced, rehearsed, and went swimming during the day and often danced to a record player at night. Concerts were free until one night Putney Co-op founder, Carol Brown, stuck $20 into David’s pocket and Yellow Barn fundraising was born. As artistic directors of Yellow Barn, David and Janet nurtured generations of young musicians with loving care.

David’s last wish was to express gratitude to his students and colleagues, especially to his wife Janet, for the incredible happiness music brought him.

A memorial service for David took place on August 12th in the original Yellow Barn, with almost 200 people filling the barn and spilling out onto the lawns outside. In spite of the number of people who came to celebrate David, there are many others who would have wanted to be present but were not able to attend, or perhaps had not yet heard of David’s death. Brattleboro Community Television generously produced a video of the service so that we can share the beauty of that day with all of you.

Next summer, Yellow Barn will celebrate David during its annual summer season in Putney. We hope that many of you can be with us, joining us in honoring him. More information about specific events will be posted over the coming months.
In lieu of flowers, the Wells family welcomes contributions to Yellow Barn in David's honor.