Yellow Barn Collaboration Brings 9/11 to Vermont

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Howard Weiss-Tisman writes for The Brattleboro Reformer:

In a rehearsal room on The Yellow Barn campus Monday Kelly Butler was exploring the place where memories and music meet.

Butler lost a family member in the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, and she is one of the six family members of the support group, Tuesday's Children, who is working with Yellow Barn composers this week.

Tuesday's Children is a non-profit organization that was established to support the families of 9/11 victims.

In the rehearsal room Butler, an actress, was sitting at a desk, writing words on cardboard and then ripping off pieces that she would drop to the floor.

To her left Tamzin Elliott, one of the composers enrolled in the Yellow Barn Young Artists Program, was sitting behind a piano, while two violinists looked over a composition.

Butler and the three musicians were collaborating on the music and dialogue, which will be presented during two performances in Putney this week.

Across the room an adult musician and actress were offering suggestions on when to intersperse the dialogue into the music. The mentors, musicians and actress went back and forth, trying different arrangements until it was time to break for the afternoon.

"Collaboration has always been a very important part of what goes on during the Young Artists Program," said Yellow Barn Executive Director Catherine Stephan. "But this is different. We have never done something like this where we are asking our young composers to incorporate someone else's story into their own work."

Every summer young artists travel from across the county, and all over the world, to study at the Yellow Barn Young Artists Program. This year 28 instrumentalists and composers are spending 18 days in Putney for the Young Artists Program.

About a year-and-a-half ago Yellow Barn Young Artists Program Co-Director Seth Knopp met with Alice Greenwald, the director of the 9/11 Memorial Museum. A mutual friend arranged the meeting and Greenwald told Knopp that the museum was exploring different ways for the family members of 9/11 victims to tell their stories.

"There is a very strong vein of remembrance that runs through art," Knopp said Monday while taking a break from the work he does with the young composers. "I though this program would be a potentially fruitful place to create music to memorialize these stories."

In the Yellow Barn rehearsal studio Monday Butler let the music build, and then fade.

"I am many stories," she said, writing words on a piece of cardboard and then ripping it up. "I wish I had more memories. If I don't remember then who will."

Composers typically bring their life's experiences to each piece of music, and the source of the Muse has been a topic of wonder and discussion for centuries.

But to come face to face with someone who has experienced profound personal loss, while at the same time shared that loss with a nation based on an historic event like 9/11, has been an inspiration for everyone involved.

"The pieces are not necessarily about their stories," he explains. "It has been 13 years and for a lot of these children they can't remember their parent; they are trying to both hold on, and move on. Hopefully we are able to create something redeeming out of all of this."

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Read more about Yellow Barn's 9/11 collaboration