Yellow Barn Awarded NEA Cares Act Grant

Friday, July 3, 2020

Margaret Grayson wrote about Yellow Barn's NEA Cares Act grant, published on July 3, 2020. 

Ten Vermont arts and culture organizations received more than $600,000 in direct grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, as part of the federal coronavirus relief package.

The NEA awarded $50,000 grants to Kingdom County Productions, Dorset Theatre Festival, the Vermont Folklife Center, the Community Engagement Lab,  the Yellow Barn and the Weston Playhouse Theatre.

The NEH awarded $133,512 to the Vermont Historical Society, $69,263 to the University of Vermont, $29,362 to the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, $53,036 to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and an additional $97,017 to the Folklife Center.

The Weston Playhouse, Vermont’s longest-running professional theater, has lost all of its earned income since canceling its summer theater season, said executive artistic director Susanna Gellert. While the theater has been able to reduce its operating budget from $2.3 million annually to about $1 million, the grant support is still vital.

“The $50,000 NEA grant is a pretty huge leg up for us,” Gellert said. She said the Weston staff are planning to use it to budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins January 1. A Paycheck Protection Program loan ensured that no staff have been laid off so far, and Gellert is cautiously optimistic that donor support will remain strong enough that all staff can be retained.

The theater’s director of development, Emily Schriebl Scott, said planning for the future is about more than just financial concerns. There are more philosophical questions, too: What should a theater try to be during a pandemic? For the Weston, staff have focused on supporting playwrights and artists in creating new work and virtual offerings.

“It’s been really heartening to land on these incredibly creative ways of moving forward,” Schriebl Scott said.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act awarded $75 million each to the NEA and NEH, 40 percent of which was distributed to statewide organizations such as the Vermont Arts Council and Vermont Humanities to distribute further. Those two organizations have been distributing $700,000 from the NEA and NEH in the form of grants to nonprofits of between $2,500 and $10,000.

More than 200 organizations and individual artists have applied for grants, reporting more than $36 million in current and projected losses due to the pandemic. According to the arts council, the creative sector accounts for 9.3 percent of the state’s jobs.

The remainder of the NEA and NEH money was earmarked for direct grants. These national grants were highly competitive. The NEA received more than 3,000 applications and awarded 855 grants; the NEH received more than 2,300 applications and awarded 317 grants.

“We are incredibly grateful for everything the NEA does, and especially the arts council. But I would love to see government funding increase in this moment,” Gellert said. “We’ve talked, as a state, about how the creative economy fuels Vermont. I think we’re really going to learn what that means.

"I’m sure we will start to see some organizations have to close their doors for good," Gellert added, "and I think the impact will be profound.”

Bringing Beethoven's Music to the Woods of Putney

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Reporter Margaret Grayson wrote this story about Yellow Barn's Beethoven Walks, published on July 2 in Seven Days.

Beethoven Walks installation - ZACHARY STEPHENS

Beethoven Walks Installation (Photo: Zachary Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)

Composer Ludwig van Beethoven was known for long, solitary walks through the woods surrounding his home city of Vienna, Austria. In a year when musicians and fans planned to celebrate his 250th birthday, the pandemic means they have to do it in a similar socially distant style.

Seth Knopp, the artistic director of Yellow Barn, a chamber music center in Putney, has led the design of Beethoven Walks, an outdoor installation and musical experience along walking trails. People can download an app loaded with Beethoven’s music and walk the trails, which are punctuated with benches and reproductions of Beethoven’s handwritten sketches and manuscripts.

“It occurred to me that there might be a way to bring people to music, rather than the other way around,” Knopp said. “The natural world, and walking on trails, was a big part of Beethoven’s process.”

Knopp spent many hours walking the selected trails, deciding which Beethoven pieces would pair well with the walks and how to time them. Beethoven’s well-known Symphony No. 5, Knopp said, might be better suited for a walk in Yosemite National Park. He chose a variety of music — some more gentle and contemplative, others “bright and effervescent.”

“We didn’t want one to drown out the other,” Knopp said. “Specifically, I didn’t want the music to drown out the sounds of nature.”

He recommends that walkers don’t use headphones. Instead, they can download the app and play the music out loud through their phone speaker.

Catherine Stephan, Yellow Barn’s executive director, helped coordinate with museums and centers in Europe to reproduce some of Beethoven’s original music sketches — some of which he probably wrote while walking the woods in Vienna — and manuscripts, which are the finalized version of a piece of music. The sketches are printed on banners, designed to look like they’re a part of the landscape. 

The walks are located on the Greenwood Trail on Putney’s Greenwood School campus and the Hannum Trail on Putney Mountain. The Hannum Trail installation will likely be taken down on July 18, but the Greenwood Trail will remain as a permanent gift to the school.

“It’s meant to be a very simple experience that’s meant to take people out of our current situation and connect them to music,” Knopp said. “I think that people should walk the trails not thinking that they’re taking a hike, but almost as if they’re in an outdoor installation.”

Yellow Barn is known for drawing musicians from around the world to take part in its summer festival. The center brought a smaller number of artists to Putney this year; after quarantining for 14 days they could rehearse with each other at a distance. The musicians will perform for a livestream season from July 10 through August 8.

Yellow Barn has also taken its traveling stage to local hospitals and retirement centers to play music for people who are isolated due to the pandemic.

“We go around and we play everything from the Beatles to Beethoven and everything in between. And you see people come to life,” Stephan said.

Yellow Barn was one of six Vermont arts and culture organizations to receive a direct $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts as part of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding.

An Introduction to Charles Ives

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

In advance of Gilbert Kalish's performance of the "Concord" sonata on July 10th's Opening Night Concert, Yellow Barn invites you to learn more about Charles Ives by reading Jan Swafford's insightful biography of the composer:

Charles Edward Ives (1874-1954)

For all his singularity, the Yankee maverick Charles Ives is among the most representative of American artists. Optimistic, idealistic, fiercely democratic, he unified the voice of the American people with the forms and traditions of European classical music. The result, in his most far-reaching work, is like nothing ever imagined before him: music at once unique and as familiar as a tune whistled in childhood, music that can conjure up the pandemonium of a small-town Fourth of July or the quiet of a New England church, music of visionary spirituality built from the humblest materials--an old gospel hymn, a patriotic tune, a sentimental parlor song. The way in which Ives pursued his goal of a democratic art, and his career of creating at the highest level of ambition while making a fortune in the life insurance business, perhaps could only have happened in the United States. And perhaps only there could such an isolated, paradoxical figure make himself into a major artist.

Charles Ives was born in the small manufacturing town of Danbury, Connecticut, on October 20, 1874, two years before Brahms finished his First Symphony. During the Civil War his father George Ives had been the Union's youngest bandmaster, his band called the best in the army. When the war ended George had returned to Danbury to take up the unusual trade, in that business-oriented town, of musician.

As a cornet player, band director, theater orchestra leader, choir director, and teacher, George Ives became the most influential musician in the region. Yet while Danbury prided itself during the 1880s in being called "the most musical town in Connecticut" (that in large part due to George Ives's labors), people still viewed the profession with little understanding or respect. That situation, which would have been the same in most American towns in the 19th century, had its impact on Charles Ives. Still, his family was prominent, noted for extravagant personalities and (except for George) a gift for business.

like father, like son 
Ives told the story of his introduction to music: his father came home one day to find the five-year old banging out the Ives Band's drum parts on the piano, using his fists. George Ives's response gave the first impetus to his son's career as a musical innovator. Rather than saying, as would most parents, That's not how to play the piano, George observed instead, "It's all right to do that, Charles, if you know what you're doing," and sent the boy down the street for drum lessons. Charlie never did stop using his fists on the piano, and was eventually notorious for requiring a board to play the Concord Sonata. Thus the invention of what a later age would call "tone clusters."...

Read the complete biography

Week Two at YAP

Sunday, June 28, 2020

As this year's virtual Young Artists Program rounds the corner into its final week, we took a look back at Week Two.

This week Yellow Barn faculty member and violinist Don Weilerstein visited the YAP community, sharing recordings from his tenure as first violinist of the Cleveland Quartet and the Weilerstein Duo, as well as his perspective on life as a chamber musician. A few days later actress Sylvia Milo and composer Nathan Davis shared an inside view of their internationally-acclaimed production, The Other Mozart. (We had hoped to welcome Sylvia and Nathan this summer for a presentation of the Other Mozart As soon as we are able to host them, they will bring their production to Putney.)

YAP musicians continued continued their series of concerts—recorded in their homes across the United States, and in Europe and Asia—including premiere performances of works by YAP composers for their performer colleagues, and performances from John Cage's Song Book together with Cage's instructions for each song. Here is a sampling of their performances, all of which will be shared at the conclusion of the program.

Kyrie McIntosh Fragments (2020)
World Premiere
Yi-Mei Templeman, cello

Bram Fisher Nursery Rhyme (2020)
World Premiere
Grant Houston, violin

John Cage: Song #44
Performed by Lindan Burns

John Cage's instructions for Song #44:

John Cage: Song #35
Performed by Rolando Gomez

John Cage's instructions for Song #35:

John Cage: Song #19
Performed by Phoebe Liu

John Cage's instructions for Song #19:

Yellow Barn opens Beethoven Walks

Friday, June 19, 2020

Yellow Barn artistic director Seth Knopp, who imagined and created Beethoven Walks this year (Photo: Zachary Stephens)

Beethoven Walks is a project begun during our collective isolation, serving a universal need to better understand our humanity through music and the beauty of our world.

These walks incorporate reproductions of Beethoven’s sketches, or leaves from his autograph manuscripts, connecting those walking the path with Beethoven’s music, his creative process, and the inspiration he drew from nature. 

Music Posts placed along the path will prompt people to listen to Beethoven’s works corresponding with these sketches and manuscripts. These autographs lead us along the path, or to Listening Places that invite more spacious listening and looking.

These walks open in honor of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, and are dedicated to the world his music shows us is possible.

—Seth Knopp

A project conceived earlier this year by Yellow Barn Artistic Director Seth Knopp, the first two Beethoven Walks are opening this week. The two walks, which are sponsored by Yellow Barn, are located in our home town of Putney, Vermont.

Beethoven Walks at the Greenwood Trail is located on our summer campus, The Greenwood School. It is our pleasure to gift this trail to the Greenwood School, where it will remain open indefinitely. (Download the app: BW-Greenwood)

Beethoven Walks at the Hannum Trail is located on Putney Mountain. At the request of the Putney Mountain Association, this walk will close on July 18, 2020 (Download the app: BW-Hannum)

Download the App

The Beethoven Walks app is necessary to enjoy the trail—most importantly the music!—and can be downloaded from app stores for phones and other devices. Search for BW-Greenwood or BW-Hannum for your playlist, directions to the trail head, and introductory guidelines.

More information

Please be conscious of social distancing! The trail is best enjoyed in solitude. If you do see others, be mindful and wear a mask when passing on the trail.

Introducing YAP 2020

Friday, June 19, 2020

Yellow Barn’s Young Artists Program is off and running. Last Sunday Co-Artistic Directors Seth Knopp and Mimi Hwang welcomed 30 instrumentalists and composers coming together from across 9 time zones to work with faculty spanning the distance from one US coast to the other, and across the Atlantic Ocean.

Taking full advantage of what the musicians can gain from a "distance learning" program, visiting guests this week included Yellow Barn Composer in Residence Brett Dean for a conversation about his String Quartet #2 ("And once I played Ophelia"), Lewis Lockwood for an exploration Beethoven's autograph manuscripts and sketches, and, as pictured above, Yellow barn faculty member Curtis Macomber and Stephen Jaffe on their experiences working with Mario Davidovsky, offering invaluable advice to YAP musicians as they prepare their first performances of Davidovsky's Synchronisms and other works for solo instruments and electronic tape.
While the lens is different, the core elements of the program are in full swing, including new works written during the program by YAP composers for their performer colleagues. This year composers are focusing on writing for solo instruments, and right now the first set of pieces are being premiered and recorded in house concerts with family members. Many YAP family members are also involved with another element of this year's YAP program: performances of works included in John Cage's Song Books. You can see Seth Knopp's performance of Song #36 as part of this year's virtual orientation. (Look for more performances of pieces from John Cage's Song Books throughout the summer!)