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 Hallenbeckwrote this story for The Burlington Free Press on May 1st:

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

Yellow Barn Music Haul serenades community

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Brattleboro Reformer published the following story about Yellow Barn Music Haul on April 21:

Photo: Yellow Barn Music Haul at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital

Yellow Barn, the internationally renowned chamber music center, is channeling its resources and creative energies in order to contribute to the well-being of the community at this unprecedented time of challenge and social distancing.

Yellow Barn Music Haul is touring the region, uplifting spirits by bringing music to relief workers, volunteers, neighborhoods, and individuals. With a playlist ranging from Beethoven to the Beatles, Music Haul is visiting nursing homes, health care facilities, and each of the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union's school district's food distribution sites, serenading children and families as they come through, as well as thanking the generous volunteers working at each site.

Working with individuals and partners, Music Haul makes scheduled stops throughout the week. Community members are invited to recommend a visit, whether it be a location, an organization, or an individual, via Yellow Barn's website.

The brainchild of Yellow Barn, Music Haul is a traveling stage, with the capacity for live performance as well as recorded music played from speakers on the roof of the truck. It began with the purchase of an old 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. Yellow Barn's team devised this self-contained, 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.

When not practicing social distancing, Yellow Barn musicians travel and perform on Music Haul, presenting "Music No Boundaries" tours across the country, and throughout southeastern Vermont. Redefining what a concert hall can be, Yellow Barn Music Haul brings music to grammar schools and universities, urban neighborhoods and arts districts, city lots and open fields. It plays for people regardless of their experience with or knowledge of music, their attention captured in the unexpected moment.

While touring at this time, the Music Haul is following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Vermont Department of Health. 

Learn more and recommend a visit

Music Haul's Vermont Relief Tour

Wednesday, April 1, 2020


On March 25, 2020, Yellow Barn strapped banners proclaiming "Music Is Essential" to the top of Music Haul and began visiting area food distribution sites, health care institutions, nursing homes, and housebound individuals, playing recorded music for the enjoyment and well being of all.

Relief sites visited include:
Brattleboro Memorial Hospital
Grace Cottage Hospital
Cheshire Medical Center
Brattleboro Retreat Valley Cares
Thompson House
Holton Home
Hillside Retirement Village
The Loomis Communities
Kendal at Hanover
The Greens at Hanover
Bradley House
Putney General Store
Soundview Paper Mill
Greenwood School
Brattleboro Food Coop
Sun Hill Farm
The Gleanery
Nicole Reisman at Top of the Hill Grill
Landmark College
GroundWorks shelters
Windham Southeast Supervisory Union food distribution sites:
    Moore’s Court
    Ledgewood Heights
    Westgate apartments
    Elliot Street Fire Department
    West Brattleboro Fire Department
    Brattleboro Outlet Center
    Vernon Recreation Center
    Vernon Fire Department
    Guilford Church

If you would like to make a recommendation for a Music Haul visit, whether it be a location, an organization, or an individual, please send an email to

Yellow Barn is following guidelines from the VT Department of Health for physical distancing, face coverings, and other precautions to ensure everyone's safety during Music Haul visits.

Music No Boundaries: Epiphany Slam

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Yellow Barn is committed to the health and safety of everyone in our community. We are closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Vermont Department of Health. Accordingly, we are postponing Music Haul's visit to the Epiphany School to a later date TBD.

This May Yellow Barn Music Haul returns to the Epiphany School in Dorchester, MA, for a four-day slam poetry residency. Working with saxophonist Travis Laplante, harpist Charles Overton, and Epiphany School’s art director, A.B. Deleveaux, six Epiphany students in grades 5 to 8 will write and perform poetry expressing their personal thoughts and experiences with civil rights, racial discrimination, gun violence, and climate change.

Participating students (three from the 5th and 6th grades, and three from 7th and 8th) will be selected from a school-wide poetry slam at the end of April. In May, they will pair with saxophonist Travis Laplante and harpist Charles Overton to create six performances that integrate their poetry with the musicians’ improvisations. Overton is both a member of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute and an accomplished classical harpist based in Boston. Laplante, who is an international soloist and chamber musician, as well as a master qigong practitioner in Putney, Vermont, explores both avant-garde classical compositions and free jazz. Their work will culminate in a day of performances on Music Haul at the Epiphany School and in downtown Boston (May 21st or 22nd, weather depending).

This will be Yellow Barn’s second slam poetry residency. The first residency, titled “Intimate Letters”, brought four poets ages 17 to 24 from Stockton, CA to Putney, VT together with the Parker Quartet, baritone William Sharp, and Yellow Barn Artistic Director and pianist Seth Knopp for a program interspersing original poetry with chamber music. The residency culminated in a tour of performances in Vermont, Boston, New York, and Dallas.

The upcoming residency marks Yellow Barn’s third visit to the Epiphany School. An independent school for children of economically disadvantaged families in Boston, with scholarships for all, Epiphany offers structured support to enable children to discover and develop the fullness of their individual gifts and to help their families thrive.

The first traveling stage of its kind, Music Haul is the brainchild of Yellow Barn, an international center for chamber music based in Vermont that generates an international troupe of faculty, alumni, and ensembles. Like all street performers, Music Haul and its musicians make the most of an environment conducive to personal conversation, musical and otherwise, that happens on common ground. By giving people the shared experience of listening to music on a street corner, playground, or field, Music Haul opens up the unique possibilities of what music can do to unite us.

Yellow Barn Music Haul at the Epiphany School, September 2016 (Photo: Iaritza Menjivar)