PUTNEY—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.