Yellow Barn collaboration brings Sept. 11 to Vermont

Wednesday June 26, 2013

PUTNEY -- 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."

Tuesday's Children was started to help raise funds for the family members of 9/11 victims and through the years the organization has expanded to develop programs that match young family members up with mentors as well as those that support mental health and counseling services. Tuesday's Children also has been exploring ways for the 9/11 family members to come to terms with their loss through art and to memorialize the family members who died.

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."

Knopp said the six Tuesday's Children guests first spoke on the phone with the Yellow Barn composers earlier this year. Then last week they met for the first time.

The Tuesday's Children family members told their stories and the composers took notes and over the past few days Knopp has been working with the composers to bring together their works in preparation for this week's performances.

The Tuesday's Children family members are also doing their own art work this week, writing dialogue or poetry, or creating art installations and photography, all of which will become a part of the performances.

Knopp said it has been a challenge for him, and for the composers, to write a musical composition based on an outsider's story.

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."

On Monday at the Yellow Barn campus, which is held at Greenwood School, Knopp and production assistants were trying to stage the show and figure how the six bagatelles would fit together to form a cohesive show. Stage managers worked with musicians and the Tuesday's Children family members into the evening, moving music stands and blocking out the show.

Stephan, the Yellow Barn executive director, said the short amount of time the musicians and visitors have to produce and practice their pieces has created a heightened sense of pressure around the campus.

But at the same time, she said, there is an excitement and energy from among the two groups that they are producing something special that will address the collective memory of those who were directly affected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

"This has really added a whole new dimension to what we are doing here," she said. "The composers have been able to use these stories as a jumping off point. Everyone is looking forward to what comes out of this."

For more information on the performances this week go to

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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