Magic born out of barnyard details in Symphony in the Barn
PRICEVILLE, Ont.—Standing in golden early-evening sun on the lawn next to his Grey Highlands farmhouse, Michael Schmidt confidently assures one of his guests that the magic will happen.
Since I’ve been part of the conversation, I assume Schmidt is doing what any conductor would do in trying to relax a performer: The music will happen, and it will be all right. But I soon discover that there is more at play here than music.
This is Saturday, a couple of hours before the second evening of Symphony in the Barn, a three-day event at Glencolton Farms. Its stated purpose is to connect agriculture and music, urban and rural, art and craft.
Or, as Schmidt and his co-artistic director Carol Gimbel put it in a letter to visitors: “Symphony in the Barn is in itself a new approach to the art of listening, performing and experiencing the depth of music and visual art in a living environment of constant creation.”
Those words may read nicely, but did the magic actually happen?
Yes, in ways I had to experience to fully appreciate.
The key here is experience. So many of us live in a mediated world where a tap on our phone’s camera button followed by a social-media post often substitutes for real, face-to-face, hand-on-fur, foot-in-cowpat interaction.
Schmidt and a battalion of family members, staff, volunteers, neighbours, friends and musicians visiting from Canada, Mexico, the United States and Austria made sure there was no shortage of interaction on every level imaginable.
There was a sound installation in the silo and an opera chorus of five sheep sharing a large paddock with free-ranging chickens undaunted by the midsummer swelter.
There were fresh-baked goods, crafts, modern and antique farm machinery, a stately 1960s Mercedes-Benz sedan, a five-month-old German sheepdog that was a stuffed toy come to life, and a spirit of openness where neighbours and strangers greeted each other with friendly smiles.
About 70 of us sat down to a farm-to-table meal laid out at a single, very long table in the shade of century-old trees. By sunset we joined close to 300 people sitting on benches, chairs and on the cool, green grass by the barn, facing a newly-built wooden stage.
Sunset had made the air comfortable. Saugeen First Nation elder Shirley John blessed the gathering and reminded us to be thankful. “Our minds are now one,” was her litany-prayer’s refrain.
Pianist-composer Kati Gleiser led the 15-member string orchestra in a sweeping, semi-improvised rhapsody called Aqua. The audience applauded warmly.
Schmidt, now wearing the traditional black tails of an orchestra conductor, strode through the hushed audience, raised his baton, and Edvard Grieg’s beloved Holberg Suite began to unfold as stars poked through the dome of gathering dusk.
“Baa,” said one of the sheep right after the closing notes of the first movement. The audience chuckled. The magic was happening.
Michael Schmidt, who has spent much of the past 20 years advocating for raw milk, has turned his passion and considerable energy to the people side of music. He wants to help performers, creators and regular listeners forge all sorts of connections — ones he hopes will light creative fires.
As if his legal battles over milk weren’t enough, changes in local fire codes a couple of years ago meant that he could no longer use his big barn for concerts. Undaunted, he now has grand plans to build a multimedia performance venue on the property.
Whether a sophisticated, purpose-built venue could channel the magic of Schmidt’s rustic farm and family is an open question, but this is an intriguing dream.
You can find out more about the Symphony in the Barn and Schmidt’s plans by visiting symphonyinthebarn.com
Classical music writer John Terauds is a freelance contributor for the Star, based in Toronto. He is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JohnTerauds
Symphony in the Barn
Michael Schmidt, conductor. The Barn Orchestra. Glencolton Farms. Aug. 4 performance,