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PRIMER | Symphony In The Barn Gears Up For A Weekend Of Food And Music On The Farm

By Hye Won Cecilia Lee on July 25, 2018

Symphony In The Barn
With its focus on locality, creativity and cross-pollination, the Symphony In The Barn promises a full-weekend of beauty, in the great Ontario summer outdoors.

As the summer reaches its peak in Durham, Ontario, another Symphony in the Barn (SITB) weekend is just around the corner.  Widely known for his legal battle for sales of raw milk in Canada for over twenty-four years, Michael Schmidt’s festival at the beautiful Glencolton Farms on August 3–5, 2018 is an interesting amalgamation.

Running since 1995, the Symphony in the Barn started as a three-day festival.  Often varying in its length (in 1996 and 2002, it ran for three weeks, and in 1997 and 2003, for four weeks), the festival is known for its mix of classical music and its living, diverse farm biodome culture.

Symphony in the Barn rings a few distinctive notes. Concerning the lack of any significant aboriginal cultural component in the current Ontario educational curriculums, recently re-highlighted by the hasty cancellation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Curriculum Revisions Session in early July in Ontario, the festival’s ongoing development with the local aboriginal performers, and the combined contribution for the general public is important. The festival won the Best Practices Award in Equity and Diversity from Community Arts Ontario in 2004, for their collaboration with native performers of Cape Croker for the Haydn’s The Creation, adding a curious mix of Western and Native Creation stories to the familiar music.

The festival was born out of a cooperation with local artists and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and the aboriginal performers from Saugeen Reserve and Cape Croker.  The aboriginal collaboration has continued throughout, and this summer, we have Shirley John, the elder/water walker/ protector of the Saugeen First Nation, and M’wikwedong Native Cultural Group.

Symphony In The Barn
Arial photo of the new Symphony in the Barn stage in construction 2018 (Photo courtesy of Symphony In The Barn)

“It has been the mandate of this festival since 1994 to culturally connect with the aboriginal community and have them involved in order to break down barriers, said Carol Gimbel and Michael Schmidt, co-artistic directors, Symphony in the Barn in an email interview. ” In today’s world, we always try to create different cultural segments, but in the end, the artistic expression of our culture is the only really uniting element which bridges the different, […] we are interested in building cultural bridges, not for political reasons, it is for social reasons.”

In 2002, the festival added another focus: featuring young professional performers from North America. This year, Attacca Quartet (USA, see video below) and Cuarteto Janus (Mexico) will join the guests at the farm, along with the Symphony in the Barn Festival Orchestra.  Cuarteto Janus is the first ensemble to take part in the new mentorship program, and they will be working closely with the Toronto Amateur Chamber group, practicing the two core foci of the SITB: the immersive concert experience and social activism through the arts.

It should be noted that the weekend festival is the culmination of a week-long residency of 40 plus international and local musicians, creators, local and indigenous performers.

SITB will also feature their first commission this year: Aqua for strings and piano, a world premiere by composer/performer Kati Gleiser, a local who lives just 30 minutes away from the farm, in Owen Sound.

Glencolton Farms and SITB’s mission includes the development of the area through tourism, and they have been working closely with all government levels — local, MPPS and various councils, including support from the Canada Council for the Arts, and Community Foundation Grey Bruce.  The festival is an integral part of the celebration of beautiful rural Ontario, neighbouring the iconic Georgian Bay and Bruce Peninsula, supporting the local population of 200–300,000.

Due to the area’s popularity, one might imagine that finding accommodation would be difficult during the peak season; however, there are many options available. “We are fully equipped for the immersive family farm experience, including camping — the facilities include flushing toilets, and operating sinks on-site, and private and ‘party’ camping options are both available,” says Schmidt. “The farm bakery supplies fresh baked goods throughout the day, and you can bring a tent, as well as trailers and RVs to the festival easily […] in addition to the daily formal concert, there will be food, farm activities, campfires and storytelling — day and night.”

The various projects by 2018 artists-in-residence of Symphony in the Barn will include a sensory installation in a former silo tower, a low-key farm walk and hands-on experience with living farm materials for arts and craft.

Michael Schmidt loads a piano with a tractor (Photo courtesy of Symphony In The Barn)
Michael Schmidt loads a piano with a tractor (Photo courtesy of Symphony In The Barn)

Looking at the physical heart of the project, the Glencolton Farms, it is impossible to separate the raw milk battle and the festival in the public’s mind.  Earlier this year, Schmidt was sentenced for fifteen weekends in maximum security at the Penetanguishene Prison; Schmidt is appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada, and after the permanent injunction in the January hearing, the farm is currently restrained from any further raw milk production.

“Karmically, the milk issue has always been connected with the festival,” said Schmidt. “When the first milk war ended in 1994 and we had lost everything, we turned to music. And we are back in very similar situation, that when the economic existence of the farm is threatened, it was always the music that lifted the farm out of its depression to move forward.  The farm has a huge support base, not only because of milk, but also because of its cultural and educational activities and outreach over the many years.  One of the most important aspects of the farm has been the education of young people, be it in agriculture and music.

“The festival is unique in that it is rooted in agriculture, which has a completely different value of experience for people because it triggers childhood memories for most people, that this was once a dominating experience when you grew up on a farm: remembering nostalgic times on their family/grandparents’ farm,” said Schmidt. “The farm is not created for the show business, there is something real and tangible, and not artificially created.  The farm is a cooperative, with 200 families involved.”

“We are in our 23rd-year and our aim is that on our 25th-year, we would have our own performance venue which will also be the community hub for culture, education, with a café and meeting places, where people can experience real farm food — there is no such facility within 100kms.”

There will be a formal announcement for the new Centre for Performance and Agriculture during this summer; the new project is a natural evolution from his mission to connect farm and artists. “The substance of creating music is nourished by the everyday creative force of a living farm, and vice versa,” said Schmidt.

Arial view of Glencolton Farms (2017). (Photo courtesy of Symphony In The Barn)
Arial view of Glencolton Farms (2017). (Photo courtesy of Symphony In The Barn)

Living up to our collective memories of the Farm (and the bounty of the farm), two of the most popular events in the SITB weekend are the premiere events highlighting the beauty of Ontario produce.  Canadian superstar chefs, including Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtländer have been involved in the curation and presentation of the celebratory menus in the past, and this year, Matt Hodgman of Tall Order Events, will collaborate with Glencolton Farm for the Opening Gala reception and the four-course dinner with wine pairings for the Dinner in the Orchard.

With its focus on locality, creativity and cross-pollination, the 2018 SITB promises another full-weekend of beauty, in the great Ontario summer outdoors.  Get your comfy shoes on and pack your favourite outdoor gear.  Rain or shine, the Symphony in the Barn is ready to greet us, away from the suffocating concrete jungle heat, into the never-stopping flow of the Glencolton Farms, to pause, to immerse into the music, in the midst of true summer magic.

The Symphony in the Barn Festival 2018 will take place from August 3– 5, 2018, at Glencolton Farms.  For additional information, including tickets, see here.

[Correction, July 26, 2:00 p.m. The Festival takes place in the town of Durham, just south of Owen Sound, not Durham County, which is near Oshawa.]

Hye Won Cecilia Lee
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Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Cecilia tumbled into 'serious' music study when she decided to avoid attending medical school. Currently working in the field of classical music, recording, and Korean-English interpretation, she tends to get her nose dirty in many different things in the city. Cecilia holds a DMA in Piano Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Hye Won Cecilia Lee
Follow me
Hye Won Cecilia Lee
Follow me

Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Cecilia tumbled into 'serious' music study when she decided to avoid attending medical school. Currently working in the field of classical music, recording, and Korean-English interpretation, she tends to get her nose dirty in many different things in the city. Cecilia holds a DMA in Piano Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Hye Won Cecilia Lee
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