1) The signpost along the roadside. 2) Co-founders Michael Cannon, left, and Christopher Desler. (Photos by Mark Simonson) 3) The interior of the barn. (Photo courtesy of Honest Brook Music Festival.)
It just seemed fitting that music should remain a tradition in the late Henry Pipa’s barn on Honest Brook Road, near Delhi. Whenever Henry was doing his chores on the farm, he practiced his church choir singing in the barn.
Though Henry passed away in the early 1980s, music made its return 25 years ago this summer in the old barn, with the start of the Honest Brook Music Festival.
At around the same time that Mabel Pipa was looking to sell the farm, Christopher Desler and Michael Cannon, a classical pianist and teacher, were in search of a weekend getaway from New York City. One day they came across an advertisement in the New York Times real estate section for a home in Walton. While the house wasn’t what they wanted, they were impressed by Delaware County and its views of the Catskills. They continued their search until August 1987 and eventually found the Pipas’ farm. While the place wasn’t the ideal site for what they wanted—to be within two hours from New York and well off the roadside—they liked the house, and bought it.
“We didn’t come up here with the idea of starting a music festival,” says Cannon. “The fact that the property had a barn had no meaning to us. We lived here with the barn just sitting, but noticed how few barns were left in the area and others deteriorating. We didn’t want to pour money into it for the sake of just keeping the barn up. But as a musician, I knew that what was needed most was a place to perform. We figured why not try something here, see if it goes, and get young, upcoming artists to come here to perform.”
“I wasn’t really sure if classical music would really be important to the people of this area,” explains Cannon. “The area was still predominantly farming and the area wasn’t as much of a second-home community as it is now. We’d start it, see if it goes, and if doesn’t—no harm.”
Except for the chandeliers and stage, the mow of the barn (the former hay storage area), is original from over 100 years ago, says Cannon. A few modifications were necessary to turn the mow area into performance space, including removal of about two feet of old hay.
For the first season, Cannon asked some musician friends in New York City if they’d be interested in performing here, with no guarantee of being paid, and they agreed. Just as in the present day, Honest Brook began with four performances during July and August. The turnout was so good that Cannon was able to pay his performers an honorarium.
In addition to the summer series of performances, Honest Brook began a winter series in 1996, in local private homes. These began based on the growing success of the summer series.
As the festival enters its 26th season, the barn has been maintained and improved over the years, including a new reception area that opened just last year. The barn intimately seats about 150, and the acoustics are excellent. Public radio station WSKG in Binghamton recorded the 2013 series of performances, which will be aired at a time to be determined in the coming summer months.
Honest Brook Music Festival 2014 Performance Schedule
Saturday, July 12, 8 p.m - The Dorian Wind Quintet with guest pianist, Michael Cannon
Saturday, July 19, 8 p.m. - The Eaken Piano Trio
Sunday, August 3, 4 p.m. - Ji, pianist
Sunday, August 10, 4 p.m. - Soo Bae, cellist; pianist to be announced
Subscriptions to all four concerts are $85; single tickets are $25.
For details, directions and more about Honest Brook Music Festival visit www.hbmf.org or call (607) 746-3770.