[ Interviews ]

It Takes a Village to Make This Festival Happen

June 8, 2018

Hosting Norfolk Chamber Music Festival Fellows is an integral part of the program’s success and the Fellows’ experience. We talk to two long-time hosts about why they open their home year after year.

Fellows greeting a Host

Most people who come to a Norfolk Chamber Music Festival performance understand that the Festival doesn’t just “happen,” that it takes a dedicated staff — everyone from administrators to grounds crews and cooks — to ensure the Fellows have what they need and that each concert goes off without a hitch. What people may not realize is how much residents of  the of the town of Norfolk itself are involved. It literally takes a village to make the Festival work.

Each summer housing is needed for nearly 62 participants attending the Festival’s three sessions. And where they stay is in the homes of area residents. Each year between 19 and 22 Norfolk homeowners take in Fellows, offering them a place to stay and relax in between their busy schedules. Think of it as the Festival’s version of AirBnB.

Festival General Manager Jim Nelson explains the vital role hosts play in the Festival’s success. “From the beginning of the Norfolk Festival in 1941, local residents hosting our students has been an invaluable resource. We know of many who have established long lasting friendships that have enriched both hosts and Fellows. And the arrangement further establishes the deep connection between the Festival and our host town. We are grateful beyond measure for the support of the community and the friendships we enjoy.”

But the Festival isn’t the only beneficiary of this program. The hosts, many of whom have been acting as hosts for years, say they get something out of the venture too.

Chris Hanley and Richard Johnston are one example. They have been hosts for about 20 years. “We started with one art student and one music student,” Chris says, noting their two daughters were quite young when they first signed up. “That evolved into two [as our daughters grew up and left the house] and now we have room for three.”

Each housing situation is different. At the Hanley / Johnston home, the Fellows have their own space upstairs. “After the girls left, we had an extra living room downstairs so we turned that into our bedroom,” Chris says. “It made sense to live on one floor. Now the students have their own space upstairs.”

Chris’ and Richard’s contact with the students can be nominal as a result. “All their meals are over there [at the Festival],” Chris says. “They just sleep and shower here.” Still, they “have gotten to know a few,” Richard says. One Fellow, for instance, sent a children’s book after her stay and they almost always send notes after their stay.

“They really appreciate the independence they have at our house,” Chris says.

Chris and Richard also feel hosting has increased their affinity with the Festival and art program. They attend the music Fellows’ weekly concerts and Chris, who is an art teacher, enjoys checking out the art Fellows’ work as well.

They are big music lovers. “We love choral music in particular,” Richard says, adding that one of their daughters is studying composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. Richard is a builder who is currently involved in renovating the Faculty cottages on the Festival grounds. “You can walk on the Estate any evening and they don’t mind,” he adds. “It’s amazing to have that kind of opportunity. To have that facility and be able to use it is wonderful.”

“It’s a great way to keep the arts alive. It’s a contribution,” says Chris of why they love hosting. “You’re connected with amazing programs.  They’re all our kids. I think of them as my kids,” she adds. “I would love to think my daughter had this opportunity. What goes around comes around.”

By Janet Reynolds

Janet Reynolds is a writer, editor and content strategist living in Connecticut. She’s a lifelong cellist and viola da gamba player, and has played in the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra for 36 years.