Fresh off a world tour where they’d streamed concerts from empty halls, the Escher Quartet was so giddy about facing a live audience in Mullica Hill last October that they took pains to explain to those in attendance that the accepted convention of “not clapping between movements” was actually historically misguided. They encouraged the audience to feel free to applaud whenever the spirit moved them!
The concert-starved attendees were more than happy to comply at that rare and memorable mid-pandemic live outdoor concert – made possible by The Music Barn, owned and operated by a young entrepreneur well-known to the Philadelphia International Music Festival family: Operations Director Jacob Heil.
Jake began violin and viola studies as a young child. As he approached college, however, he knew he wanted to work in live music, but not as a performer. With that in mind, he enrolled in the Music Business Program at Rowan University.
“I think that live music has much more of an effect on people than recordings, and I wanted to be involved in that,” Jake said. “I wanted to connect with people through music, and that put me on the path to a way to do that in real time off-stage.”
Billed as a “premier outdoor music venue featuring world-class ‘undiscovered’ performers from around the country,” The Music Barn launched in August, 2019, at a large fairground in New Jersey.
That first six-concert season didn’t attract large crowds, with most fans drawn from his large circle of family and friends. The small crowds, however, enabled his crew (more family and friends!) to execute all aspects of the shows brilliantly.
Jake spent much of the following winter preparing for a 2020 concert season by assessing every detail of past performances and refining all aspects of marketing and behind-the-scenes management to reach what he expected would be a broader audience in The Music Barn’s second year.
And while 2020 offered an entirely different energy to ALL plans, The Music Barn’s pandemic pivot to mostly streamed shows resulted in a remarkable 11,000 audience members.
“We had to cancel the entire spring concert series,” Jake noted, “but we pivoted to a Facebook Live series that let us present performers from around the country who we might not have been able to host in person, it wouldn’t have been cost-effective. With the six Facebook Live events, we had over 11,000 people join us from around the country.”
Those concerts were streamed free of charge, Jake said, to offer musicians and music-lovers some normalcy during a very fraught period.
“I think we all needed a little bit of hope at that time, at the beginning of the pandemic,” Jake recalled, “to offer some kind of outlet for music at a time when hardly anyone else was.”
When pandemic restrictions began to loosen slightly for outdoor venues over the summer, The Music Barn again led the region (if not the country) in making live entertainment available in person, thanks to the facility’s size and the safety protocols of masks, temperature checks, and social distancing.
Music At Bunker Hill in Washington Township reached out to Jake during the pandemic because their indoor hall prevented them from staging concerts. The Escher Quartet concert last fall was a result of that collaboration. The collaboration grows this spring, starting April 24 with the Grammy Award-winning Catalyst Quartet.
“Catalyst sold out Carnegie Hall, sold out Lincoln Center,” Jake enthused, “and now they’re opening our season at The Music Barn! And on May 9th we have Sybarite 5 – they’ve topped the Billboard Classical Music charts. They put kind of a modern twist on classical music and I think it bridges the gap between classical and other genres. It’s very unique and fun.”
The third concert in the spring series will feature alumnae of the Perlman Program in string quintets by Bruch and Brahms on May 22.
Jake’s work at PIMF has uniquely suited him to the challenges of running a live performance venue, far beyond just the focus on classical music.
“At PIMF, our team is supremely organized. We have to be, to run all the programs we do simultaneously. Everything needs to be so planned out – from Plan A through the rest of the alphabet – in order to be able to respond to any given situation both pre-festival and on-site,” he explained. “My job here requires having every plan in my mind, every alternative available to be able to pivot to, if needed.”
Jake has also paid close attention to how PIMF stays focused on the moving target of its’ constituents’ needs, so that everyone from student to faculty to staff, can maximize their time learning, teaching and facilitating.
“Sandy (Marcucci, PIMF President and co-founder) is phenomenal at keeping the big and small operational details in mind while managing the human aspect, and understanding what each person needs to learn best, how they work best. Identifying what people are really good at, then letting them go do that. So that it all works, balancing that gut instinct and the nitty gritty details. That’s a skill I’m trying to learn from her.”
There’s no such thing as “side hustle” in Jake Heil’s world – it’s all hustle, as the situation and the season demands.
Classical music students and music lovers looking for those important opportunities to listen to high-level performers live can find them in South Jersey at The Music Barn. Check out the full schedule here.