BENNINGTON — The Bennington Museum had more than one reason to invite Natural History, a trio with local roots, to perform at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
The museum naturally programs concerts that highlight and celebrate the various talents and musicians in the area while providing a diverse range of music to the audience, said Deana Mallory, the museum's director of public programs. Given the trio's connections to Bennington and its members' long lists of career accomplishments, Natural History would be an easy choice in any circumstance.
But the trio's improvisational music and its history are natural pairings for "Fields of Change: 1960s Vermont," an exhibit that celebrates and explores the changes that new residents and cultural shifts brought to Southern Vermont during that decade.
"When we can find a really good match for one of our exhibitions it just creates a nice cohesive program," Mallory said. "The series often, although not always, connects to what's going on in the exhibit. So, anytime that we can make a connection between one of the Music at the Museum's concerts and one of our major exhibitions we try to."
The exhibit. which includes photographs, archival documents, works of art, posters, fashion, hand-made craft objects, and the hand-written lyrics to Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin,'" among other items, is near and dear to all three band members, who lived in, or near, Bennington during that time period.
"Jared and I were Vermont hippies in the 60s and [Derrik] Jordan lived not that far away when he was growing up. We all lived through that, but also part of the message of the 60s was that one could improvise," said band member Barry Hyman. "That was kind of a new idea of the 60s that art didn't have to have rules. The improvisational spirit is one of the reasons why we are the right band for this show and also our awareness of, and embrace of, diversity and world fusion."
Bennington Museum officials began discussing the possibility of having Natural History play before the exhibit was installed. The suggestion was offered by sponsors Alison Nowak and Robert Cane, Mallory said.
While it was a benefit that all of the band members had a connection to Bennington and to the 1960s, Mallory said Natural History's style of music was what they wanted to pair with exhibition.
"[We wanted] something that would kind of get everyone in to that kind of groove of the 1960s. It was a time of experimentation and change and new ideas and I think that their music really captures that well," said Mallory.
One of the most significant influences on all three members of the band was acclaimed jazz drummer and percussionist Milford Graves, who taught both Jordan and Jared Shapiro at Bennington College. Jordan studied percussion with Graves; Shapiro studied improvisation and herbal medicine with him. While Hyman did not attend Bennington College, he later studied privately with Graves. And he grew up here, with his parents, author Shirley Jackson and literary critic and Bennington College teacher Stanley Edgar Hyman.
The connection the three men had with Graves — an early stalwart of avant-garde free jazz who freed the instrument from the confines of time-keeping — contributed significantly to their style and sound of world music, in which there is significant improvisation during their performances.
"We were listening to music from all over the world; Africa, India, Latin, Celtic stuff. Anything but rock and roll basically," said Hyman. "Jared had had a lot of classical training and Derrik and I had both been in bands for a few years before we all met. So, we were already interested all different kinds of music; experimental, improv, but also trying to play all different styles."
Unlike other performers, who typically choose a set list, Natural History relies heavily on improvisation. The music, and the performance itself, Hyman said will be determined when the group takes the stage on Sunday.
In addition to the connection they feel to the exhibition and the time period, Hyman indicated that there was also another reason that the band was happy to be playing this show.
"This is a formal recognition by the Bennington Museum of people who have been members of the Southern Vermont musical community for decades," Hyman said. "So, in that sense we are all very honored and pleased. It seems appropriate and we are going to approach it as best as we possibly can."
A presentation of Music at the Museum, this performance is free and open to the public due to the support of Nowak and Cane.