HUERFANO — As I watched Barbara Yule navigate the distance from doorway to table, my first impression of her was of her “delicate demeanor.” I stood to greet her and was confronted with a “melt your heart” smile and a delightful wagging of her head side to side reminiscent of the way my 9-year-old granddaughter would greet me when I came for a visit. All the while, she looked me straight in the eye and expressed her sincere happiness at being able to spend a little time with me over coffee at the La Plaza Inn Restaurant in Walsenburg. Ten years ago, at age 70, Barbara conceived of and almost single-handedly caused the first Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival to happen. Though it has ripened dramatically under her guidance over the past 10 years, it has remained a European style festival with emphasis on high quality performances and teaching workshops where the performers become the teachers and interact directly with small
groups of attendees throughout the four days of the festival. In addition to the workshops, there are numerous demo performances and session playing events where the history and culture that surrounds the music are discussed in detail. Performers arrive from all over the world to participate in this unique (to the U.S.) European style festival. The intimacy, education and just plain fun that this format allows are appreciated by performer/teachers as well as the students. The kind of tenacity that it takes to produce and continually grow the Spanish Peaks Celtic Music Festival first showed itself when Barbara saved enough money during her four-year under-graduate experience to finance a solo trip to Europe. She took a ship to England, spent six weeks as a stagehand for the York Mystery Plays, and then another six weeks exploring Scotland. “Mom was supportive,” she said, “and Dad was very nervous. He thought he might not see his daughter again, but I had a grand old time.” Upon arrival back in the US, at the suggestion of her father, she earned her teachers certificate and taught for a few years at a Quaker high school (Brooklyn Friends School) and at a public high school in New Jersey. Her next trip to Europe turned out to be a life-changing event. What started as a round–trip to Geneva became a one-way trip when she tore up the return ticket, sent a telegram to her parents advising them that she was staying and got a job teaching at the International School. Four years later she returned to the US, drove across country to Aspen, Colorado, got a job as a ski instructor and photographer and then received a grant to attend Northwestern University and get her Masters Degree in Theatre. In lieu of a written thesis, Barbara chose the option of completing a project. She started a theatre institute in Aspen that encouraged teachers to come and learn how to use theatre to teach many different subjects. For the next nine years, she taught at Northwestern during the school year and ran the theatre institute in Aspen during the summers. At this time, Barbara was a single mother and decided she needed a Doctorate Degree. She and her daughter were welcomed at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland where she earned her Doctorate Degree in Scottish Folklore, working on a comparative study of Scotch/Irish folk stories from Scotland and the Appalachian area of the U.S. While in Scotland, she married Jack Yule, an internationally known Master Harp Maker. Jack dreamed of being able to build a house for them, but the land and permits were just too expensive in Scotland. At the suggestion of long time friend Nancy Dick, they came back to the US in 2000 and bought land in the Gardner area of Colorado where Jack’s work on the house continues. It was Jack missing his friends and the Celtic music they played that inspired the invitations for musician friends in Europe to come visit which, in turn, inspired the beginning of the Spanish Peaks Celtic Music Festival. Throughout her life, Barbara has consistently displayed the courage to follow her dreams and the grit to cause them to manifest. As I stood at the end of the interview and watched her navigate to the door, I couldn’t help but reflect on how fortunate we are to have a force like Barbara Yule among us. I also observed that I no longer noticed her “delicate demeanor” but rather saw a courageous, tenacious and fun-loving woman.