Tag Archive | "folk music"

Charlie King Celebrates the Life of Friend and Folk Music Legend Pete Seeger

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Musician Charlie King (courtesy of Ella Engel-Snow).

By Tessa Raebeck

In honor of his friend and fellow traveler, the late folk music legend and social activist Pete Seeger, Charlie King will perform at a community concert Friday, February 21 at 7 p.m. the Windmill Village in East Hampton.

A musical storyteller and political satirist, King covers folk music from two centuries and four continents. His original music celebrates the extraordinary in the lives of ordinary people. King has recorded well over a dozen albums since he first came onto the scene in 1976.

His music supports peace, human rights and environmental advocacy. He has been honored with several humanitarian awards, including a 1999 Sacco-Vanzetti Social Justice Award following a nomination by Seeger.

“I try to cover a broad emotional landscape in my concerts,” said King. “The stories I collect and the songs I write take the listener on a journey of humor, heartache and hope. What I most value in a song is the way it helps us see an old reality in a totally new light.”

Seeger called King, “one of the best songwriters of our time.”

A spearheading figure of American folk music, Seeger died January 27 in Manhattan at the age of 94. Always using his music to advocate social change, he performed everywhere from labor rallies to the inaugural concert for Barack Obama on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

King will perform a community concert Friday, February 21 at Windmill Village II, 219 Accabonac Road in East Hampton. There is a suggested donation of $15 and all proceeds will benefit the Whalebone Village Apartment’s Parenting Program. Complimentary snacks, beverages and wine will be provided.

Get Back to the Land and Set the Soil Free

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There was a time, not so long ago, when some folks worried about the future of Sylvester Manor.

And for good reason. The 243 acre manor property on Shelter Island was founded as a northern plantation in 1651 and has been in the same family ever since. Archaeologically sensitive (there have been several digs on the property) and historically significant, when the irascible Alice Fiske, the lady of the manor, died in 2006 at the age of 88, many wondered what was next. Would Sylvester Manor and all its acreage be sub-divided for houses — a victim of the inevitable development that has taken so many other pastoral properties on the East End — or would there be someone to step in to usher forth new life, both figuratively and literally, at Sylvester Manor?

Meet Bennett Konesni, a family descendent and the new face of Sylvester Manor. A farmer, a fiddler and soon to be possessor of a post-graduate degree, Konesni is a busy young man. Between many hours of hard hands-on work at the manor where he is gearing up for his first official season farming the property, Bennett commutes regularly up to Keene, N.H. where he is finishing his MBA studies at Antioch, New England. He also makes music — fiddle, banjo and guitar are his preferred instruments — and is part of not one, but two bands made up of friends from his home state of Maine.

The curriculum at Antioch, which focuses on social and environmental sustainability, is coming in handy as Bennett figures out the details of setting up a viable model for Sylvester Manor. He envisions an educational farm that will provide high quality produce to the local community. As a musician, Bennett also wants to make sure that music is an integral part of life at the manor — complete with dances, concerts and workshops.

“I want to see a working farm, at least on part of it,” says Konesni who grew up in Maine, but visited Sylvester Manor as a child and spent a summer working on the archeological dig there as well as at Quail Hill Farm and the Green Thumb, where he cut his teeth as an organic farmer.

“There are about 30 acres of fields as we speak and another 30 to 40 where the brush has grown up into old field,” explains Bennett. “Another 40 to 50 acres is covered in invasive species. I’m starting next summer with two acres of the four acres in windmill field.”

The community will get its first taste of what Bennett has in mind over the Thanksgiving holiday with “Plant & Sing” a weekend celebration of Sylvester Manor. The three-day event includes a Friday folk concert at a Shelter Island gallery, community planting of cover crops on Saturday followed by a potluck supper and music at the manor house and a shape note singing session at the manor on Sunday morning.

Just last week, for the first time in years, windmill field at Sylvester Manor was ploughed and is ready to be planted. Community members are invited to come to Windmill field on Manwaring Road this Saturday at noon to help plant rye seed.

“We’ll line everyone up along one side of the field. We’re asking people to bring a mixing bowl to hold the rye seed,” explains Bennett. “We’ll all walk in a big line straight across the field and distribute the seed.”

Bennett explains that a cover crop like rye is the first step in building up the soil in advance of the planting season. In early spring and summer, crops will go in and Sylvester Manor’s first official growing season of the 21st century will begin.

“Lettuce greens is one of my favorite things to grow,” he says. “It looks good, grows easily and has high value, I also love tomatoes because people love tomatoes and are happy when you give them one. I love growing cold hardy greens for fall. I also love growing peppers and cabbage and heirloom vegetables that are different from the stuff you find in the supermarket.”

Bennett is starting small this year and will bring in a few neighbors to help establish the farm in its inaugural season next summer. He hopes to be able to supply vegetables to local restaurants and shops. By the following year, if all goes well, he will be ready to expand that vision.

“I’ll have a sort of alpha version of the CSA [community supported agriculture] this year with a team of neighbors who want to help in year one,” says Bennett. “It’s a super trial version and not really open to the public per se, this summer. I want to get it up and running smoothly. Next year there will be a sort of application process to get a share in the CSA.”

Bennett explains that with a field that needed planting and faraway friends who were curious about Sylvester Manor, he felt Thanksgiving weekend would be a good time to host “Plant & Sing.” Several of Bennett’s musical friends will be coming down from Maine to lend a hand and you can bet they’ll be bringing along their instruments.

“I knew I needed cover crops and knew I had friends and neighbors who wanted to see Sylvester Manor and I knew I wanted to have an opening celebration,” says Bennett. “I thought to do it all at once. If I have everyone here for the celebration and we could also do some work — put seed down.”

For Bennett, the combination of work and song has become a major passion and one he first contemplated seriously during his summer at Quail Hill.

“Four or five of us out there would be picking beans — talking sports, philosophy, literature,” says Bennett. “But eventually that died down and people wanted to sing. ‘Bye, Bye Miss American Pie,’ is good because it’s long, but that gets old quick.”

“So I started thinking of songs people used to sing in the fields and I thought about what people were singing back in the 1700s — people of all walks,” he adds. “Also the work songs aboard ships. I was a deck hand on schooners in Maine for five summers in high school and we’d sing while raising sails and bringing up the anchor. The first song I sang at a farm was at Quail Hill. I was using a wheel hoe, a friend said, ‘Bennett we have to sing. We need a song, let’s have one.’ So I sang a whaling song.”

After college, Bennett received a Watson Fellowship and expanded on the notion of worker songs. He spent a full year traveling through Europe, Asia and Africa documenting the work songs of farmers, fishermen and herders.

“What I saw was a real connection between movement and music,” explains Bennett. “The noise drives the workers. The work itself also drives the music being created. They continually inform each other. The most striking thing for me was the way you take a situation that is one of the most boring and difficult situations you can think of — like killing three acres of cassava with hoes — and totally transform that mundane experience almost into a recreation.”

“It’s not exactly a party, but it’s not blood, sweat and tears either,” he adds. “That’s a very fertile place. It means you’re enjoying yourself and getting stuff done. It explores the traditional dichotomy between work and play. When you’re having fun while working, it’s almost like not working.”

Bennett is keen to find a way to incorporate music into farming life at Sylvester Manor as well, as evidenced by this weekend’s “Plant & Sing.” He sees music as being integral to the fabric of the place.

“It’s putting the culture back in agriculture,” he says. “I’d like to see that be a big part of what happens at Sylvester manor which is the story of food and culture in America.”

There have been several eras at Sylvester Manor, including the first which began long before there was a manor — when Native Americans farmed and fished on Shelter Island’s land and along its shore. Many Native American techniques were put to use when Sylvester Manor was founded during the global feudal era — African, Native Americans and Europeans working side by side to supply food and materials to sugar plantations in Barbados. Sylvester Manor’s third era was from 1735 to the mid-1800s when it was a regional farm providing food up and down the East Coast. Bennett notes the manor’s fourth era can be traced to his great-great-great-grandfather, Eben Norton Horsford, chair of the chemistry department at Harvard and the inventor of baking powder who helped launch the industrial food era. He hopes that Sylvester Manor’s next era will incorporate the most positive aspects of its previous incarnations.

“The new model will keep the best of what was in the past — the best of creative and cultural interaction, the best of environmentally friendly food production and natural systems, the best of the robust regional food web.

“The sustainable food era will be the fifth era,” he says. “Delicious food that is fair to the people growing and buying it, healthy for consumers, the environment and finances, and a joy to be a part of. On the cultural side, it will be community oriented with song and art, dance and craft all in the process.

“Sylvester Manor has so many interesting legacies — from slavery to industrial food, it’s an amazing story,” he adds. “The fact I get to create this fifth era is exciting. This ‘Plant & Sing’ is the kick-off to that era.”

On Friday, November 28 at 7:30 p.m. “Plant & Sing” begins with folk music at Mosquito Hawk Gallery (24 North Ferry Road) by Lissa Schneckenburger and Bennett’s band “Fireside” which specializes in Appalachian songs and Scandinavian fiddle tunes. Saturday’s community planting of cover crops begins at noon and all are welcome. The Thanksgiving leftover potluck dinner and music follows at Sylvester Manor at 5 p.m. (this event is sold out) and on Sunday, Shape note singing begins at 10 a.m. For more information or to check on availability for events, call Sylvester Manor at 749-0626.

Above: Farmer Bennett Konesni in the freshly ploughed windmill field at Sylvester Manor



Old Time Music for the Parlor

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There was a time in our not so recent history when a question for most people was not, “do you play an instrument?” but “what instrument do you play?”

Before television, cell phones and the advent of the Internet, families and friends socialized not over an episode of “Survivor” but around a fireplace where they sang and made music on the popular instruments of the day.

The Bridgehampton Historical Society has set out to recreate that form of merry making with its Parlor Music Series which returns this weekend for a fall run after a successful debut last spring. Concerts will be offered Saturdays at 2 p.m. in the parlor of the society’s Corwith House and first up will be Larry Moser who will perform on the hammered dulcimer on Saturday, October 4.

“The idea is a single musician in our parlor making music as someone might have performed 100 years ago or more,” says Stacy Dermont, program coordinator for the society.

Dermont, who grew up on a farm in upstate New York, admits that the idea for the parlor music series can be traced to her rural heritage.

“Maybe a germ of this is a deep rooted jealousy,” she confesses. “I was too little to go to the square dance across the road that my neighbors had when they were teenagers. I thought they were the coolest people and to me at the time, it seemed like it was a huge rollicking barn dance. I sat on my side of the road just watching thinking, ‘Someday.’’

“In rural areas, it’s this idea of communal celebration, talking, singing, dancing and getting together.”

These days, Dermont is in a position to ensure she won’t get shut out of the fun — but because space is limited, lots of other people might.

“You don’t find live music except for church on Sundays. So I wasn’t surprised that it could attract that kind of sold out waiting room only audiences,” says Dermont of the spring series. “People latched on to it from day one. We had great audiences — consistently half of them from Sag Harbor and half from Bridgehampton.”

Larry Moser will be coming from Huntington with his hammered dulcimer. He also plays the guitar, accordion and English concertina, frequently at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration. Though often thought of as European in origin, Moser has found evidence that hammered dulcimers are much older than that.

“The Indians and Iranians today play the santour, which is like a hammered dulcimer,” he explains. “At Old Bethpage on Sundays, Orthodox Jews come. I knew it was at least 1,000 years ago, then one day, a man came and said it’s called a ‘santer’ and is in the book of Daniel in a list of instruments. Clearly that’s the same thing as santour, so it definitely goes back to the Middle East at least 2,500 years ago.”

The instrument then made its way to Greece courtesy of Alexander where it got its new name.

“The hammered dulcimer spread through Europe and into Italy in the 1500s where it became the harpsichord and the piano.”

But pianos and harpsichords were expensive, so hammered dulcimers were for poor folks.

“If it’s played with fingers, it’s called psaltery,” adds Moser. “There are very few psaltery players around anymore.”

The instrument made it’s way to North America in 1705 and was played up until the 1920s or so — at which point guitars and accordions came into favor. The Appalachian dulcimer, which is strummed, was invented in the early 1800s, developed by Scotch Irish settlers and has a much softer sound than the hammered dulcimer.

Moser notes there was a revival in hammered dulcimers when folk music made a resurgence in the 1970s.

“What limits it is the 29 courses of strings,” he says. “People ask me, ‘Is it hard to play?’ I tell them, ‘No, it’s easy to play. Just be prepared to spend half an hour a day every day keeping it in tune.’”

Admission to the Parlor Music Series  at the Bridgehampton Historical Society (2368 Montauk Highway) is $5. Seats sell out early, so reserve at 537-1088. Coming up on October 18, 2008  is nautical songsmith John Corr followed on October 25 by banjo virtuoso Bob Barta and a puppet operetta on November 1 by Liz Joyce and Steven Widerman.

 (Above: Larry Moser at the hammered dulcimer)