Worksongs, a life’s work

BakingPowder_horsford-3_0001_605“You can be a worksonger. It just means letting go whatever fears you’ve got and erupting into a joyful noise.” Words that are found at the top of one of the pages at Bennett Konesni’s worksongs.org. Bennett is a farmer and musician and his love for the particular musical tradition of worksongs is “a strange and wonderful coincidence”, he says.

He sang while he worked as a teen and young man, working on schooners plying the Penobscot Bay in his native state of Maine. He learned about the “mchakamchaka” chant of distance runners from a native Tanzanian. And he joined his uncle, Eben Fiske Ostby, in establishing Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, where the mission is preservation: of farmland, of the historic plantation, and of music.

“My love of worksongs grows out of my wish to understand and enliven the culture of food,” Bennett said in a recent interview. He was asked about the significance of the common call-and-response construction of the worksong.  “Before modern technology (recording and radio) caused a psychological drift, music was more participatory,” he said. The call-and-response song not only invites participation, it requires it, he noted. In the case of worksongs, their purpose is to satisfy the singer, and pass the hours. In other words, they’re solely for the entertainment of the participant.

The Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on Shelter Island, New York, is an organic farm, historic preservation, archaeological dig, and music festival site. Until this year, when the transition to a non-profit was completed, it had been continuously owned by the same family of European settlers since 1652, when it was founded as a provisioning plantation, importing sugar from Barbados. Slave labor was used in this endeavor. Later, it was the home of Eben Norton Horsford, inventor of baking powder and gilded age industrialist (he’s pictured above), and previously, it was a Native American hunting ground. In addition to the other work, the farm sponsors a group of worksongers.

Remaining connected to this history is part of the “chain of arts” that Bennett sees connected to food. “Farming, connected to eating, as well as preparing. Singing, planting, and growing. Bringing together groups for the sheer fun and joy of sharing. Barn dances,” he said, enumerating links in that chain. Work songs are both a beginning and an end to to this chain.

Here’s a list of Bennett Konesni’s upcoming appearances:

Feb 7 – Concert & Workshops w/Gawler Family, Walton Public Schools, Walton, NY

Feb 8 – Concert w/Gawler Family, Mettabee Farm, Hillsdale, NY

Feb 10 – Mchakamchaka Workshop, Brooklyn, NY

Feb 11 – Mchakamchaka Workshop, Brooklyn, NY

Feb 12 – Mchakamchaka Workshop, Brooklyn, NY

Feb 13 – Kickoff Worksong, NOFA-VT Conference, Burlington, VT

Feb 14 – Worksong Workshop, NOFA-VT Conference, Burlington, VT

Feb 15 – Music w/Edith&Bennett for NOFA-VT Conference, Burlington, VT

Feb 15 – Concert as Edith&Bennett, Signature Sound’s Parlor Room, Northampton, MA

Feb 16 – Worksong Workshop & Music at NY Botanical Gardens, Bronx, NY

Feb 17 – Worksong Workshop & Music at NY Botanical Gardens, Bronx, NY

Feb 18 – Worksong Workshop & Music at NY Botanical Gardens, Bronx, NY

Feb 20 – Workshop and Talk at Bio4Climate Conference, Arlington, MA

Feb 21 – Concert w/Edith&Bennett, Youth Trad Song Showcase, Folksong Society of Greater Boston, Somerville, MA

Feb 22 – Day-long Worksong Workshop, Brooklyn, NY

Mar 27 – Elsiepalooza – Art Opening at Belfast Co-op w/Gawler Sisters, Belfast, ME

Mar 27 – Concert w/Waldo County Ramblers, Camden Opera House, Camden, ME

Mar 28 – Concert w/Gawler Sisters, Benefit Concert for Ashwood Waldorf, Rockport Opera House, Rockport, ME

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