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“Voices From the Farm” tribute concert Sunday at SUNY Potsdam

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POTSDAM — A Sunday concert here will get down to Earth with the help of a New York City composer who has performed throughout the world.

“Voices From the Farm: A Tribute to the Farmers of the North Country” will be presented at 3 p.m. in SUNY Potsdam’s Snell Theater.

Brooklyn-based composer and pianist Daniel Kelly interviewed farmers in St. Lawrence County last year. Using these taped interviews as inspiration, he composed an hourlong musical suite that celebrates the area’s rich agricultural heritage.

“I was very humbled to hear the stories and very thankful, too,” Mr. Kelly said Monday in a phone interview from his home in Brooklyn. “I, like most people, go to the store, pick the food, throw it in the fridge and eat it without really thinking about how much work it takes to make that.”

Mr. Kelly was commissioned by four communities throughout New York state to create concert-length works in his Rakonto series for the 2013-14 concert season. Rakonto comes from the Italian word racconto, meaning story or tale.

Sunday’s concert is presented by the Community Performance Series. Traditional Arts of Upstate New York, North Country Public Radio and Cornell Cooperative Extension aided the project’s development.

The seed for the concert was planted two years ago when Mr. Kelly played piano at a CPS show by storyteller and musician David Gonzalez.

“He was really fantastic, so we struck up a conversation about his work and what he did when he wasn’t accompanying David,” said CPS executive director Amy L. Flack.

Mr. Kelly has collaborated in performances and on recordings with a wide range of artists, including Lauryn Hill, Michael Brecker, Bobby Sanabria, Harvie Swartz, Oliver Lake and the Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Nate Chinen of the New York Times called Mr. Kelly “a pianist and composer who confidently splits the difference between murky history and sleek progressivism.”

Mr. Kelly told Mrs. Flack about his project in which he records voices in communities and composes music based on the conversations.

“We thought it would be beautiful to take the story of our farmers who are contributing so much to us and our culture in the north country and to celebrate their stories and to hear their voices,” Mrs. Flack said.

Participants in the project were the Theobald family of Potsdam, Bob Andrews and Jack Bell of Gouverneur and Daniel Kent and Robert Zufall of Lisbon. The interviews were conducted in early December.

“The idea is that community members can come to the concert and they can hear themselves and they’ll hear their neighbors talking about their daily life, their beliefs, their memories and their experiences,” Mr. Kelly said. “It kind of paints a portrait of a community in a small way and also gives an opportunity for other members of the community to understand their point of view in a new and different way.”

The voices of the farmers will be mixed with the musical composition Mr. Kelly created. The ensemble he will bring consists of himself on piano, vocalist Jean Rohe, a guitarist, an acoustic bass player and a drummer.

A musical guest from the north country will be Gretchen P. Koehler of Potsdam, who in 2012 was inducted into the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame at the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame and Museum in Osceola.

“This is one of the coolest things I’ve done in a long time,” Ms. Koehler said in a CPS news release. “Daniel has taken traditional music and infused a contemporary flair. The performance will be a great mix of traditional fiddling, storytelling and jazz.”

Mr. Kelly said he tried to infuse a theatrical element in his north country composition.

“I tired to paint the picture of the farmers with passion and understanding, humor and drama,” he said.

Mr. Kelly performed a “warmup concert” of the work on March 22 in Brooklyn.

“It was really good,” he said. “It went over well.”

The composer said that the process of involving community members into his works has been extremely satisfying.

“It kind of feels like, ‘OK — I have some friends in St. Lawrence County now,’” Mr. Kelly said. “It’s not like I’m removed on a big stage, come in for a night and leave. I feel like I’m here with friends.”

Mrs. Flack said she hopes the “Voices From the Farm” concert will be heard beyond Sunday’s concert.

“I’m hoping that Daniel can find a way to perform it elsewhere and that the story will be told in different communities,” she said. “Farming is an industry we are so familiar with up here. But I don’t know the degree to which the story is leaving our region. I feel like it’s something that needs to be told.”

“Voices From the Farm” is one of five projects in Mr. Kelly’s Rakonto series. Four were made possible with support from the state Council on the Arts and one, in Queens, by a Chamber Music America Residency Partnership Grant.

In his other projects, Mr. Kelly interviewed people on Long Island about the effects of Hurricane Sandy on their communities, interviewed Bronx residents about their experiences and relationship with nature and interviewed residents of the Catskills about that region’s rich historical legacy. Also, in a junior high school in Flushing, Queens, Mr. Kelly and his ensemble gave master classes and workshops and collaborated with students to create a community concert.

Mr. Kelly said he plans to create many more community-based compositions.

the details
WHAT: “Voices From the Farm: A Tribute to the Farmers of the North Country” presented by Community Performance Series with assistance from Traditional Arts of Upstate New York, North Country Public Radio and Cornell Cooperative Extension
WHEN/WHERE: 3 p.m. Sunday at SUNY Potsdam’s Snell Theater
COST: Tickets are $15. They can be ordered through the CPS website at www.cps.potsdam.org or by calling the CPS box office at 267-2277
ON THE NET: www.danielkellymusic.com
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