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Daniel Kelly (courtesy
Daniel Kelly (courtesy

"Voices From The Farm" premieres at Crane School of Music this Sunday

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This Sunday at 3 pm an original jazz suite, written in honor of the farmers of the North Country, premieres in the Sara M. Snell Music Theater at SUNY Potsdam.

Composer Daniel Kelly is bringing some of New York City's finest jazz musicians to the Crane School of Music for a concert that mixes jazz, the voices of local farmers, and traditional fiddling from Potsdam fiddler Gretchen Koehler.

The concert is presented by Community Performance Series.

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Joel Hurd: The name of the concert kind of tells it all: "Voices from the Farm: A tribute to the farmers of the North Country." But what exactly does that mean?

Daniel Kelly: If you want to describe this project, it is kind of like an NPR story core featuring farmers from the area with a film score by folk and jazz musicians.

JH: Well, there we go, that’s Daniel Kelly a world renowned Jazz composer who wrote the hour-long musical suite dedicated to the farmers he met in St. Lawrence County . This Sunday’s concert will feature some of New York City’s finest jazz musicians, the wonderful local fiddler Gretchen Koehler, and prerecorded voices of some of those farmers Daniel met this past December. Writing music inspired by voices is nothing new for Daniel. In fact, his first attempt at it was quite personal.

DK: It started when I found an old cassette recording of my great grandfather. And I never really knew him; he passed away when I was very young. But hearing his voice on this cassette recording was very mysterious for me and was a link to my past. And he was a fascinating person as well.

In his young life, before he had his family, he was a baseball player for the Philadelphia A’s and he played against Ty Cobb and these people in the 1910s.That’s very romantic to me. So as an improviser and a musician I started bringing this recording to my performances and playing it and improvising music around his voice. And I just love the idea of these voices of the past surrounded by my music, and that idea expanded to involve whole communities, not just my family, and I have been doing this kind of project throughout different places in New York State. Going into a community, talking to people there, hearing their stories and then setting them to music.

JH: What things about the farm community here in St Lawrence county did you learn that you didn’t expect? What surprised you?

DK: Well, first of all, as everyone in your area probably knows, just the work ethic is incredible. You know how hard the farmers work--I just couldn’t conceive of it. So it really made me respect what they were doing so much. All of the farmers had conviction about what they were doing, like this was something that they were called to do, and on different levels they found deep meaning in making food for other people. I found something that was very humbling and something that I deeply respect.

Ultimately the kind of mission of this type of composing that I am doing is to share commonalities through these stories, to share the viewpoints and opinions and thoughts of these people, and put them in a new context--in the context of  musical concert, so that these messages might resonate a little for the audience, but ultimately, that the message is one of community, one of compassion, and one of understanding, and one that we are all interconnect and we all rely on one another.

A lot of the music will feature local fiddler Gretchen Koehler, who is amazing. She opened up the whole world of North Country music to me. We met for an interview when I was here, and she played so many different tunes, and after I returned home we emailed and--scores of emails back and forth where she was playing tunes for me. So actually, many of the pieces you will hear are North Country fiddle tunes that have been arranged through my compositional voice, which kind of has a jazz edge to it.

Gretchen Koehler: This project with Daniel has been very interesting because we talked about the types of tunes that would be played in this area--something, you know, that wouldn’t be a usual tune to hear. Any fiddler around here knows the tune. And I play it in the traditional way, so I am not doing anything that is out of my element; I’m staying in my own element. What is happening is I will play the tune, and sometimes the jazz band is going to re-harmonize it while I am playing along. Or I will play the tune and they are taking solos over it, and then a few times I will play the tune and it stops, and then they take it on a little adventure, and then they give it back to me and I play more of the tune, and then it goes off with them. So that is what has been really exciting about the whole project.

You know, I am in Potsdam and Daniel’s in NYC, so we have been working remotely. When all of these pieces come together it's going to be new for me, as well. I haven’t heard the whole project played all at once, so I am very excited. What more would you want than to be on the cutting edge and doing something fresh and new? So I am thrilled.

DK: The joy of doing this is that the people who I have recorded--hopefully they will hear their own voices and they’ll smile. This concert is a celebration of the farmers and the work they do and what they do for the community and it’s a real act of love. I was really honored to meet them and can’t wait to hear the music I have created for them. And I can’t wait for the community to hear their stories surrounded by all this music that I feel really proud about and real excited about.

JH: Pianist Daniel Kelly, composer of "Voices from the Farm: a tribute to farmers of the North Country." The music in the background of the audio is from a trial run of the piece performed in Brooklyn last weekend. It features the same band that will be performing in Potsdam this weekend with the exception of the fiddler. Potsdam’s own Gretchen Collier wasn’t the fiddler for the Brooklyn show, but she will be there on Sunday at 3 pm in Snell hall at the Crane School of Music. You can learn more about the show at the Community Performance Series website

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