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Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here “Farming” debuts in Bucks County


No better place could be the venue for a musical poem promoting conservation than a farm, off the beaten path in Wrightstown Township.

After an immersive concert last fall, “Walking the Farm,” The Crossing, Philadelphia’s adventuresome new-music choir, returned to Kings Oaks Farm with a new border-challenging production.

The Crossing performed the world premiere of “Farming,” as rain threatened, on three days in June in a hangar at Kings Oaks Farm, home of oil painter Alex Cohen and theater artist Clara Weishahn.

Familiar with The Crossing’s work, Clara and Alex reached out back in 2020 to ask if the choir would ever consider doing a project at Kings Oaks. “It was a fortuitous connection because, at the time, we were in the planning phase for “Farming,” which was originally conceived to take place on a working farm,” said Jonathan Bradley, executive director. He added that the conductor grew up on a farm in Bucks County so the connection was a perfect match.

A collapsed bridge on I-95, surely added to traveling uncertainties for the 24-member cast, the six musicians, the 17 members of the production team, and the audience, all bound for Bucks County. Bradley called it the group’s largest self-produced project ever, and it was three years in the making.

“This week we are in the studio recording the ‘Farming’ soundtrack,” Bradley said in an email message the week following the premiere, “and on Saturday we fly to the Netherlands to perform at The Big Sing festival in Haarlem. After that, ‘Farming’ makes its final appearance in Katonah, N.Y., at the Caramoor Center for Music and Art.”

According to its website, “The Crossing is a professional chamber choir conducted by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music. It is committed to working with creative teams to make and record new, substantial works for choir that explore and expand ways of writing for choir, singing in choir, and listening to music for choir.”

The Grammy-winning choir has commissioned more than 160 premieres, often addressing social, environmental, and political issues. On a local note, Lambertville composer Robert Maggio created a new work The Crossing produced in 2019, setting to music words of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Arsenal of Democracy” radio speech from December 1940.

“Farming,” composed by Ted Hearne and directed by Ashley Tata, focuses on agriculture as a business, using words of William Penn and yes, Jeff Bezos, at two ends of America’s time spectrum. Penn’s words come from his letters, among them his “Letter from William Penn to the Kings of the Indians in Pennsylvania,” written in 1681.

Bezos’ words were spoken in a keynote address for Technology Review’s Emerging Technology Conference in 2006 – “We also sell groceries” – in testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives committee “We make decisions based on the long term value we create ...”

“Farming” was meant to be performed in an open field. Unfortunately on opening night, with a drizzle underway and rain predicted, the musicians and the constantly moving and stamping chorus clad in Dunkin’ Donuts pink and orange had to be sheltered. Stomping on the hangar’s floor contributed to the beat of the keyboards, guitars and drums.

Composer Hearne explains in his notes, “Farming speculates a new corporation, powered by quasi-religious fervor and a companywide investment in the belief that their mission, when actualized, will create a new and better world for people.”

The words of both Penn and Bezos advocate for work and agriculture. “You can only be proud of the things you earn,” Bezos said at one lecture. Speaking of the indigenous Indians, Penn said, “All parts partake.”

The chorus determines that it can solve America’s immigration problems, a major problem for the food industry. It advises temporary guest workers to join the Federation of Employers and Workers of America (FEWA).

“We’re Monitoring” is the title of the final segment. At the end, the choir warns, “We’re all in this together. ... Eat local. Let’s support our #OpenForDelivery.” The group enjoins the audience to join them in a consistent support for conservation.

Kings Oaks Farm, with an enormous barn, a small chapel and lush vegetable and flower gardens, and a spectacular view, presents a unique background for low key art exhibitions and intimate musical performances. With Clara, Alex co-creates Art at Kings Oaks, an annual invitational group exhibition at Kings Oaks.

“Farming” is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

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