About This Site and About Bennett
WORKSONGS.ORG addresses three needs:
First, the need to share songs that people can use in their fields, markets, kitchens and at the table. Second, and more generally, my wish to understand and enliven the culture of food. Third, and in a universal sense, my desire to explore ways to make all work more fun.
I'm starting with the specific, the songs, hoping that they will lead us toward the more general and the more universal, so that everyone can get more done and have more fun doing it.
Because they help me work better, faster, longer. Because they're fun and a little weird and ragged. Because they don't have to be perfect. Because there's a gap in the study and appreciation of where music and work intersect. Because it helps me connect with generations of farmers past who've been trying to figure it out just like us.
I'm a Worksonger, farmer, musician, designer, planner, administrator, dreamer. I'm 31 years old and based out of Midcoast Maine where I grew up and also at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, NY where parts of my family have lived since 1652. I've been singing while working since I was a teenager working on schooners in Penobscot Bay in Maine. In the summer of 2000 our crew aboard the J&E Riggin won the schooner bum talent show with a hip-hop version of the sea shanty classic "blow the man down." My curiosity about worksongs became more serious when I began working at Quail Hill Farm in 2001. We sang sea shanties while weeding beans.
Later in 2001 My first college roommate taught me and my friends how to sing while running, "mchakamchaka", a Tanzanian tradition he grew up with in rural Tanzania. We took it to the streets of Middlebury, Vermont.
I studied abroad in Durban, South Africa and learned about the Zulu tradition "Ilimo," which is a community work/music party in which the fastest workers are rewarded with the first sips of beer. Songs fill the fields and the afterparty. My thesis was based on this research and involved a workshop at the Middlebury College Farm in 2004- one of the first worksong-specific workshops on an American farm that I know of.
2005-2006 brought me a TJ Watson Fellowship where I studied musical labor on three continents. Musical Fishing in Ghana and Holland. Singing, Dancing Farmers in Sukumaland, Tanzania. Livestock songs in Mongolia and Switzerland. I wanted to learn how worksongs fit into life in a variety of contexts, how song leadership and group dynamics worked, and I just wanted to learn a bunch of songs, which I did.
Since 2007 I've been using worksongs at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on Shelter Island, NY, collaborating with our crew to learn new songs and figure out how music could fit into a serious working farm. We call ourselves the Sylvester Manor Worksongers and can be heard at farmy events in and around New York and New England.
Over the past several years I've taught a couple dozen workshops at farms and farm conferences across the northeast and even been invited with my wife Edith Gawler to TEDxFruitvale to share a song.
I love these songs and the way they fit into work and life. I hope you do too. -Bennett