On Stage: The Crossing finds a safe way to perform together at Bowman’s Hill

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Crossing

If you go to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope this weekend, you just might hear trees sing – although you’re more likely to hear singing by a choir. But if you tune in spiritually, you probably will be able to hear both human and arboreal singing.

On October 3 and 4, GRAMMY-winning new-music choir The Crossing, led by Donald Nally, will present a unique, socially distant, live performance titled “The Forest” at Bowman’s Hill.

“Because of COVID-19, we can’t actually sing in a conventional way,” said Nally, during a phone interview Wednesday morning. “Singing in an enclosed space has proven to be unsafe.

“We thought, ‘How can we make art—make work and art for our singers?’ We came up with the idea of singing outside for people.”

In a time when choirs cannot sing and perform together in conventional ways, “The Forest” features the 24 singers of The Crossing performing along a trail at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve — situated in the sounds and sights of the woods while audience members walk, socially distanced, through the soundscape and landscape.

“We have six-foot pillar speakers right on the path where singers are 25-30 feet off the path and 40 feet apart,” said Nally. “They can be intimate and whisper softly. Listeners can walk the path, which is .3 miles, in 20-25 minutes.”

Under the guidance of in-house sound designer Paul Vazquez, “The Crossing” has developed a new amplification system, Echoes, to present “The Forest” in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Echoes allows singers to stand and safely sing 30 feet from each other and from the audience while listeners walk along a well-worn, mostly flat path of approximately one-third mile lined with speakers.

Bowman’s Hill

“The Forest” focuses on the symbiotic relationship between individual trees and the forest — a metaphor for the relationship between each singer and the ensemble. The libretto is formed from The Crossing singers’ reflections on their isolation during COVID-Time, overlaid with texts from Scott Russell Sanders’ essay “Mind in the Forest.” The music has been developed by conductor Donald Nally and assistant conductor Kevin Vondrak.

Though the work captures the isolation of singers during the pandemic, Echoes paradoxically allows the experience to be intimate and personal. The 20-minute, intimate experience attempts to reestablish those currently-broken relationships between singers and audience members, and tells The Crossing’s story — a story of a planet in crisis, its people and its forests in peril, and a story of hope and a way forward.

“I wanted to do pieces that are really personal,” said Nally. “The thing that we’ve been missing is connection. We’re trying to create a scenario where connection is evidenced, and we decided on Bowman’s Hill. The piece is a metaphor for what happens between a single tree and the forest – how they relate to each other.”

Nally made reference to the book, “The Secret Life of Trees.”

Colin Tudge’s “The Secret Life of Trees: How they Live and Why they Matter” explores the hidden role of trees in our everyday lives — and how our future survival depends on them. Tudge travels around the world to explore the beauty, variety and ingenuity of trees everywhere — from how they live so long to how they talk to each other and why they came to exist in the first place.

“Trees communicate with each other,” said Nally. “They protect their young. This whole piece is a big metaphor for this relationship.

“We’ve been working on this for a while. Once we decided that we’d do all this, we ordered the equipment in July. It’s been months in the making. We’ve had Zoom time with our singers. We met in late March and developed the protocol. We have to do it one at a time and overlay it.

“In the forest, everyone has their own musical event. There are 24 singers and their speakers. The speakers are independent and have 12-hour batteries. As you walk through, a harmonic cloud develops. There are patterns and notes change as you move through the piece.”

The Crossing is a Grammy-winning 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. Many of its nearly 110 commissioned premieres address social, environmental, and political issues.

The Crossing collaborates with some of the world’s most accomplished ensembles and artists, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, Network for New Music, Lyric Fest, Piffaro, Beth Morrison Projects, Allora & Calzadilla, Bang on a Can, Klockriketeatern, and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).

With a commitment to recording its commissions, The Crossing has issued 21 releases, receiving two Grammy Awards for Best Choral Performance (2018, 2019), and five Grammy nominations. The Crossing, with Donald Nally, was the American Composers Forum’s 2017 Champion of New Music. They were the recipients of the 2015 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, three ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming, and the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award from Chorus America.

Recently, The Crossing has expanded its choral presentation to film, working with Four/Ten Media, in-house sound designer Paul Vazquez of Digital Mission Audio Services, visual artists Brett Snodgrass and Steven Bradshaw, and composers David Lang and Michael Gordon on live and animated versions of new and existing works.

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, founded in 1934, is the nation’s only living botanical museum specifically devoted to native plants –including 134 acres of diverse habitat on 4.5 miles of trails.

Located at 1635 River Road in New Hope, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve inspires the appreciation and use of native plants by serving as a sanctuary and an educational resource for conservation and stewardship.

Autumn at Bowman’s Hill brings glorious trees and shrubs with brilliant foliage and fruit. Some of the October blooms are Goldenrod, Closed Gentian, White Snakeroot, New England Aster, Frost Aster and Blue Root Aster.

“The Forest” experience is available by reservation only, entering at timed intervals in family pods (1-4 people), with two-minute buffers between each group. Pods walk along a prescribed trail, in a loop that does not require them to double back across other audience members or singers. Comfortable shoes appropriate to hiking or long walks are required.

The event will be held October 3 and 4 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. each day with a rain date listed for October 5.  For more information, visit https://thecrossing.ticketleap.com/the-forest/details.

Timed entry requires audience members to arrive 10 minutes prior to the entry time. Upon arrival, staff will check-in, and the audience will queue for staggered entry into the piece. In order to maintain safe distancing, late arrivals cannot be guaranteed entry. Masks must be worn at all times.

The work is 20-25 minutes long and visitors are welcome to enjoy The Pond area of the preserve afterward. This performance is outside, along a well-worn, mostly flat path of approximately .3 mile. An additional walk of .4 mile along a paved path is required to return to parking.

Video link for The Crossing — https://youtu.be/bAV-mAmQl7s.

The Candlelight Dinner Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) has found a way to have outdoor concerts on the theater’s grounds in a way that audiences could feel safe from the threat of exposure to COVID-19.

The theater’s “Summer Nights Outdoors at Candlelight” series which kicked off in July with an acoustic show performed outside of the Candlelight Theatre by Joe Trainor and Brendan Sheehan of the popular local band Beatlefest and then followed with a show in August featuring Lyric Drive.

The next installment in the series will feature a return visit from Lyric Drive. On October 4, the Candlelight Theatre will host the popular Delaware-based band in an encore matinee performance.

Lyric Drive

Lyric Drive is an acoustic/electric cover band from Wilmington. The band plays cover songs from artists such as Eric Clapton, Jamiroquai, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Steely Dan, Grateful Dead and Dispatch. Lyric Drive plays all over the First State at venues such as the Lighthouse in Dewey Beach and Catherine Rooney’s in Wilmington

Lyric Drive is a quintet anchored by the Stewart brothers – Ted on acoustic guitar and vocals and Andrew (a.k.a. “Stew”) on vocals. The band also features Brad Newsome on electric guitar and vocals, Pete Wiedmann on bass and Tim Kelly on percussion.

“My brother and I have been doing this since we were teenagers,” said “Stew” Stewart, during a phone interview Tuesday evening.

That puts the group’s longevity at more than two decades as Stew is 38 and Ted is 40. The other three band members are in their late 40s.

“Tim has been with us since the mid-2000s and Pete joined a few years later,” said Stewart. “Brad was the last one to join.

“It started when Ted and I were doing an open mic at Annie’s wings to Go in Wilmington’s Little Italy. Tim heard us play and asked to join us onstage. We played a few songs together that night and that was it. We’ve played together ever since.

“Tim is best friends with Pete and they both play together in the band Love Seed Mama Jump. Pete booked us a gig at the beach. After that, we started playing gigs every Sunday at the Pond in Rehoboth.

“The five of us played together for the first time when a guy booked us to play a wedding in 2014. We pulled off a wedding with no rehearsal together. It worked good so we said – we’ve got to keep doing this.”

The Stewarts’ love for English rock bands happened naturally back in the 90s.

“We went to high school in London,” said Stewart. “Our dad worked for DuPont and was transferred to England. We lived in Hampstead for five years. I was drinking beer in pubs when I was still in high school.”

Hampstead is an area in north London about four miles northwest of Charing Cross. It is also about five miles from Highbury, the former home stadium of one of England’s top soccer teams – Arsenal F.C. (a.k.a. the Gunners). Not surprisingly, Stewart is a big fan of the Gunners (as is the Kinks’ Dave Davies and Sex Pistols/PIL vocalist Johnny Rotten/John Lydon).

“I’m still a big fan of Arsenal,” said Stewart. “When we moved to London, all my friends were Gunners’ fans.”

Stewart also maintains a love of beer. In his day job, he runs a beer distributing company.

And he maintains a love of playing live music – something that has been severely challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Before COVID hit, we were playing every weekend – two times a weekend,” said Stewart. “By the end of January, we had our whole summer booked – especially with a lot of shows atSchaefer’s Canal House in Chesapeake City, Maryland.

“Almost all the indoor stuff got cancelled. Schaefer’s Canal House cancelled the whole summer even though they had the space. We did play a few outdoor shows like Frank’s Wines in Wilmington.

“We also did some livestream shows. We did a Fathers’ Day livestream at Candlelight with no-one there. It seemed to get a lot of views. We also played a livestream show for the Arden Fair.”

On September 10, Lyric Drive returned to the Candlelight Theatre for a “Summer Nights Outdoors at Candlelight” show.

“We sold out that show,” said Stewart. “It was really good. But there wasn’t a lot of dancing because everybody had to stay seated. Still, it was nice to hear applause.

“We have a wide variety of songs we can play going back to songs from the 60’s. We play a lot of songs that we like. It just so happens that audiences like these songs too. We’ve been playing songs from the 60’s and 70’s and then the 80’s crept in.”

Lyric Drive plays covers of good, tight pop tunes from the classic rock era and later and that means Stewart can’t play any of his favorite band’s tunes.

“Phish is my favorite band,” said Stewart. “I like the Dead but I love Phish. I’ve seen them play more than any other band.”

Right now, there are no Phish shows but there are Lyric Drive shows.

“We have an outdoor gig on October 9 at Dew Point Brewing Company in Yorklyn (Delaware),” said Stewart. “And we have the gig at the Candlelight this Sunday. The Candlelight is awesome.”

Tickets for Sunday’s show are $20 per person — with different seating options. There are limited tables available for groups of 5-8 people, but any party that is four or less will have spaces marked out in the parking lot where it can set up lawn chairs to enjoy the show.

Food (Mashburg by Wildwich) and beverages will be available for purchase and a bar is available for those 21 years of age and older.

Information and Safety Guidelines –

– Required at all times when not seated
– Encouraged while seated, unless eating or drinking
– Staff will be masked
– Hand sanitizer will be provided
– There will be limited parking available in the lot, overflow parking will be at Ivy Gables.
Pathways / Restrooms / Accessibility:
– You will need to walk up a small hill / incline to use the restroom.
– Restrooms will be indoors and will be monitored / cleaned by a volunteer.
– A pathway will be marked out, following all of the parking spaces closest to the theater. The pathway will be 16 feet wide and will be marked with directions.
– There will be a 16-foot buffer area between the band and patrons to provide safe spacing for all involved.

“Our capacity for the event is approximately 120 people,” said Candlelight Theatre Operations Manager Dan Healy. “We can safely do 150 with social distancing if we move the parking.

“The spacing is at least six feet if not eight feet and the tables, which are for parties of five-to-eight, are 10 feet apart. And the stage is more than 20 feet away from the audience.”

Other shows in the “Summer Nights Outdoors at Candlelight” series feature Mason Dixon on October 10, and Vanessa Collier on October 24.

Video link for Lyric Drive — https://www.facebook.com/120290714738449/videos/3076786492398000/.

While the weather is still nice, you can enjoy some low-key, outdoor, socially distanced shows at a variety of local venues.

Zeek Burse

People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, peopleslight.org) is hosting its “People’s Light Drive-In Concert Series” with Zeek Burse on October 4, Stella Ruze on October 11 and 49 Burning Condors on October 18.

The Zeek Burse concert on October 4 will be recorded live. You can preorder the limited release of “Zeek Burse Live at People’s Light” for $25. CD proceeds benefit the Black Theatre Alliance of Philadelphia (BTAP), a coalition committed to supporting and uplifting the Black theatre artists in the Greater Philadelphia area while challenging and encouraging the Greater Philadelphia theatre community to be more proactive in their commitment to equity and equality. Learn more at blacktheatrephiladelphia.org.

Cedar Hollow Inn Restaurant and Bar (2455 Yellow Springs Road, Malvern, www.cedarhollowinn.com) will present Bill Hake on October 2, Late April on October 9, Sunshine Jones on October 10, Matt Sevier on October 17, Kendal Conrad on October 22, Nicki Sbaffoni on October 23 and Jerry Watkins on October 29.

Stable 12 Brewing Company (368 Bridge St, Phoenixville, stable12.com) will host Hake and Jarema on October 9, Kendal Conrad on October 23, and Rick McSteve on October 24.

Penns Woods Winery (124 Beaver Valley Road, Chadds Ford, www.pennswoodswinery.com) will present Amanda & Teddy on October 3, Nicole Zell on October 10, Greg Jones on October 11, Adam McCue on October 17, Paul Wilkinson on October 18, Jason Ager on October 24, Jeff Kessler on October 25, and Hanna Paige on October 31.

The Bordley House (1520 Tattersal Way, West Chester, www.bordleyhousegrille.com) will host Adam McCue on October 5, Bryan McDermott on October 19, and Ziggy Isaacs on October 26.

Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com) will present Mike Kropp on October 3, Bill Ferreri on October 9, Clint & Mr. Mody on October 16 and Mr. Mody on October 23.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment