Music at Bunker Hill Makes Acoustic Connections in South Jersey
In the baseball saga “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character proclaims, “If you build it, they will come.” And Carol Westfall, President of Music at Bunker Hill, believes this saying holds true as well for other things – such as a multi-concert-season chamber music series in Gloucester County.
Coming up on Sunday, November 25 at 3:00 p.m. is “Piano Quartet Masterworks,” a concert that brings together alumni of the Perelman Music Program to perform works by Beethoven, Fauré and Ernst von Dohnáyni.
Previous concerts this season included an eclectic afternoon of music performed by ETHEL (described by The New Yorkeras an “innovative alternative string quartet”) and “Trios,” a program of flute, harp and violacelebrating the 90th birthday of composer Thea Musgrave.
Music at Bunker Hill – held in Bunker Hill Presbyterian Church in Sewell – is now in its 11th year and its popularity is steadily on the rise.
“Our aim is to bring great music to South Jersey,” said Westfall. “We present professional musicians that one might expect to hear in New York and Philadelphia at a low cost to our patrons.
“We’ve gotten out the word about we are doing, and people have come and appreciated it,” she continued.
Artistic Director William Frampton concurs. “There is nothing else quite like this in the area,” he said.
Frampton is a professional musician and lives full-time in New York, but he’s also a Jersey boy, who spent many a Sunday morning at the very church where the series now takes place. And after college, he pursued the idea of bringing the music he loves to the area where he grew up.
“I was going around to these small towns with nice little venues, and I thought ‘why can’t we do this in South Jersey?”
Now, more than a decade on, MaBH is thriving and growing.
“Our concert series seems to fill a classical music void in the area,” said Westfall.
More than the individual concerts or the musical selections that are presented, the true value of the series may lie in the fact that it consistently provides remarkable live performances to its audience.
“This is totally different from listening to something on YouTube or your phone,” Frampton said. “Being in the moment with these professional performers absolutely transports the audience.”
As Artistic Director, it is up to Frampton to put together the seasons and each individual program and to gather the artists who will perform. His career as a professional musician exposes Frampton to a wide variety of artists and works, and those often provide ideas for concerts.
“Sometimes it is one or two specific pieces that inspire me,” he said. “Other times I get ideas from artists or groups I am working with.”
Basically, though, he is on constant alert to discover new and unique things to present.
Some concerts are more traditional, such as this spring’s string quartet performance with works by Beethoven and Dvorak, while others range to the less conventional end of the spectrum, like the triptych of three interlocking rap cantatas composed by Doug Balliett, or the concert that featured updated arrangements of Beatles’ songs, or the jazzy "A Cole Porter Afternoon."
Frampton believes that this intermingling of well-known works with new and innovative pieces is exactly what concert-goers enjoy most.
“We draw a predominantly local and regional audience, from all eight Southern New Jersey counties and occasionally from bordering states,” Frampton said, “and they come with an open mind and a desire to hear something different each time.”
“I feel very lucky that we have an audience that trusts us.”
Another special and always-enjoyable aspect of the MaBH concerts is that each is followed by a reception, which both audience and artists attend.
Organized and staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers, who also bring homemade snacks and desserts, the receptions are a casual, low-key way to make a meaningful connection between those on stage and those in the seats.
Frampton credits the volunteers and board members who regularly participate in these events. “We have really great volunteers,” he said, “some of whom haven’t missed a single reception.”
Martha Frampton, a founding member and the Executive Director of MaBH (and William’s mother), explained the organization’s structure to me.
“We have six board members, an Executive Director, a CFO and an Artistic Director,” she said. And she proudly pointed out that three of the series founders are still very active. “We also have 20+ people who volunteer to usher, post flyers, help with set-up and clean-up, and bake and serve at the receptions,” she said.
And, she added, the Board’s youngest and most recent addition, Shawn Garrone, has invited several Rowan University friends to help usher. “This is a great cross-generational asset for us.”
At the organization’s heart, though, is the pure joy of creating a community around music.
“The main thing,” Frampton reiterates, “is that live performances connect people and give them an escape. It is all acoustic music – with no amplification – and it just feels different to hear those sounds in real life,” he said.
“For that one or two hours, you are somewhere else.”