Winter Solstice Celebration
COMMENTARY BY PAUL WINTER
HODIE/GOOD PEOPLE ALL (Winter Solstice 1988)
Keyboardist Paul Halley created this opening suite. The music culminates with the interweaving of its three principal melodies, played by sax, cello and flute. This “Consort polyphony” is a hallmark of Halley’s genius as a composer, and the tapestry of themes symbolizes for me one of the great messages of the solstice: unity in diversity.
I should explain our unusual stage set-up. Our stage is placed in the middle of the Cathedral, with half the audience viewing it from the west, and half from the east. This is why the performers in center-stage are continually turning from one side to the other.
The center of the stage is an open floor for the dancers. This is flanked by scaffolding, which has half the Consort on the north side and half on the south, so all the musicians are playing at right-angles to both the east and west audiences.
SOUND OVER ALL WATERS (Winter Solstice 2004)
John Greenleaf Whittier wrote these words shortly after the Civil War, as a poem of reconciliation. Over 100 years later, Paul Halley set them to music. The song sounds to me like it was written for winter solstice.
SUN SINGER (Winter Solstice 2016)
This is my anthem to the sun. It was inspired by a great statue that stands in Stockholm harbor, a 15-foot bronze of an ancient warrior, standing with arms up-stretched, calling to the Sun. His weapons lay at his feet. He has embraced peace.
KURSKI FUNK (Winter Solstice 1991)
The Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, whom we had met and performed with in Moscow in 1986, are here for the first time in our solstice celebration. This was during the period of “glasnost” in Russia, when they were allowed to come to the United States. It’s likely that many people in our audience that night had never seen a Russian in person before. The Ensemble received a royal welcome.
“Kurski Funk” is based on a traditional song from the Kursk region in southern Russia. You may recognize it, as our recording of this song from our joint album with the Pokrovsky Ensemble, Earthbeat, was used as the theme for the TV series Survivor.
FIRST RIDE (Winter Solstice 2016)
This was originally a duet improvisation by cellist Eugene Friesen and pianist Paul Halley, on their 1985 album New Friend. The structure felt so organic that they transcribed it verbatim, and it is now played as a composition.
THE BLACKTHORN TREE (AN DROIGHEÁN DONN) (Winter Solstice 1996)
Nóirín Ní Riain, from County Limerick in Ireland, sings in the “sean nós” (old style) tradition.
Nóirín says of this song: “Ireland is dotted with sacred groves that pre-date our life here, and the tree spirits are alive and well therein.” In the lyric, the woman compares her beloved to the beauty of the blossoms and leaves of the Droigheán Donn, the Blackthorn Tree.
SALTY DOG (Winter Solstice 2016)
The voice of a Humpback Whale introduces this classic Procol Harum song. Gary Brooker said he got the unique opening chord from the voicing of a train whistle he heard. I had loved this piece of music since first having heard it in 1970. Procol Harum was my favorite rock band besides the Beatles.
NEL COR PIÚ NON MI SENTO (Winter Solstice 1988)
I first heard Rhonda Larson in my SoundPlay workshop at the University of Idaho in 1986. She may well be the finest flute player on the planet.
LUA SOBERAMA (Winter Solstice 2013)
Brazil’s renowned singer-songwriter Ivan Lins has long been a legend to me, since I was beguiled by his song “Velho Sermão,” in 1977, to which we put English words in creating the title song for our album Common Ground. It would be 38 years then before we met Ivan in person, two days before this performance.
GARDEN OF THE EARTH (Winter Solstice 1991)
This is a traditional Russian song that we had recorded with the Pokrovsky Ensemble in Moscow for our album Earthbeat in 1987.
LAMBAN (Winter Solstice 2019)
The Forces of Nature Dance Theatre, founded by Abdel Salaam, has been our sister ensemble, as fellow artists-in-residence at the Cathedral, since the 1980s. They have been integral to almost all our Solstice Celebrations. Needless to say, they are my favorite dance troupe on the planet.
“Lamban,” a celebratory and processional dance form, originated in the Mali Empire, and is danced in Mali, Guinea, and Senegal. “Lamban” is used in the Solstice Celebration to sing songs of praise, to honor the legacy of the Cathedral, and, as an extended metaphor, the lineage of Solstice Celebrations – from over tens of thousands of years – and to honor the sun, towards the preservation and keeping of the planet. The choreography is by Abdel Salaam.
JOURNEY THROUGH THE LONGEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR (Winter Solstice 2004 and 2016)
A free improvisation, by bass clarinet, cello and sax, leads us into the mystery of the night forest.
As in a dream sequence, a wondrous “solstice tree” emerges – a tree of sounds, adorned with bells, chimes and gongs, symbolizing the diversity of the life family.
The voice of the Uirapuru, the “Musician Wren” of the Amazon forest is heard. (A legend of the Mawé people of the Amazon says that if you are lucky enough to hear the voice of the Uirapuru in the forest, you will have everlasting happiness).
LAY DOWN YOUR BURDEN
Theresa Thomason sings of the “dark night of the soul.”
A Siberian shaman, with his reindeer headdress and his drum, appears as a guide.
In Siberia, the association between reindeer and shamanism is ancient and especially important in the cultures of the Khanty, Yugra, Evenks, Enets and Chukchi. In their mythology, reindeer often do the essential service of ferrying spirits to the next world, sometimes symbolized by a world tree.
THE GOLDEN BOAT
The Pokrovsky Ensemble comes through the Cathedral carrying a golden boat.
The ancient Slavs imagined the sun as a golden boat that travelled beneath the Earth. In an annual ritual they would carry a boat through the village in the hopes that the procession’s imitative magic would ensure the Sun’s return from the underworld.
Barred owls, in duet, usher in a great storm.
BELLS OF SOLSTICE
Bells are sounded throughout the Cathedral, ringing out the old and heralding the new.
Philippe Petit, the Cathedral’s high-wire artist-in-residence, rappels from the 125-foot vault of the nave to the stage, bearing the torch to ignite the Sun. He then leads a grand procession to the eastern end of the Cathedral, where the Sun Gong awaits.
RETURN OF THE SUN
The giant Sun Gong, rigged from the roof of the Cathedral, and played by Scott Sloan from his bosun’s chair, makes its slow ascent up into the vault.
A salute to the Sun, by the entire cast.
Projecting form the gallery beneath the Great Rose Window, high in the west wall of the Cathedral, is a set of 61 long State Trumpets, that comprise one of the most powerful organ stops in the world.
In the far eastern end of the Cathedral, 500 feet away, where the organ console and organist sit, there is also a smaller set of state trumpets, among the 8,514 pipes of the great Aeolian-Skinner Organ.
To call the audience back from intermission, organist Tim Brumfield improvises an antiphonal fanfare duet between these two State Trumpet choirs, almost two blocks distant from each other. At the climax of the duet, you hear both trumpet choirs together.
ICARUS (Winter Solstice 2015)
Composed by Consort guitarist Ralph Towner in 1970, “Icarus” has long been the Consort’s theme song.
PRAYER (Winter Solstice 2012)
2012 was the 50th anniversary of my first band, The Paul Winter Sextet. We re-formed the group to make a cameo appearance in this solstice celebration.
“Prayer” was composed by pianist Warren Bernhardt during our 1962 State Department tour of 23 countries of Latin America. It is one movement of his “Suite Port au Prince,” inspired by folk songs we heard in Haiti.
Our special guest this solstice celebration was Abdoulaye Diabate, a renowned griot singer from Mali. We loved the idea of him also singing with The Sextet.
CANYON CHACONNE (Winter Solstice 2014)
The Grand Canyon has long been a favorite place of pilgrimage for me, and over the course of several decades I have made a series of river-rafting recording expeditions through the Canyon. My favorite acoustic spot in the Canyon is a little-known side-canyon we found, that has a seven-second reverberation time, coincidentally the same as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. We named it “Bach’s Canyon.”
I improvised these variations there on one of our expeditions, and brought them back to the Cathedral, where Paul Halley created the harmonic accompaniment on the organ.
Abdel Salaam had the idea to choreograph this. It’s one of the most unique collaborations I’ve ever been a part of.
SWEET MEMORIES (Winter Solstice 2015)
Fabiana Cozza is a beloved Brazilian singer who is not yet well-known in the States. She sings, and moves, with exquisite grace.
DAWNWALKER (Winter Solstice 2004)
Davy Spillane is perhaps Ireland’s most eloquent contemporary player of the Uilleann (elbow) pipes. This instrument is so-named because the bellows that produce the air are pumped by the elbows. Davy was the original piper for the show “Riverdance.”
THE HOUSE SONG (Winter Solstice 2019)
Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul and Mary, wrote this for the trio’s 1967 album, entitled Album 1700. Noel had invited the original Consort to back him on the album. It was the first recording we ever made.
Noel then became the producer of our first two albums: The Winter Consort and Something in the Wind.
HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING (Winter Solstice 2019)
Noel Stookey and Theresa Thomason perform together here for the first time. I call it a “spontaneous convergence.”
This song is one of the great American anthems, one which we learned from Pete Seeger.
SONG OF THE BIRDS (Winter Solstice 2014)
Eugene Friesen offers his own version of this traditional Catalan song, which was made famous by Pablo Casals, father of the modern cello.
THE FIRST DAY (Winter Solstice 2019)
Clark Goering came from Colorado to play with the Consort for the first time. His instrument, the euphonium, one of the lesser-known brass instruments, has a warm and poignant voice that fits the Consort very well.
Pianist Jeff Holmes wrote this euphonium solo piece for our solstice concert.
A WHITER SHADE OF PALE (Winter Solstice 2016)
Gary Brooker sings his masterpiece, one of the most unique and enduring songs in popular music history. It is an extraordinary marriage of the earthy and the sublime, with Gary’s bluesy voice holding forth over a harmonic journey inspired by Bach.
“A Whiter Shade of Pale” propelled Gary’s band, Procol Harum, to international fame, and was the number one single in the world in 1967, an amazing feat at the height of the Beatle years. It sold more than ten million copies worldwide, and is the most played recording in the history of British broadcasting.
THE RAIN IS OVER AND GONE (Winter Solstice 2019)
Theresa Thomason sings another masterful gospel song by Paul Halley. It serves as a kind of book-end to his “Sound Over All Waters” which Theresa sang early on. The words were adapted from “The Song of Solomon.”
SILENT NIGHT (Winter Solstice 1991)
This universal lullaby has been sung in more than twenty languages by our various special guests, over the four decades of our solstice celebrations. Nóirín Ní Riain sings it here in Gaelic.
During this music, a giant Earth Ball is carried through the Cathedral, that symbolically becomes the “child” we must take care of.
SONG FOR THE WORLD (Winter Solstice 1991)
Paul Halley wrote this anthem as a gift to the Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble during the weeks we were recording our Earthbeat album with them in Moscow in the spring of 1987. All of us then I think felt the optimism that a new friendship between Russians and Americans could transform the world.
As this song begins, the Earth Ball, hooked to an overhead cable, slowly rises, spinning, till it reaches the vault of the Cathedral.
WOLF EYES (Winter Solstice 2013)
This is my honoring song to the Wolf. The seed-theme comes from the song of a Timber Wolf recorded in the Superior National Forest of Minnesota.
I want to dedicate this performance of “Wolf Eyes” to the Very Reverend James Parks Morton, former Dean of the Cathedral, who first invited us to play here in 1980.
You’re welcome to howl along at home with us.
My daughter, Keetu, grew up loving Irish dance. From when she was quite small, she began performing a cameo with us in our solstice concerts, dancing to the famous jig, “Blarney Pilgrim,” which the Consort had recorded on our album Celtic Solstice.
This was the year when Keetu, aged 16, passed the mantle to her little sister, Kaiyana, whom we see then in time-lapse footage, dancing to this song for the next seven years, from ages 8 to 15.
This is a traditional song known to most everyone in Brazil.
AULD LANG SYNE
As the night of Winter Solstice is the true eve of the new year, it feels appropriate to end our solstice celebration with “Auld Lang Syne.”