Back in 2015, when I was an event planner for the Office of Enrichment Programs at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, I had the great (a once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity to organise a unique concert with Paul Winter called "A Celebration of Whales". Marie-Laure Boulot, director of the Enrichment Programs (and founder of Océan Attitude), had invited Paul and his consort over in October 2015 to perform in front of several hundreds of people from our campus community. How well do I remember the spellbinding sound of Paul Winter's soprano saxophone intertwined with the sound of whales on stage. To me this concert was truly a reminder of how deeply connected we (still) are with nature and a testimony of what we share with the animals.
Seven-time Grammy® winner Paul Winter has a body of work that chronicles his wide-ranging experiences in the musical traditions and natural environments of the Earth. The saxophonist, composer and bandleader founded Living Music as the recording context for his ensemble, the Paul Winter Consort, and his community of colleagues, which includes some of the world’s finest jazz, world, and classical musicians, along with notable voices from the great symphony of wildlife. Paul participated in activities with the Greenpeace organization, and worked towards a successful integration of music and nature. Paul recorded his attempts at communication with whales off the coast of California, and used the tapes as the foundation of his 1977 album, Common Ground. Since 1980, Paul has headed a non-profit group dedicated to increasing public awareness of music's relationship to spiritual and environmental health. With his various ensembles, Paul has toured the world, performing over 3,000 concerts in more than 50 countries. In recognition of musical and ecological work, he has received a Global 500 Award from the United Nations, Joseph Wood Krutch Medal from the United States Humane Society, the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award, the Spirit of the City Award presented at New York’s Cathedral of St John the Divine, and an honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Hartford.
This month, on December 19th, 20th and 21st, Paul Winter is going to perform his 40th annual Winter Solstice Celebration at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, also known as the world’s largest cathedral. This year also marks the 50th anniversary for the Paul Winter Consort. This dazzling extravaganza of music and dance features musicians of the Paul Winter Consort, vocalists, dancers and drummers. The Winter Solstice special guest will be singer/songwriter and activist Noel Paul Stookey, best-known as a member of the famed folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Stookey was the producer of the Paul Winter Consort’s first two albums, in 1968 and 1969, and has been a key mentor and collaborator during those first 50 years of the band. Gospel singer Theresa Thomason, a beloved favorite of past Winter Solstice Celebrations, will also be featured, and the 10-member Paul Winter Consort will be joined once again by the 25 dancers and drummers of the Forces of Nature Dance Theatre. Broadcast on National Public Radio for the past 27 years, hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer, the Celebrations have become New York’s favorite holiday alternative to The Nutcracker and Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular.
The two great celestial milestones of the year, Winter and Summer Solstices, are perhaps humanity’s most ancient ritual observances. People paused at these times to reflect upon the journey of life, with its trials, blessings, hopes, and promise. The winter solstice is when the sun, on its apparent path across the sky, reaches its southernmost point from the celestial equator and seems to stand still before reversing its course. The winter solstice, on or about December 21st, is the longest night of the year, and the shortest day. So the long night of winter solstice is the true new year’s eve. This is the first time in seven years that the Saturday night concert will take place on the actual night of the winter solstice.
In 1980, Paul Winter and the Consort were invited to be artists-in-residence at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Paul Winter explains: “The dean had a personal mission to create a bridge between spirituality and ecology. He appreciated our music, but I think it was the ecological dimension of our repertoire that convinced him we could be part of the Cathedral. The premise of the invitation was entirely secular; it was not to have us play liturgical music. We could present any events we wanted, as long as we produced them ourselves. For our first major event, I wanted to find the most universal milestone we could celebrate, and I thought of the winter solstice, which embraces everyone who lives in the northern hemisphere of our planet. That December, we presented our first 'Winter Consort Winter Solstice Whole Earth Christmas Celebration.' I could never have imagined then that this would become an annual tradition and that the event would be enduring 38 years later.”
You can purchase your tickets online for Paul Winter’s 40th annual Winter Solstice Celebration: click here. Prices range from $20 (student tickets with code STU19) to $148.