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Paul Winter: Peace For All Creatures

This article by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on January 13, 1999. All rights reserved.

In lining up the Paul Winter Consort for its 15th

annual Concert for Peace on Earth, the Peace Action Education Fund

has outdone itself. For 14 years now the group has mounted a benefit

concert performed by altruistic — and widely-known — musicians

who share its ideals. Like his predecessors, Winter sees eye-to-eye

with his sponsoring organization about the need for working for global

abolition of nuclear weapons, a peace economy, and a halt to weapons

trafficking. In addition, he would extend the umbrella of peace to

cover the animal kingdom. He welcomes the sounds of wolves, whales,

and birds into his music, and is conscious, not only of human relations,

but of the relation between man and nature. The concert takes place

Saturday, January 16, at 8 p.m. in the Princeton University Chapel.

Winter’s music draws on the traditions of many of the world’s cultures.

He incorporates instruments outside the American tradition, and melodies

from other cultures in his music. He looks to nature not only for

sounds, but for occasions, celebrating summer and winter solstices.

His "Living Music" record label, known for its New Age offerings,

has been nominated for nine Grammys and won three.

Interviewed by telephone from his home in Connecticut, Winter notes

that his paternal grandfather, a singer, organist, and composer, was

a bandmaster in the Civil War and founded a music store in Altoona,

Pennsylvania, where Winter was born in 1939. Winter’s father played

violin. His aunts and uncles on his mother’s side played a variety

of instruments.

Winter’s musical instruction began with clarinet at age seven. He

considers seven a good age for starting a single-reed wind instrument.

At nine he switched to saxophone, which he calls a "close cousin"

of the clarinet, and came to like saxophone better than clarinet.

In the saxophone family Winter started with alto saxophone, and eventually

settled on soprano sax — "the one I like best," as he

calls it. "Each saxophone has its challenges," he says. "With

soprano saxophone the challenge is keeping it from sounding too shrill."

His piano lessons continued throughout his childhood.

By the time he finished high school, Winter had played

in "The Little German Band," a more or less standard band;

a Dixieland band; and a nine-piece dance band called "The Silver

Liners." His first professional tour came when he was 17.

At Northwestern University, Winter majored in English and gave himself

an education in jazz by frequenting Chicago-area jazz clubs, and brought

his jazz interests to the public through a group called the "Paul

Winter Sextet." The combo competed successfully in the 1961 Intercollegiate

Jazz Festival, and was signed by Columbia Records. In 1962 the State

Department selected them as the first student jazz group to be sent

abroad, and sponsored their tour of 23 Latin-American countries. The

tour exposed the group to new musical and social ideas, and led to

their incorporating Brazil’s bossa nova rhythms into its sound. At

Jackie Kennedy’s invitation, they became the first jazz group to perform

officially at the White House.

In 1967 Winter first heard recordings of the humpback whale. He also

became fascinated by wolves. It would take 10 years before the animal

sounds found their way into a Winter recording. Nevertheless, deciding

that he could incorporate the sounds of nature into his music, Winter

formed the Paul Winter Consort, in which he plays soprano saxophone.

The consort plays a mix of improvised and notated music. Instrumental

configurations shift.

"When a player of a particular instrument has been with us a long

time, and leaves — someone whose playing we value — we often

replace him with a different instrument," Winter says. "It

has a lot to do with the person. But we have a core of musicians who

have been playing together for 20 years; they’ll all be with us in

Princeton." That core includes cellist Eugene Friesen, whom Winter

credits with technical innovations on his instrument, and percussionist

Glen Velez, whose specialty is playing drums where fingers are used,

rather than sticks.

Winter considers the consort a uniquely American phenomenon. "It

has to do with the cultural convergence that came together in the

United States," he says. "All the players in our consort grew

up with the whole gamut of music common to American small towns: dance

bands, marching bands, church music, piano lessons, civic symphonies.

Their experience is of a quintessentially American music, with one

foot in each of the two cultures that converged in North America:

Europe and Africa, with equal allegiance to Bach and to jazz; and,

like America, embracing the many different traditions of the music

of the world."

To institutionalize his ideals, Winter formed the Living Music Foundation

in 1976, committed to "exploring and implementing ways in which

music can be used to enrich the lives of human beings, and awaken

a spirit of involvement in the preservation of the wildlife and the

natural environments of the Earth." Since 1980 it has released

30 recordings by the Paul Winter Consort.

The following year Winter led a combined whale-watching and music-making

workshop in Baja, California, which led to the album "Common Ground."

Here, for the first time, recorded animal sounds mix with the sounds

of the consort.

Winter traveled with the biologists in Glacier National Park in order

to make wolf recordings. "We went out at night to places where

we thought the wolves might be," he remembers. "I played soprano

sax and they began howling." To make the recording, Winter and

the scientists, locating themselves about a quarter mile from the

wolves, used a highly sophisticated digital-audio recording device

that measures a mere six inches by four inches by two inches, and

what Winter calls a "very good directional mike."

In 1980 the Reverend James Parks Morton of New York’s

Cathedral of St. John the Divine named the Paul Winter Consort artists

in residence, fulfilling his vision of bridging the gap between spirituality

and ecology. As artists in residence, the consort has expanded on

conventional religious observances by presenting annual programs to

mark the summer solstice in June and the winter solstice in December,

and by mounting a Mass for the Earth on the first Sunday in October.

During the 1980s, Winter traveled frequently to the Soviet Union,

doing his part to bring a thaw to the Cold War. The first of his 15

trips took place in 1984. He treated Soviet audiences to the music

of the humpback whales, just as he exposed American music to their

songs. A 1985 PBS television program featured Winter in San Francisco

with a chorus singing simultaneously from Moscow.

"I haven’t thought about the Cold War in a long time," says

Wiinter. "I had an opportunity to go to the Soviet Union in the

1980s, and I made wonderful friends. I would hope that any friendship

with another individual, especially one from a country with which

our country has had difficulties, would be contribution to world peace.

It’s impossible to measure how large such a contribution is to the

larger picture. But it’s easy to tell how important it is to our own

lives. It was a tremendous nourishment to me and to the other musicians

to have made friends with people in Russia and Siberia, and to have

made music with people there."

In 1990, Winter and his wife, writer Chez Liley, returned to the area

in the company of Peter Matthiessen and Russian environmentalists

to investigate Siberia’s Lake Baikal, and to make an album recorded

outdoors at the site. The lake contains about 20 percent of the earth’s

fresh water and 1,200 rare species of plants and animals, which are

threatened by factories in its vicinity. The Sierra Club published

Matthiessen’s account of the visit, which was edited by Liley, as

"Sacred Sea of Siberia."

Liley has recently finished a book about trees. She also plays bassoon,

and tends the Winter’s daughter, two-year-old Keetu. The name Keetu

comes from the Mahican Indians of northwest Connecticut, and is part

of a phrase that means "one who sings of light."

Winter’s Lake Baikal recording has yet to be issued. "In a way,"

he says, "it’s a sequel to the album I made in the Grand Canyon.

They’re both outdoor recordings. They’re both in huge spaces —

about 300 miles long. If you drained the water from Lake Baikal, it

would be about the size of the Grand Canyon. The lake is about a mile


Winter’s most recent recording is a two-CD set, "Paul Winter:

Greatest Hits." It includes an enhanced interactive CD-ROM narrated

by Winter. While listening to the music, cyber-space enthusiasts can

simultaneously click on icons that enable them to hear Winter tell

about his mission, his boyhood bands, his jazz sextet, the Paul Winter

Consort, his recording company, and his activities at the Cathedral

of St. John the Divine.

Winter sees no discrepancy between his desire to get back to nature

and his use of contemporary computer technology. "Everything we

do with regard to recording involves modern technology," he points

out. "Our everyday life involves modern technology. We all have

electric lights. It’s part of the industrial era in which we’re living.

The challenge is how to use technology in the least destructive way.

Sitting in front of computers for a long time is not the best thing

for us. A person would be better off playing their own music, rather

than watching someone else play. But if they’re going to be watching

the screen anyhow, the CD-ROM can be a great educational tool."

— Elaine Strauss

Paul Winter Consort, Coalition for Peace Action,

Princeton University Chapel, 609-924-5022. Patron tickets are $100;

and concert admission is $25 to $75. Saturday, January 16, 8 p.m.

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