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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
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
"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
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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