Posted by on Dec 10, 2014 in Paul Winter Updates, Solstice

an interview with Paul Winter by Nicholas Tuff


NT: Could you tell me how you first came to play at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine?

PW: Thirty years ago, the Consort and I were invited to be artists-in-residence at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. We aspired to create music appropriate to this extraordinary acoustic space, with its seven-second reverberation. It’s two football fields long and tall enough to accommodate the Statue of Liberty.

NT: And how about the Winter Solstice Celebration? How did that come about?

PW: I dreamed of presenting a musical celebration that could resonate with all people regardless of background or age. It occurred to me that the most universal milestone we could celebrate would be the winter solstice.

Over the years, this event has become a shared rite of passage through the longest night of the year. The Cathedral’s all-embracing vastness overwhelms our differences, and yet welcomes and affirms our diversity.  Of all the places I’ve played in America, only two could host an event on this scale: the Cathedral and the Grand Canyon.

The performance has slowly grown to inhabit the entire space of the cathedral, all the way up to the 150-foot ceiling.

NT: So it was natural for you to have this event at the Cathedral?

PW: The Cathedral is unique, among all the performing venues in which I’ve played throughout the world, not only for its titanic space but because of its long welcoming tradition, which resonates with the inclusivist theme of Winter Solstice, and the mission of the Consort since it began 40 years ago.


NT: What is your hope in offering the Winter Solstice Celebration?

PW: My aspiration is that the audience will come away with their spirits awakened, and with a deepened sense of relatedness to the world, and to the family of life.

NT: So music as a catalyst?

PW: Music has a great ability to bring people onto common ground. Within the embracing and uplifting ambience of the Cathedral, in the context of this universal milestone of Solstice, this celebration can offer a deepened experience of unity with the peoples and creatures of the world’s community.

NT: Embedded in the Winter Solstice experience is a deep sense of tradition. What is your hope with the rite of offering this event?

PW: The ancient rituals were intended not only  to get people through the winter and darkness, but to deepen them in the process. By going down to the depths of darkness, we feel a sense of humility in the face of nature. And by doing it together, we rekindle the bonds of our community.

NT: And what is your hope for the audience?

PW: I’d like to invite people to come with a sense of adventure — to have perhaps some new musical experience and also to go deeper into themselves. I want to take people on a journey, and bring them home.

NT: If there was a theme that best exemplifies this event for you, what would it be?

PW: The theme for Solstice is renewal. And the context for this is reunion — reconnecting with our community and thereby rekindling the fire in our hearts. In our event, we celebrate the entire community of life, and creatures of the larger family of nature, as well as the diversity of cultures in the human family.

NT: If there was one word that comes to mind when you think about Solstice, what would it be?:

PW: If I had to choose one word to sum-up what Solstice means for me, it would be a toss-up between “smile”, and “US.”


NT: You mentioned how the Solstice is universal. Could you elaborate on that?

PW: It’s universal because it has to do with our relationship with the Sun … and there’s nobody on Earth that doesn’t have some relationship with the Sun. And for Northern People at this time of year, the weather becomes an inclusivist context. We’re all together in the cold and dark, and somewhere deep down within us is a yearning for sunshine.

So there is perhaps a deeper need to reach out to each other than at this time of year. There is a deeper yearning to reconnect, a yearning for community and relatedness.

Solstice is the turning point, for the Earth, and so it can be for us.

It’s a celebration of light — of the return of the sun and the rekindling of the fire in our hearts.

Winter Solstice, a turning point at year’s end, was traditionally the true New Year’s Eve. It is an opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed, a time for new beginnings and celebration, a ritual of renewal.

The winter solstice is when the sun, on its apparent path across the sky, reaches its southernmost point from the equator and seems to pause before reversing its course.

Peoples of the northern latitudes once met this critical turning point with mingled expectancy and foreboding, for the longest night of the year was also the uncertain threshold of return towards the year’s fullness, and required the enactment of special regenerative rituals to ensure the sun would wax again.

Observing this key moment in the relationship of the Earth to our Sun gives us a rare opportunity to get in touch with the fact that we live in and are part of a solar system, which itself is a particle of our galaxy, the Milky Way, which in turn is one of billions of galaxies in the great Universe.

Traditionally, Solstice has been a time of reflection, gratitude, forgiveness and renewal. My aspiration is that the audience will come away with their spirits awakened, and with a deepened sense of relatedness to the family of life, to the Earth, and perhaps even to the cosmos.

… in the lineage of ancient solstice celebrations. For the ancients, this celebration represented a reaching out to the cosmos, to the sun, to this mega-relationship.


NT: So this year, you have invited one of the top Latin artists and are offering a tribute to Latin American culture. Could you tell me more about this?

PW: The first time I heard Danny Rivera’s voice, it made me think of sunshine. It’s one of the most beautifully sunny voices I’ve ever heard. And yet he can sing with the bomba drums with the power and soul of the Afro-Puerto Rican heritage.

It fascinates me that just about everywhere we go in the “New World” we find music that has been born from the convergence of European and African cultures. And in each place, from the same of Brazil to the jazz of North America, it’s unique. Puerto Rico is no exception.”

NT: Who is Danny bringing with him?

PW: The Puerto Rican musicians Danny is bringing include: his music director Ricky Martinez, who plays accordion, piano, trombone and flute; Pachito Vega, who plays guitar and the 10-string Puerto Rican mandolin called cuatro; Nicky Laboy, who plays the bomba drums; and bomba singer Nina Rodriguez.

NT: And, of course, there’s the great Gospel singer, Theresa Thomason?

PW: Theresa Thomason is perhaps the most extraordinary as-yet-undiscovered singer on the planet.