Celebrating the Earth

Celebrating the Earth

Paul Winter Consort to perform in benefit concert for Guilford Community Church

BRATTLEBORO — The Guilford Community Church (GCC) is bringing the Paul Winter Consort to Brattleboro for a benefit concert, and its pastor, the Rev. Lise Sparrow, is both excited and anxious as she gears up for the largest fundraiser her church has ever attempted.

“It's going to be really big,” she says. “We have joined together an incredible group of internationally acclaimed musicians with beloved local artists to present a concert dedicated to saving the earth.”

On Saturday, Oct. 25, at 7:30 p.m., the Paul Winter Consort will perform “In Celebration of the Earth,” at the Latchis Theatre.

Soprano saxophonist Paul Winter, one of the pioneers of world music, combines elements of African, Asian, Latin, and Russian music with American jazz, incorporating the sounds of nature and wildlife into his acoustical compositions. The complex vocalizations of the humpback whale, wolves and birds become an integral part of the music he performs.

Appearing in this fundraiser for the GCC with Paul Winter will be four-time-Grammy award winning cellist Eugene Friesen, gospel singer Theresa Thomason, percussionist Todd Roach, pianist Jeff Holmes, and the Greater Brattleboro Choir of the Community under the direction of Peter Amidon.

“In Celebration of the Earth” might not have ever happened without Nobel Peace Prize prize winner Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental and political activist who died in 2011.

“Wangari visited our church several years ago and established a strong relationship with our congregation,” Sparrow said. “Some time later, members from our church went to her village in Kenya to work with its children who had AIDS.

“When we were there, we discovered the land has been severely deforested from Colonial days to make way for the great tea plantations. When the colonialists left, the land was barren. In a way to help the country's future, we planted 10,000 trees to support Kenya's children.”

The GCC choir performed at Wangari Maatha's funeral at St. John the Divine in New York City.

“It was there I met Paul Winter, who has become a dear friend of our church,” Sparrow adds. “When I suggested he do this concert, which is about reclaiming the earth, he said he was delighted to help us. He has a powerful body of work which celebrates the cultures and creatures of the whole Earth.”

Winter's musical odyssey has long embraced the traditions of the world's cultures, as well as the wildlife voices of what he refers to as “the greater symphony of the Earth.”

From the early days of his college jazz sextet, which toured Latin America for the State department and performed the first-ever jazz concert at the White House for the Kennedys in 1962, to his later ensemble, the Paul Winter Consort, his concert tours and recording expeditions have taken him to 52 countries and to wilderness areas on six continents.

He has produced 45 albums, of which seven have been honored with Grammy Awards. Since 1980, Paul and his Consort have been artists-in-residence at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where they have presented over 200 unique events, including their famed annual Winter Solstice Celebration.

Since 1978, composer and cellist Eugene Friesen has performed with the Paul Winter Consort, and he has won four Grammy Awards for musical contributions to Consort albums.

An artist-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Friesen lives in Vermont where he founded Sonoterra, a nonprofit dedicated to “facilitate musical collaborations and artistic dialogues to encourage intercultural communication,” such as its Creative Cello Workshop in Bellows Falls.

The Latchis concert will also feature American Gospel music singer Theresa Thomason as the special guest. She has performed in over 150 European cities, as well as at the United Nations where she sang for the Dalai Lama.

Thomason has been a featured artist with the Paul Winter Consort at the annual Solstice, Missa Gaia, and Earth Mass celebrations at St. John the Divine.

Local singers from the Greater Brattleboro Choir of the Community, led by Peter Amidon, a professional musician and Choir Director at GCC, will be performing alongside these international luminaries from the Paul Winter Consort for five musical pieces.

Amidon has created a choir specifically for this event.

“In the past, I have put together such a pick-up choir for other events, which I always call the Choir of Community, even though the performers vary each time,” Amidon says. “However, with 65 singers from all over the tri-state area, this is the first time I assembled a choir on this scale. These singers are all very good, but they have to be because we will be performing challenging music. Usually I rehearse the choir a couple of hours before performance, but here we will have four full rehearsals. “

Choir of the Community will be performing from Paul Winter's “Missa Gaia,” “Canticle of Brother Sun,” and “Blue Green Hills of Earth.” They will also sing “Common Ground” by Paul Winter, as well as “To My Old Brown Earth” by Pete Seeger as arranged by Paul Halley, and “Sound Over All Waters” with words by John Greenleaf Whittier and music by Paul Halley.

“Some of these piece will be familiar to audiences in our area,” says Amidon. “'Blue Green Hills of Earth' is the most famous work we do, and Susan Dedell performed 'Missa Gaia' with the Brattleboro Concert Choir last spring.”

Nancy Leitch, director of development for Youth Services in Brattleboro, says, “One reason Paul Winter was so ready to help us out is that this concert fits in with the GCC's green and musical mission and vision. GCC is known in the region for several things: its commitment to the environment, and its global and community outreach, and its musical ministry.”

Sparrow says, “The proceeds from the concert will go towards our efforts to green up the lot next to our property.”

GCC recently purchased a plot of land next to its church. “We hope to return it to the wetland's natural state. There is also a beautiful brook running through the lowland. If our goal is to bring the land back, we must clear the overgrowth 50 feet from each side of the stream.

“On a part of the land, we want to provide a community space for a playground, labyrinth, or outdoor concert facility. There is also a structure on the property we hope to convert into a daycare and food pantry, and if that doesn't work we will build a new one.

“As we work to get as much done as we can before winter settles in, we hope to pull out debris on the property which includes an old car. We are calling this enterprise the Green-Up Project.

“'In Celebration of the Earth' has two missions, the first is get the funds to help us to become good caretakers of this land. The second is open everyone's eyes to the central issue of our time, the care for the earth and for our children.”

Paul Winter has long been deeply involved in protecting the land and saving endangered species.

“His living music is dedicated to these goals,” says Sparrow.

When Sparrow took part in last month's People's Climate March in New York City. Paul Winter chose to walk with her and GCC members.

“The march was an amazing uplifting experience,” Sparrow says. “I am a child of the Sixties, and what I found most striking was how peaceful the whole thing was from the other social marches I joined in the past.”

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