At the Sunsinger circle one Saturday morning last fall, I encountered a fellow hiker and his wife photographing the Sunsinger. I stopped to chat, asking him if it was their first visit to The Park. It was not, but they had been away for almost twenty years. His studies and career lead him and his wife to other states.
He shared that his father had been a Mathematics Professor at the University of Illinois. He, himself, an undergraduate product of UIUC, now taught computer science and engineering at the university level. He continued that his childhood home, at least until the mid 1960’s, is now the ‘back side’ of Krannert Center. He remarked the great changes in his ‘old neighborhood’ since his childhood and college years.
We talked about the timelessness of The Park. He and his wife noted the many positive changes around The Park – improvements of recent years. The couple remarked they hadn’t remembered The Sunsinger to be ‘so green.’ I filled them in on his 2007 repatination that had, at least temporarily, removed the rust corrosion eating away at him, but had left The Sunsinger notably glowing teal green. We shared a laugh. He then proceeded to tell me about his friend’s CD entitled “The Sunsinger” whose cover art featured a photo of our beloved monumental statue.
I admitted that I was not familiar with the artist or his work. We parted ways. But, they had planted a new research seed – Paul Winter, “The Sunsinger.”
Who is Paul Winter?
Why did he feature our Sunsinger on his CD cover? What is his connection to our Park? This hiker knew him, but how? These are the kinds of questions that drive this research blogger….
First, the CD “Sunsinger”, released in 1983, and was readily obtained through an on-line reseller. Both Urbana and Champaign libraries held most of Paul Winter’s CD’s that provided a thorough introduction to his music.
“Best described as what has become New Age and/or World music, the Paul Winter Consort offered a new, jazz inspired music that quickly found a large audience. The Consort offered a blend of acoustic and electronic instrumentation, with Native American, South American and African influences.” on line source
A subsequent Google search revealed that Paul Winter, composer and musician, holds multiple Grammy awards. An undergraduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Mr. Winter launched a successful musical career before graduation that continues to date. The Paul Winter Consort founded in 1967, features Paul Winter, as lead saxophonist. The Sunsinger, released in 1983, won critical acclaim. Success continued with multiple Grammy Awards in subsequent years. He is an artist in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York City. He regularly performs there, most recently, giving sold out concerts in December of his annual Winter Solstice Concert.
The most recent Winter Solstice concert held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the December 15, 16 and 17th, 2016, included current consort members, Eugene Friesen, cello, Paul Mccandleuss, oboe, Paul Sullivan, keyboard, Eliot Wadopian, , Jamey Hadded, drums, Tim Broomfield, organ and Scott Sloan on Sun-gongs. The Consort was joined by vocalists, Gary Brooker and Theresa Thomson along with dance group, Forces of Nature.
Not only does the 1983 CD jacket feature a photo of the Allerton Sunsinger, but a printed descriptive identifies him as a ‘replica’ of the Sunsinger that stands in Stockholm, Sweden. The only information to add here is that the Allerton Sunsinger is not exactly a replica. It can be argued that every cast is a replica, but lifetime castings of the Sunsinger by the artist, Carl Milles makes the Sunsinger more than a replica. The Allerton Sunsinger is inscribed by the artist himself.
Paul Winter provided generous reply to the queries posed to him about his connection to our Sunsinger. Mr. Winter came to Robert Allerton Park to participate in a Tai Chi conference held at the House in 1983. (qi is very good in the Park) He came to the Park, only for the conference, and was unfamiliar with the history or offerings of the House and its accompanying Park. The first morning after arriving the night before, Paul headed out for an early morning jog before the conference started. He followed the main road through the Park and began to climb upwards. After several turns the road turned right “on a long straightaway.” (still the same today) Paul Winter explained:
“I thought I saw in the distance a man suspended in the air, who also seemed to be moving. At first I thought it must be an apparition, or that I was hallucinating. But as I came closer, I saw that he wasn’t actually moving, that it was my own up and down motion that had made it seem so. Finally, I realized it was a statue, with the base obscured by the mist. It was like a revelation.”
Paul continued about the Sunsinger.
Later in 1985, Paul visited the original Sunsinger in Stockholm, Sweden. He added that the Sunsinger at Allerton Park seems so much bigger and impressive than its Stockholm twin.
Paul referred to the Allerton Sunsinger as “majestic.” Many, if not everyone, agree. As Paul experienced, after a series of curves the road opens to a long straightaway, at the end of which, opens to an expansive plaza where the Sunsinger stands at its center. Depending upon the season, the sun position, the sky, the fog……. the view is always changing. Every ‘concert’ is different, even though the songs are the same.
Paul Winter performs an annual Winter Solstice Concert (Concerts) each December. 2016 was the 38th year of his Winter Solstice concerts at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The Paul Winter Consort was one of the pioneer performance artists of what is now considered New Age music. In 1983, it was just a newly inspired unnamed genre. In that year, Paul’s revelation from his close encounter with Allerton Park’s Sunsinger would inspire him to write and release the CD titled “The Sunsinger” which would lead to a long career that continues today. His concert performance within the Cathedral along with a light show, dancers and other performers must be an amazing experience. The Winter Solstice concerts have become so much of a New York City December tradition that the shows sell out each performance.
What could possibly compare to the Cathedral of St John the Divine as concert hall? Could a return to the Sunsinger for a Summer Solstice concert overlooking the meadow compare to a cathedral? Robert considered the Woodlands were the most important element of his estate which covers many thousand acres.
Within that woodland, Robert created aesthetic oasis to nourish the appreciation of nature. When the Sunsinger arrived in giant size, the Allertons had the financial resources to purchase a farm for its majestic perch. The Sunsinger became the far end of the formal garden axis, stretching from the formal landscaped garden, through the Sunken Garden to the Centaur and finally to the Sunsinger. Even on foot by the trail, the Sunsinger is invisible from the intersection. The hiker must climb some elevation before the Sunsinger clearly comes into view.
The Cathedral of St John the Divine is an amazing space. A chorus can be invited to perform a 30 minute concert, depending upon the schedule of services. Besides being an important historic site for New York City, the Cathedral is an active church. It is open for paid visit and included on the New York City tourist pass. An additional paid tour, offered only a few times each week, takes visitors into the upper balconies, into the inner attics of the arches below, and finally out to the roof.
Yet, in spite of St John the Divine’s stained glass and acoustic echoes within its chambers, our cathedral of Allerton Park rivals anything man made. Can a return visit to Allerton Park inspire Paul Winter to perform in our cathedral? Summer Solstice: a Return to the Sunsinger – Paul Winter – June, 2018?