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Music To Darken Your Days By

Leaf in the moonlight by Lachlan Donald
As the days continue to shorten, the light is scarce and as focus turns inward, I am happy to share a fantastic discovery: Sting's If on a Winter's Night... released earlier this year. The album continues on in the vein of a new direction for him (lute, percussion) which began in 2006 with Songs from the Labyrinth.

What I love about this album is it is a tribute to the challenge of the holidays"...a time of intense lonliness and isolation for many," Sting writes in the liner notes. It acknowledges the Christian and pre-Christian traditions of winter in the northern hemisphere by assembling ballads, poems and carols that span the centuries. It is very much a winter soulstice album that is a quiet delight to play as the holidays steam roll our cultural identities (either happily or not, depending on your point of view) during the next two months.

Especially wonderful is the pairing of Jesus and Mary text and words in "Gabriel's Message," "There is No Rose of Such Virtue" against what I'd call a gentle Middle Eastern percussion. If you like Sting's more mainstream music, it is easy to identify one of his two contributions to this collection: "The Hounds of Winter" about a lover now lost as cold December descends. Don't be fooled, he also collaborated on "Lullaby for an Anxious Child" with Dominic Miller.

For the Pagan traditions toward the turn of the season, "Soul Cake" is a fun throwback to a song sung by children at Halloween going door to door in search of pennies and cakes--the cakes being food to feed and honor the dead. "Christmas at Sea" is a sensual Robert Louis Stevenson poem about being at sea for Christmas. As a backdrop, the sounds of buoys clanging and a Gaelic women's working song from the Isle of Skye runs beside the melody.

Most touching of all the pieces is The Cherry Tree carol- which sent me off in a whirl research--trying desperately to assess what month of Mary's pregnancy it could have been referring to as she asks Joseph to 'gather her apples and cherries as she is with child.' It turns out, those are figurative references. Especially cool is the list of others who have recorded versions of this piece (Joan Baez, the Anonymous4 and more).

Looking forward in hope that all of these will be included in the collection of work addressed by "Songs of Sting," a vocalist and instrumentalist ensemble class that is typically available through the Jazz School in Berkeley. I'll hopefully get a chance one day to raise my own voice to sing from this awesome collection of music and message.

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