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Animal voices.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Twenty-five years ago, Paul Winter - whose music sounds more New Age than New Testament - was asked to write a Mass for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Winter wasn't, at first, quite certain he was the man for the job, even though he and his group, the Paul Winter Consort, were then artists in residence at the liberal Episcopal cathedral.

"I actually thought they were kidding," Winter said.

They weren't.

At that point in his life, Winter knew next to nothing about the Mass as a musical form. "They didn't have them at the Presbyterian church in Altoona, Pa., where I grew up," he said in a phone interview last week.

So the dean of the cathedral invited Winter to come to church on Sunday and hear the Mass sung, using the four traditional texts: the Kyrie, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei and the Gloria.

"I began imagining this Mass celebrating the Earth," Winter said, "using the different animal voices that have become part of our repertoire. I asked the dean, could we celebrate the entire Earth as a sacred space? Can we have the animal voices as celebrants in the Mass? Everything I asked him, he said was possible."

The resulting Mass - which the Paul Winter Consort will perform Saturday in Eugene with the Eugene Concert Choir - was unlike anything heard before in the cathedral.

The Kyrie is based on a wolf howl, the Sanctus on a theme from the hump-backed whale. The Agnus Dei comes from the voices of harp seal pups, and the whole thing is set to Brazilian and African rhythms.

Missa Gaia, as the new Mass was called, premiered on Mother's Day in 1981. Soon, though, the cathedral started using it to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis on the first Sunday in October, along with a blessing of the animals. On that day, a procession through the cathedral is led by an elephant, a camel and a llama.

"It has become the most popular event of the year at the cathedral," Winter said. "We did our 25th annual St. Francis day at the cathedral this past October - 4,000 people and maybe 1,000 animals."

Winter has performed several times in and near Eugene. The most memorable occasion, he said, was about 20 years ago when he was invited by an environmental group - he didn't recall which one - to play in a clear-cut in the Cascades.

"It was way up a logging road," he recalls. "That was unique. That was a magnificent event, a daytime event with a number of different musicians."

Winter, now 66, began playing music as a child in Pennsylvania. While a student at Northwestern University in Chicago, he formed a jazz sextet and won the 1961 Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, leading to a deal with Columbia Records. After a Latin American tour arranged by the U.S. State Department, Winter lived part time in Brazil in the mid-1960s, where he was strongly influenced by the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos.

He launched the Paul Winter Consort in 1967.

"I borrowed the name 'consort' from the ensembles of Shakespeare's time, the housebands of the Elizabethan theater, which adventurously blended woodwinds, strings and percussion," he has said.

The Paul Winter Consort has played in concert halls around the world and in venues as varied as the White House and the Grand Canyon. Winter has been honored with everything from several Emmys to the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal for service to animals from the United States Humane Society.

It was in the late 1960s that his music began to be strongly influenced by the sounds of nature, from the songs of the humpback whale to the howling of wolves. He interweaves these recorded sounds with the musical instruments of the consort to arrive at a genre he calls "Earth music." Despite the popularity of his Missa Gaia, or Earth Mass, Winter is not conventionally religious. His religion, in a sense, is music.

"The thing about music is, music is ultimately very Buddhist. It embraces and accepts everyone, all creatures. I am interested in the universals that all people share, and that may be the common root of all religious traditions.''

Winter is now at work on a musical piece he calls "Flyways," celebrating bird migrations from Eurasia through the Middle East to Africa. The project will combine music from more than 20 countries.

CONCERT PREVIEW

Paul Winter Consort, Eugene Concert Choir

Where: Hult Center, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $15 to $28, through the Hult box office, 682-5000

CAPTION(S):

Paul Winter and his group will perform with the Eugene Concert Choir on Saturday at the Hult Center.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; Paul Winter's version of the Mass celebrates the sounds of nature
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 9, 2006
Words:789
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