Winter Solstice Reflections

December 21, 2022
Author: Artistic Directors

The shortest day of the year invites us to quietly reflect and hope. In this spirit, we have asked our Artistic Directors to share a memory of the season with us.

Founding Artistic Director, Stephen Stubbs

The life of a performing musician is one of incessant traveling – such that the Christmas holidays often looks like an oasis of quiet communion and rest. But the years of the pandemic stood this on its head, with most of us staying home much more than usual and trying to find ways to stay connected to friends and audience remotely. Now that live concert events seem viable again, there is a palpable feeling of both relief and excitement when performers and audience can commune together as it was in the “before times”.

The Christmas concerts of Pacific MusicWorks this season were an outstanding example of this feeling. Now that we are regularly doing concerts at Seattle’s welcoming church venues (St. Stephen’s, Trinity, Epiphany, Christ Our Hope), it is more apparent to me than ever that these venues offer more than just a lovely acoustic for our music: they offer a space for communion between musicians and audience that is now an even more treasured experience than before. Even the unusual occurrence of a medical emergency for one of our patrons at the Epiphany concert on Sunday the 11th, was further proof of a shared humanity. Audience and performers all remained quiet and attentive as emergency medics arrived and helped. For the duration of the concert, including  the emergency, we functioned as a mutually supportive “village” which was a fulfilling experience of the Christmas spirit.

Illustration: Carson Ellis

Co-Artistic Director, Henry Lebedinsky

When I was an undergraduate at Bowdoin College, I served as conductor and music director for the annual Festival of Lessons and Carols, a beloved college holiday tradition. My choir and orchestra were made up of a mix of students, faculty, and members of the community – a truly intergenerational experience for everyone involved – and certainly a learning-on-the-job experience for a certain seventeen-year-old freshman on the podium. The college President’s wife would pay for the chapel, a mid-19th century reproduction of some ancient English collegiate edifice or perhaps St. Ethelwynn’s in-the-gorse in Badger’s Drift, to be decked with fresh balsam fir and other festive greens. And every year, on the afternoon of the first service, I would go to the chapel alone and sit in the back in silence, knowing that in a matter of hours, this space would be filled with so much music and singing and joy.

But at that moment, it was just me in the grandly vaulted space, alone with the scent of the fresh greens and the stillness and the silence. It was only then that I truly felt the power and the mystery of the season, along with the weight which, after thirty years of music ministry, I would know all too well, borne by those whose job it was to make the music and the magic of Christmas for others. After sitting in silence for a while, I would sit down at the console of the chapel’s massive Austin pipe organ and improvise on carols for 30 minutes or so, starting with the quietest stops on the instrument and building up to a rafter-shaking thunder (for which that particular organbuilder was particularly well-known) before gradually working down to whispering string stops and then to silence. Silence. Silence in a season of so much music, so much jingle jangle shop buy eat laugh Hallelujah Chorus eggnog dashing through the snow. Without the silence, why bother adding more music to the noise? The silence became, for me, prerequisite to making music, and so now I seek the one in order to make room for the other.

Every year, I challenge myself to discover a new bright joy in the music of the season, some piece of beauty or mystery which I can’t wait to share with you. This year it was some particularly beautiful Ukrainian carols which were part of PMW’s 2022 Christmas program In Mary’s Arms. What will it be next year? I don’t know yet. But as I sit writing this, the snow is falling, there is stillness all around me, and I think I catch a whiff of balsam fir.

In the dark night, traditional Ukrainian carol arranged by Henry Lebedinsky. Featuring Tess Altiveros, Michele Kennedy, and Danielle-Reutter-Harrah, sopranos, and Henry Lebedinsky, organ.
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Pacific MusicWorks
Attn. Daniel Goodrich 999 Third Ave, Suite 4600 Seattle, WA 98104

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