Paul Winter and Missa Gaia

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There are a number of personal strands in the announcement that Paul Winter will receive the Thomas Berry Award at the coming conference of the American Teillhard Association annual meeting to be held at the Cathedral of St, John the Divine in New York City. While I am a supportive newcomer to the worlds of Berry and Theillard, I had a small connection with Paul Winter several decades ago.

Winter is a jazz musician of considerable prominence. His original sextet toured the world and was the first jazz combo to play at the White House. His later Consort has existed for years with a rotating membership. In the 1970’s Winter became interested in another species and its ability to make music - whales - and travelled with Greenpeace to try interaction with them and his soprano saxaphone. This encounter later produced the Missa Gaia or Earth Mass, which had its world premiere at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1981 and continues to be performed there each year. Performers include a chorus, vocal soloists, the jazz consort and an assortment of recorded whales, wolves and other animals, whose songs often provided the inspiration for the melodies. You can hear the entire mass here as well as several selections on YouTube.

It’s not surprising that Winter and Thomas Berry connected in New York City when they were both involved in shifting our consciousness to the beauties of the natural world and our responsibility to protect it. My own threads are many. I taught at a small Episcopal School near the Cathedral from 1960 -1963. The school at the time was in the process of raising funds to build a new facility and used one the Cathedrals’s chapels for the school to start the day. The work was premiered in Canada as part of the Joy of Singing International Choral Festival in 1989 by the Consort with the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir conducted by Robert Cooper. As the Executive Director of the provincial service organization for choirs at the time I was a last minute adult recruit buried in the alto section when the conductor thought it needed an extra voice two. It was one of the most inspiring and enjoyable performing experiences of my life.

While I probably won’t make the award ceremony, it is gratifying to know that I will hear the Missa Gaui performed again in Toronto by a local choir and joined by some of Canada’s best classical, jazz and gospel musicians.


You can find more about the Toronto concert here. And it is also good to know that Thomas Berry wrote a beautiful poem after attending a Winder Solstice performane of this work, which is the last entry in one of his books. You can find a brief quote from it elsewhere on this site.