Song of Solstice: Celtic Music for Midwinter

Wherever you might experience it, the season of winter holds contrast, from light to dark, from celebration to contemplation, from appreciation of frosty night to longing for spring afternoons, from time spent alone to gatherings with family and friends. Those contrasts all form parts of the music on Jennifer Cutting’s Ocean Orchestra ‘s album Song of Solstice.

Celtic music for ancient moderns is what composer Jennifer Cutting calls her work with the Ocean Orchestra. The Celtic, the ancient, and the modern all come into play in the six original pieces on Song of Solstice, and they are present too through the arrangements of seasonal music from French, English and Scottish traditions. These are all realized through fiddle , bouzouki, accordion, keyboard, whistles, bodhran, harmony, choral, solo voices of men and women, and on occasion a touch of electronic instruments and the distinctive sound of bagpipes.

“My role models are master sound weavers like Mike Oldfield, Danny Elfman, and Alan Parsons, “ Cutting says. “The way they realize the basic material, the way they imagine an elaborate new sound universe for it, thrills me beyond words. So I know that my path in life is to create songs, and beyond that, to create whole sonic worlds for them.” Cutting was for a number of years the arranger and bandleader with the Washington DC based Brit folk band the New Saint George, where she applied this idea to songs from the folk tradition. ”In the New St. George, I took basic traditional melodies and created alternate dimensions for them. Now, in the Ocean Orchestra and in my own production company, I’m doing it with my own songs as well, and it’s the ultimate fulfilling work.”

Song of Solstice traces a winter journey, opening with a traditional tune from Shetland, in the far north of Scotland, and following on with Song of Solstice, a lively original song with lyrics that set a roadmap for the lessons of winter and a melody and engaging choral treatment that invite you to sing along, and to come along on the journey. There are several pieces from French traditions, and a high spirited evocation of Celtic winter legends of rejuvenation in The Green Man. Though they are very different in music and tone, the ideas in The Green Man resonate with Fall Leaves Fall, a celebration of autumn and winter changes created when Cutting set to music a poem by Emily Bronte. There’s is time for reflection in the quiet Christmas song In the Bleak Midwinter, while celebration comes in through Light the Winter’s Dark, in which Cutting considers how Buddha, Christ, and others, including each of us, bring light to earth. Things draw to a close with a Scottish lullabye and a song of looking forward and the lessons of that called Summer Will Come Again.

All this is realized through connections and collaborations among many musicians, most from the Washington DC area. Lisa Moscatiello and Steve Winnick, as well as Annie Haslam, John Roberts, and the members of of the Washington Revels are some of the voices. Sue Richards plays Celtic harp, Zan McLeod adds bouzouki and acoustic and electric guitars, Cutting plays keyboards and accordion, Rico Petruccelli keeps a steady rhythm on the bass, and Steve Hickman is one of those who adds his fiddle talents to the project.

There are quite a few layers, both musically and with ideas, on Song of Solstice, all well worth exploring. If you think you’ve had a bit too much of the holiday season, there’s something for that too: when you play the disc through your computer, you’ll have a good laugh with the bonus music video called Bah Humbug.

winter solstice sunset

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