“Wolf Eyes” is my honoring song to the wolf, this remarkable creature who has been maligned and mistreated by humans for so long.
The seed-theme comes from the howl of a Timber Wolf, recorded by wolf biologist Fred Harrington in the Superior National Forest of Minnesota. I had the opportunity to go there, with Fred, to listen to the wolves. He and I would go into the forest at night and howl with our voices. And once in a while, on a lucky night, we would hear, way off in the distance, a kind of lonely and lazy voice begin to rise into the night. And then others would join, and before long there was this magnificent chorus holding forth, for what seemed like a long time.
And I realized then that they were not just answering us, but that this is a ritual that is very important for them, and one in which they engage several times every day. They may be howling to affirm their togetherness as a pack; or to announce to neighboring packs that "this is our territory, and we are strong"; or perhaps they howl simply to celebrate being alive.
Hearing them in the night, I had the thought that we, as a much younger species, might learn something from these elders of ours, about the importance of that kind of ritual — of giving voice together each day, in whatever way we might choose. I wanted to make music then about the feeling I had, while listening to their chorus. It was not the kind of spine-tingling thing you often hear people describe, since I knew that wolves are not a threat to humans. There has never been an authenticated case of a healthy wolf attacking a human in North America.
For me, it was a kind of feeling of deep peace inside, as if I had been, through them, reconnected to this larger family of life, of which we once were a much more integral part; as if I had been, through their music, made whole. So I imagined making music about the more gentle side of these creatures, who are often regarded as the model parents of the animal world.
The title of this piece comes from the first experience I had looking into the eyes of a wolf, up close. And this was a captive wolf, who looked back at me directly with these deep amber eyes, in which I sensed not only his curiosity about me, but the wisdom of his 30 million years of heritage, more than 100 times as long as our species, homo sapiens, has been around. I’ve never been fully able to describe this feeling with words, so I’m grateful to make an attempt in this piece I call “Wolf Eyes.”
(Dedication: to the Very Rev. James Parks Morton, former dean of New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine)
Paul Winter is a seven-time Grammy-winning saxophonist, whose sextet was the first jazz group to perform at the White House
in 1962. His second group, the Paul Winter Consort, interweaves sounds from the natural world with classical and ethnic traditions, and the spontaneous spirit of jazz. Their annual Winter Solstice Celebrations and Earth Mass are among the most popular events in New York....more