Having been born in a very small town in Massachusetts, I'm more than knowledgeable of the beauty of winter and was enthralled as a kid. But my family moved in the 60s to Southern California, me later discovering the Colorado Plateau and deserts, not to mention a year spent in that oven we call 'Florida', and I become a desert rat, happily ensconced. In the 70s, though, while on staff at an alternative education foundation in upper Oregon, I found myself one day outside the school in early evening, standing in the deepening evening gloom, pondering a number of matters, a single bulb lit behind me above the exitway. As I stood wrapped in thought, I heard a gentle whispering sound and looked up. Snowflakes were very very gently drifting down from the clouds, fluttering as if themselves also in contemplation. The lightbulb formed a glowing penumbra narrowing the world down to the state of a humble convex cathedral, as if I were in my own private abbey and now privileged to an act of subtle beauty made just for me. I stood there for a full half hour, in a state of wonder, just watching those tufts of ice wafting in a profound silence broken only by the miniscule friction they provoked in the air. It's been many years since I recalled that incident, but the moment I heard Dan Chadburn's version of Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella, the scene came flying back as if only days had passed.
That incident and the title to his latest CD, Whispers the Falling Snow, are appropos of Chadburn's playing here, which is oft as of whirling contemplative snowflakes, delicate, sent from some unearthly agency knowledgeable of the need for quiet beauty in a world tearing itself apart. His last release, Nocturnes (here), received a number of criticisms from me, as I didn't agree with all his selections as being indeed nocturnes. This release will receive no such overseerage, as the bevy of 10 cuts is entirely of a piece, seamless from start to finish, and very intelligently wrought. Nor do I sense any true religious overtones but rather a very Humanist baseline, sentiments springing from Nature and Man's place within in it. Chadburn himself has said he doesn't really want Whispers received "as just a Christmas CD" but rather "a reflection and celebration of wintertime and all the imagery and emotions that go with it".
In that, he's succeeded marvelously, achieving a Windham Hill level of art. The intro to Away in a Manger left me breathless in anticipation…and then the snowflakes began falling again. The melody line commenced. I smiled. Once Catholic (choir boy, altar boy, catechist, the whole nine yards), now an atheist and student of the Eastern philosophies, I've always held the Jesus mythos as among my favorite moralist foundations—such an anarchist! such a Humanist!—and this rendering of the old Christian classic reinvested the true pre-Constantinian version of the once-admirable Jesus cult and figure with a Renaissance temporality akin to that of St. Francis. Then Angels We have Heard from On High removed the Ferrante & Teicher boom and fanfare of the song's over-wrought modernizations, replaced with a far more meditational atmosphere becoming joy, an inevitable ascension to exultative gratitude rather than egotistical hoo-rah.
This holiday season, let that sort of thing, I say, be the modus we adopt: gratitude rather than the hideous Republican, warmongering, authoritarian, glowering perversions of Providence we so docilely accept in this country, and let Chadburn's be the sort of music to engender thoughtfulness and temperance in this regard. More, I whisper with an smiley half-grin, let it carry over, as the performer intended, beyond wintertide, a tonic for any need, a chamber interlude acting as remedy to stress and bewilderment. After all, do we listen to Satie's gnossiennes only in the Fall that especially the first opus seems to embody? Lord, I would hope not. There are a lot of habits we need to change, and the season of thanks-giving and gratitude might be the ideal starting point.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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