Ahh, the winter holiday season is fast approaching. This year what great good luck: the two most commercialized holidays with religious roots are upon us. This may sound sarcastic, but I mean it in a straight-forward fashion. Hanukkah is just about here and so is Christmas, and heck, they will both start together. In the United States at the very least, this is a business boon and it is quite hard to escape the consumer-goods ads, the multitude of garish decorations and all that comes with it. (Food especially.)

That is why the commemoration of the Winter Solstice seems like such a great leveler. While some may see this as a pagan shindig, many more people see it simply as a secular opportunity to say "Hey, Happy Winter." And in New York City there was the series of events tied together for Make Music Winter.

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There is an organization called Make Music New York that started out celebrating the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. For the past several years there have been a few hundred events staged all around NYC on June 21st, whatever day of the week it is. I have attended concerts and participatory workshops held under the rubric of the MMNY summer festivities. And in addition, for a few years there has now been a Winter version, meant to cheer us up on the shortest day of the year.


Thus on Winter Solstice, late in the morning, I went to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (my most favorite place in my home borough) and joined about 150 people who listened to a singer perform in different parts of this park. The program was called "Winterize" and it involved the baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert, singing a version of Franz Schubert's 1828 song cycle "Winterreise" while some people in the crowd held up portable radios that played the piano music accompaniment.

I stood and listened while Mr. Herbert sang in the first 3 locations in the Garden. A colleague of his held up signs with segments of the poem-lyrics, penned by Wilhelm Muller. It was an interesting, intriguing and somewhat moving experience, and he was an excellent vocalist. Who thinks to listen outside, on a cold and overcast day, to live singing (albeit with pre-recorded instrumentation)? Winter solstice is usually just thought of as the shortest of the short days, more dark than light, and the "Winterize" program (as well as the others, scattered throughout NYC) brought some culture and quirky joy to a group of New Yorkers. And the group included men and women, babies and children and adults and seniors, of various ethnicities and such.

"Winterize" also fits into the whole holiday scheme nicely. For instance, what do most people think of when they hear the word "Hanukkah"? Sure, they think of gifts, of dreydels, of menorahs, of latkes and sufganiyot. They think of activities such as lighting candles, cooking and eating, adding prayers to the daily liturgy. But I know that I also think of the music and the songs that are so strongly associated with Hanukkah-- "Ma'oz Tzur, "Al Ha Nissim," "Sivivon," and many other songs. I love to play these and other songs on the piano at home. I recall fondly when my daughters were little, and they would dance and sing at school to these songs. Now they are jaded teenagers who cringe if I ask them to sing with me. But they still enjoy the Hanukkah food and gift giving, and they still get a kick out of lighting menorahs, snapping photos to add to their social media accounts.

And while music can be a blessing and a joy any time of year, it is especially warming and welcome on cold, short days of winter.

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