Windborne Vocal Sculpting at The Stissing Center

by Kevin T McEneaney

Last Saturday evening at The Stissing Center in Pine Plains, Windborne put all attendees into the spirit of the Christmas season with sumptuous harmonies that ravished the venue which varied from older English Christmas wassailing songs to Medieval French and Lithuanian folk songs where they managed to persuade the audience to accompany them, and I did manage to sing in Lithuanian for a little while. (They were amazingly persuasive, as I am not inclined to sing very much.)

A recent group with three CDs and a fourth in the works, they are casual masters of polyphony: Jeremy Carter-Gordon (baritone); Lynn Rowan (soprano); Lauren Breunig (mezzo-soprano); Will Rowan (tenor). They sing simple or complex harmonies as if they were as easy to sing as breathing, and they make you feel like you are capable of their hypnotic  sorcery (which may be a tad unfair), yet you will never forget that marvelous evening of popular and arcane songs which cause the heart to palpitate with unexpected happiness.

They sang of the poor little wren bird whom peasants dressed up as a royal king when they knocked on doors with carols hoping for a little bun or tiny dram to drink while snowflakes feathered their hats with notes from heaven. Back in those old days, they had songs that were so emotional that they created pity for the un-housed. Imagine that!

Have you heard of Windborne’s most recent recording of “Satan was really surprised” by the birth of Yeshua of Nazareth from the Noëls de Notre Dame des Doms in Avignon? Back then (1570) the French ridiculed that sneaky con-man Satan with great humor, but times have changed, and many people now currently worship con-men if they make a claim to great wealth. How times have changed, yet the mocking of Satan at Christmas time is still staunchly practiced in some remote cabins in the hills of France where they are fiercely skilled in the art of mocking, which is to say that they excel in florid compliment whenever they meet a dunce or con man.

In four-part harmony they sang of the poor little wren bird whom peasants dressed as a noble king when they knocked on doors with carols hoping for a small bun or dram to drink while snowflakes feathered their hats without regard for social status.

Like old-fashioned wise men, they defined folk singing to be the most perfect work of art, noting that there is no such thing as a wrong note in folk singing, only the invention of a variant note. They persuaded everyone to sing without even threatening to cast out non-singers!

They sang of the Derby ram which must have been as large as the London Clock Tower with attributes better than Spider Man; their English accent was so old it sounded a little bit like a foreign language which one picked up in college as the notes hung in one’s ear removing any wax.  

And they sang wassails without stopping for breath as they minded their p’s and q’s while they surreptitiously made everyone feel as if they were at the party of a lifetime which imparted fellowship to everyone sitting down (or standing because all seats had been taken).

They sang of the Cherry Tree, Travelers, the rising sun, the beginning of a New Year, the World turned Upside Down, then they welcomed a New Year with notes of such benevolence and joy that those who attended dispensed with all their faults and agreed to make Pine Plains into a plain town of friendship and avoid the pitfalls of folly (at least until the end of this year).

The audience would not permit Windborne quartet to leave town without performing another encore that would de-enchant the spell they had brought upon the town, a spell which will linger in the ear and heart….  

Kevin T McEneaney

Author of Hunter S. Thompson: Fear, Loathing, and the Birth of Gonzo, and other books