Bleak Winter Day

The cold and miserable winter sky is muted in dreary shades of grey, a pastel backdrop to the barren tree branches along the river and the arrowed flights of Canada geese leading the way across the withered corn fields. Only the faintest trail of honking lingers in their pathway. Yet what would seem to be a joyless landscape is nonetheless promising, occasion for favourable contemplation.

I shamefully remained beneath the tactile white cotton sheets encirclng the feathered duvet until after ten o’clock this morning, my face buried in the two Gluckstein Hudson’s Bay pillows memorably recommended by my brother-in-law. Upon awakening I hurried to prosecute the usual preparations for revival. After a decidedly galvanizing shower (including a cold water sequel) and a succinct but satisfying breakfast with MaraNatha peanut butter, I was soon profiting from the clear late morning air amid a concrete northern wind by tricycling on the flat roadway adjacent the river. I cycled to Gale Street then back again, and once again repeated it thereafter for a routine outing of almost 4 Km. The strain upon my sinews was less punishing than when I attempt to ascend the perpendicular roadways to the crest of the hill. I am hoping this will assuage my customary late evening spastic recurrences.

Thus having fulfilled my sunrise constitutional, and having no further duties to perform in the nature of accommodation or desideratum, it was the work of an instant to propel me to the side of my XT4. With my woollen glove still on my hand, I pressed the chrome signal attached to driver’s door handle and then entered the temple. Nor was I in the least snookered in my design. The traffic was minimal, no one menacingly behind, clear pathway straight ahead, up and down the ribbon of hills on the highway from Carleton Place. The car drove autonomously. The absolution of the car wash was equally gladdening. And when I topped up the gas tank, I glazed the franchisee of the Petro-Canada station. I hadn’t seem him for months but we energetically greeted one another as was our custom. It completed the nutrition of the morning evasions.

Not atypically my adventure was seasoned with music. This time predominantly in the nature of the winter solstice.  I had assembled a choice of classics on Apple Music; among them, The Greatest Christmas Choral Classics by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (2006), the Choir of King’s College (2021), Glad Christmas Tidings with David Archuleta (2011), Mantovani’s Christmas Favourites (1987), White Christmas with Bing Crosby (1945), Christmas Choral Music by the Finnish Radio Choir (2001) and naturally the inestimable Handel’s Messiah with Eugene Ormandy and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (1959) my personal favourite. For something different I recommend Winter Songs with Ola Gjeilo and the Choir of Royal Holloway and the 12 Ensemble (2017); the recoding is singular.

Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo is bringing warmth and comfort this holiday season with a new album called Winter Songs. Combining choir, piano and strings, this album reimagines beloved carols, alongside brand new compositions which evoke the spirit of winter. Christmas favourites such as ‘The First Nowell’, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ and ‘Silent Night’ alternating with beautiful Gjeilo works such as ‘The Rose’ and ‘Ecce Novum’ – balancing the new and the familiar in perfect harmony.

The Norwegian music is reminiscent of another northern composer Arvo Pärt who similarly betrays his polar heredity.  Estonia is literally across the water from Helsinki, Finland.

Arvo Pärt (born 11 September 1935) is an Estonian composer of contemporary classical music. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a minimalist style that employs tintinnabuli, a compositional technique he invented. Pärt’s music is in part inspired by Gregorian chant. His most performed works include Fratres (1977), Spiegel im Spiegel (1978), and Für Alina (1976). From 2011 to 2018, and again in 2022, Pärt was the most performed living composer in the world, and the second most performed in 2019, after John Williams.

As I lapse into these insightful compositions I am persuaded by the acuity of the atmospheric elevation. It is a parenthetic reminder of the value of the seasons, the magic of evolution and change, the depletions and enlargements that accompany the alterations. It is one of my most unanticipated improvements that I find myself embracing long pants and woollen socks. It is a visceral manifestation of the poetic transformations of life. I won’t say it goes so far as to capture a retail corollary but it has certainly awakened the dusty shelves and wardrobe hung in the back closet.