arts 12.14.11

Winter Solstice
Walking Off the Big Apple

Tomorrow night, and running through December 17th, Paul Winter presents the 32nd annual Winter Solstice Celebration at "BIg John," as the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is affectionately known.

It's a rousing way to mark the longest night of the year. Along with the Paul Winter Consort, musicians play from perches in the apses and chancels of the Cathedral, there are many performers, including Gospel singer Theresa Thomason, African mbira (thumb piano) master Chris Berry, and the Forces of Nature Dance Theatre.

Mr. Winter says they make each year's concert "as ecumenical as possible, in keeping with the Cathedral, and honors all of the traditions that have a holiday in the December period. Hannukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are all festivals of renewal."

Near the end of the concert, the audience gets into the act with a full-throated wolf howl. "The howling began in 1973 when I was interested in the music in the voices of wolves. Originally, the Consort would howl; now the audience howls. It's a form of participation where you can go full tilt and be forceful. It's a liberating experience for people. And there are no wrong notes in a howl chorus."

Tomorrow and Friday, the celebration is at 8pm; on Saturday, shows are at 2pm and 7:30pm. General admission is $35 and $50, reserved seating is $80. Tickets and info.

Cultural and literary notes, plus self-guided walks, courtesy of Walking Off the Big Apple, a strolling guide to New York City.

Several commentators in the popular press have started comparing our own time to the Gilded Age, a term for the late 19th century decades in the United States that were marked by rapid industrialization, economic development, financial havoc, and extreme inequality between the rich and the poor. New York City was one of the most important economic and social centers of the era, a city where the wealthy industrialists built their mansions in Beaux-Arts opulence while the newly-arrived immigrant families crowded together in confined tenement structures.

Between these two groups, an expanding middle class grew with the founding of new manufacturing, commercial, and retail businesses, enterprises that would depend upon consumer spending habits. The popularization and commercialization of the Christmas holiday also rapidly grew during the 1880s and 1890s, with an emphasis in the city on the festive presentation of store windows and special marketing. Here, then, are a few documents that provide a glimpse into the holidays in New York City during the Gilded Age.



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