This album was recorded in January 1987 in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, but was born from a notable body of predecessors. Dr. Roger Payne of Rockefeller University (NYC) released “Songs of the Humpback Whale” in 1970, awakening awareness about these magnificent sea singers that were threatened with extinction from overfishing. Further interest in whale song was generated when Leonard Nimoy worked on “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” which featured two whales named George and Gracie who save the Earth.  

In this recording, the soulful wails of Winter’s saxophone are combined with the dramatic church organ played by Paul Halley as they accompany the haunting sounds of whale songs. The immense space of the cathedral is an invisible yet ever-present factor in the musical sound, and adds an aura of grandeur not found in studio recordings. Interspersed throughout the music are spoken-word narrations by Leonard Nimoy which include some timeless literary works about whales. These include “Whales Weep Not!” by D. H. Lawrence, “Dawnwatch” by Elizabeth Kemf, “Mother Earth, Her Whales” by Gary Snyder, and selections from “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville.

Track 1, “Whales Weep Not: Lullaby from the Great Mother Whale for the Baby Seal Pups” stands as an overture to the entire recording. As is usual on Winter productions, an instrumental ensemble gathers to perform the work. On track 5, “Concerto for Whale and Organ,” Paul Halley performs a hair-raising, dramatic organ accompaniment perfectly entwined with whale song. On track 7 “Queequeg and I” opens with Nimoy’s reading of Melville, and follows with a beautiful rendition of the old traditional folk song “The Water is Wide.”

This is a beautiful and inspiring album, perfect for connecting with the ocean and her creatures. The classical instruments and church organ blended with whale song and Nimoy’s readings will move you to tears. With the sea and her creatures so greatly endangered by overfishing and pollution, this album is an awakening to all who value the mysteries of the watery depths.

Highly recommended.

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Artists: Paul Winter and Paul Halley
narration by Leonard Nimoy, and voices of Humpback Whales
Live Music Inc. 1987; (various re-issues in different formats – 1991, 1998)
~50 minutes

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