The frost is on the pumpkin this weekend, but Sting's new album provides a glimpse into the heart of winter. It's called If on a Winter's Night, and it's a collection of mostly traditional songs — and a few modern ones — about the season to come.
Sting performs in NPR's New York bureau, with Dominic Miller (guitar) and Ira Coleman (double bass):
Songs from If On A Winter's Night ...
It's not a Christmas album, exactly, in the sense of Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole. The songs here evoke a season that celebrates self-seeking, selfless love and mystery as much as chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
"I have a certain affinity with the season — I think it's an undervalued season," Sting says. "For me, it's the season of the imagination, of spirits, of ghosts in the chimney, frosts, snow. It has a lot of paradox in it, too. It's the season I look forward to — I love the central celebration of it — but I also am aware that winter's a difficult time for a lot of people."
In an interview and studio performance with host Scott Simon, Sting agreed with the suggestion that music becomes more important in the wintertime.
"I think so, and I think it's the season of reflection," Sting says. "You know, we seem to need the winter to reassess ourselves, to hibernate, if you like; to seek home, to seek comfort. Somewhere cozy: the church, the family home."
Sting says he goes home in the winter — back to his 16th-century house near Stonehenge in England — with his dogs and family for an "English traditional Christmas." From NPR's New York bureau, he performed a 19th-century Northern English traditional song called "The Snow It Melts the Soonest." He says he didn't know this particular melody going into the recording sessions for Winter's Night, but he asked the musicians from his hometown of Newcastle to teach him some local fare — and they did.
He also took questions from Weekend Edition listeners, and spoke about playing on a chess team pitted against a blindfolded Garry Kasparov.
"He said to me, 'My job as a chess player is to crush your mind,'" Sting says. "And he did."