The winter solstice arrives late Saturday. A community concert in Rockford invites everyone to come together for the longest night of the year.
David Stocker is a guitarist, percussionist, world musician and State of Illinois Artist-in-Residence. He organized the concert at Emmanuel Lutheran Church which will feature special guest Jim Scott. For many years, Scott played with the Paul Winter Consort. He’s also known as co-composer of the group’s “Missa Gaia” or “Earth Mass.” Stocker said Scott is a good friend. So he wasn’t afraid to take advantage of an opportunity.
“One night he called me up and said, ‘I’m doing a tour in the Midwest, would you like to be the percussionist?’" Stocker remembers. "And I said, ‘Sure, but you’ve got to make a stop in Rockford because a lot of people there would like to hear your music.’ So we pretty quickly arranged a concert.”
And, Stocker added, Scott isn’t limiting his appearance to the 7 p.m. performance.
"Jim’s going to give class earlier in the day at 2 p.m. for anyone that wants to learn the parts to sing along," he said. "Anyone can sing, it will be open to the community and words will projected up in front, so it will be easy access.”
Besides singing, Stocker said people are invited to bring a drum to the concert and take part in what he called “a community heartbeat.”
Stocker said this all fits in with the program’s inclusive theme.
“We’ll touch base on Hannukah, we’ll be singing a little music from different traditions," he said. "There’s an Asian song in there, there’s songs from the Middle East, and some of our European familiar tunes.”
Not to mention various African traditions, along with original songs.
Scott’s daughter, violinist Louisa Scott, will also perform. They’ll join Stocker and local musicians Ken Toot, Jim Roberts, Blazey Onyango and others. Civil rights activist Linda Zuba will take part in one of the numbers. The artists will provide a musical setting as she recites a poem she wrote based on her work with immigrant families seeking asylum on the southern U.S. border. Stocker said he sees it as an important reminder, especially at this time of year.
“The story that we tell at Christmastime," he said, "is one of an immigrant family, a refugee with a tiny child. So if we really want to be in compassion, and empathy, with the world today, maybe we want to review how we take on our Christmastide.”
Stocker said all this reflects a program that, like the solstice itself, goes through darkness into light.
“It is the middle of winter and we know spring is likely to come back," he said. "But it’s also a time of hardship for people in this culture and in the world. So there’s kind of a darkness, and we need to be together and give each other encouragement and compassion, so that we can believe in a future.”
Stocker said part of the joy of this concert is bringing that universal solstice message to his city.
“Rockford is wanting to claim its right to hopefulness at this time," he said. "I work in the public schools a lot. I get to see kids that are struggling, families that are struggling. And I’d I like to think that, you know, Rockford knows how to have compassion for its own.”
Stocker said a good way to promote that is to bring people together on this longest night, and -- through words and music -- forge a community.