Composer’s Notes: The Arts in Winter

Above: Some ducks go to the Ice Pond at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge.

by George Cork Maul

Where do the artists go in winter? Do they go to the same place where ducks go? 

I’ll never forget the first year I was out here and I spent the winter in Greenport, only to find out that they rolled up the sidewalks at 4 p.m. It was a great way to spend many hours working alone on music. 

The recent influx of new people to the village makes me think that doesn’t happen so much anymore. Last Friday night in Greenport I saw a man with a guitar walking down the street at 11 p.m. Where was he going?

But really, where do the artists go in winter? Do they go to their apartments in the city? Do they just hunker down and woodshed all winter, getting their new work ready for the spring? Do they go to Europe? Are they hiding and starving and depressed in their little artists’ studios somewhere? 

Most of the artists I know are working at various day gigs, teaching, planning workshops, editing video, researching trends, and studying the relationship between their work and the real world. There is a huge push to do digital media right now as trends begin to be understood. All manner of podcasts and vlogs and monetization are at the forefront of artists’ minds. 

Other than that, artists are dealing with the same issues as everybody else: family, money, emotional states of mind, understanding the future. But you can be sure that if there is an important gig or an art opening, they will spring to life and show up with bells on, no matter what the weather. Artists are famous for showing up in bad weather. 

The dancers are trying to make a few bucks giving lessons in dance studios, auditioning in the city for various shows. The painters are deep in their next series of work and thoroughly enjoying the winter openings and the winter light. I’ve always noticed that the arts on the East End have a wonderful winter season, where a hidden city full of artists come out of the woodwork to get together, have a drink, share a meal, show up at an event and see “who is who” for the coming season. Actually it’s much easier to pick out the real working artists in the winter, when they are not surrounded by hoards of tourists, as they are in summer.  

Travel usually figures into the winter plans of most artists… but sometimes it’s a trip to find new inspiration, sometimes it’s a flight to get away from the same-old, same-old. Sometimes trips are cancelled because of monetary issues. Most artists have monetary issues. More artists than people realize spend their winter just like everybody else, slogging to some unloved job, just trying to stay ahead of the bills and deal with the weather. 

Artists hide in plain sight. Last week I saw a well-known bandleader in Target in Riverhead wearing a cap pulled down over his ears. He looked mighty bleak… Maybe he had a cold or some other bug.    

Personally I prefer the winter to the summer when it comes to the arts. If I have to play one more outside cocktail hour in the sun for a bunch of unresponsive people who think that all music is wallpaper for the event, I think I’ll cry. Either that or I’ll move to Newfoundland, where it’s always winter for the arts.

In the winter, despite the biting cold wind, I find myself seeking out the special places. The places where, in the summer, crowds keep the solitude away. The places where you actually have a chance to think about who you are, and where you are going. Once you are filled up with one of these places, you can go back to your warm space and make something beautiful. I find it hard to imagine doing that if my only panoramic view was from a rooftop in Brooklyn.

It’s hard to argue with the beauty of the East End. And the arts are very much alive.  Musicians, painters, dancers, poets, actors, sculptors, writers, performance artists, and others are all deep in their personal winters, a hidden city of creators working hard and thinking harder about what the beauty of winter inspires and what the hope of spring will bring. 

“The ducks. Do you know, by any chance? I mean does somebody come around in a truck or something and take them away, or do they fly away by themselves – go south or something?”

— Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher In the Rye”


George Cork Maul is a composer, pianist and performance art specialist. He kayaks around Robins Island in the morning and makes pizza for all The Beacon’s meetings. He studies the movement of crowds, the future of music and waterspouts.

East End Beacon

The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

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