Collaborations: Music from the Heart

Kerry Dexter's picture

One of the good things about music is that while the art lends itself to listening and creating on one’s own, collaboration is also a natural joyful thing in both the creation and sharing of songs and tunes.

Shannon and Matt Heaton

At this writing around the time of Valentine’s Day,  here is music made by people who join up in music and  in life. Consider the work of these husband and wife musical collaborations:

Fiddle player Sarah-Jane Summers comes from the Highlands of Scotland. Guitarist Juhani Silvola is from Finland. At present they are based in Norway. All those elements come through in the music they make together. Though each works with other musicians in varied formats, their album called Sarah-Jane Summers Juhani Silvola is the first time they have recorded a project that focuses just on the music they make together. A fine focus it is, too, the tunes from Scotland’s Highland tradition leading gracefully into original pieces and the occasional Irish fiddle tune. At times reflective and meditative music, and at other times lively pieces that will have you imaging dancers swirling about the room -- and perhaps taking a turn yourself -- it’s interesting, creative music that makes full use of Sarah-Jane’s skill on fiddle and Hardanger fiddle and Juhani’s gifts with guitar. Look out especially for The Ormiston Rant set, The Christmas Carousing set, and Portobello Smile.

Scott Kessel plays an instrument he’s named Drumship Enterprise. It is a collection of possibilities for percussion including parts of a regular drum kit along with -- but by no mean limited to -- pizza boxes and an old suitcase. Rani Arbo is a singer and songwriter who also plays fiddle and guitar. Together with their friends Anand Nayak on guitars and Andrew Kinsey on bass, they make up the band Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem (“we just made up the name,” Arbo says). They make folk Americana roots music, often working with ideas that bring in questions of faith as lived out in the changes and challenges of day to day life. With lyrics including “Well, spiritual people are a thinking people, Their mind’s a church and their heart’s a steeple“ and others which nod to the wisdom of Mother Earth and the wind in the trees, the four kick of their album Some Bright Morning with a high energy version of the traditional gospel song Jerusalem Moan as reimagined with words written by folk bluegrass jazz musician Joe Craven. They follow this with Bridges, a reflective song written by Arbo, in which they consider bridges physical and in spirit and emotion. Other pieces to look out for include Andrew Kinsey’s original instrumental Fall River and Arbo lead singing on a setting of Alfred Lord Tennyson's Crossing the Bar. Big Old Life is another recording on which you’ll hear the mix of hope and questions, trust, doubt, love, and change come out in the music of Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem.

Though Matt and Shannon Heaton each work on other projects -- she’s in an all woman Celtic quartet, for example, and he has a surf music band -- their main focus in the music they make together as a duo. That music is drawn from the traditions of Ireland, and made at intersections where Irish music meets America. Their forthcoming album Tell Me in Earnest is a collection focusing on songs which explore conversations between men and women. While waiting for that project, though, I’d suggest a listen to Lovers Well, an album which draws on song and tune to explore the happier sides of love and those that take another turn, and their album of music for the winter season, Fine Winter’s Night. Shannon wrote the title song of that album, and in it she considers the clarity and cold of a starry winter night as invitation and reminder of warmth and fellowship to be found indoors. The First Snowfall of December is a story Matt tells of a holiday of another time, a risk taken for love, and a happy ending. There are Christmas songs as well, including the familiar carol It Came Upon the Midnight Clear done to a setting you may not have heard, and the story of a little noticed visitor at the holiday celebration, Julius the Christmas cat. Fine listening, whatever the season.




Kerry Dexter is music editor for Wandering Educators. You amy reach her at music at wandering educators dot com. You may also like to know that Kerry’s work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Strings, Journey to Scotland, and other publications, and her own site is Music Road.

Matt and Shannon Heaton photo: Leo Hsu