Connections and Community: Inspiration Through Music

by Kerry Dexter /
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Apr 15, 2024 / 0 comments

Music for Shifting Times: that is what we decided to all this series when we began it back almost eight years ago at this writing.

It seemed that things were shifting then; little did anyone know how many ways things would shift across the world.

Need for connection and community have remained constant across these years; so has the role of music in making these connections possible.

You may want to reflect on those ideas as you consider the work of these musicians.

Connections and Community: Inspiration Through Music

Tommy Sands comes from Northern Ireland, so he knows about living with conflict and change in close-knit communities. He grew up in Rostrevor, a town in Northern Ireland I see right across the lough from where I stay in Louth when I am in the Republic of Ireland.

Let the Circle Be Wide is a song that Tommy wrote to call for reaching across divisions. On it, he is joined by his son Fionan and his daughter Moya.

Let the Circle Be Wide is title track of the album on which you will find it recorded.

Karine Polwart was thinking about connection and community, perhaps on a one to one level, as she wrote Travel These Ways. Karine is a Scot, so you’ll find a word in Scots now and again in her lyrics. I think you’ll understand, though.

When the haar comes rollin’ in
And you can’t see your way into harbour
I’ll heave the boat to till the sun clears the sky
And it’s safe once again to weigh anchor

You will find Travel These Ways on Karine’s album, which she made with Dave Milligan (who is playing piano in this video), called Still As Your Sleeping. In case you are wondering, that is your (not you’re, as you may be thinking) sleeping, and meant to be that, as it’s related to a song on the album.


Travel These Ways - performance from Luminate on Vimeo.


Boston area-based Matt and Shannon Heaton focus their work on traditional Irish music and new music created in the spirit of that tradition. That is what they offer on the set called Last Days of Fourth Grade, which is recorded on their album Whirring Wings.

The Heatons value community and do well at creating it, in their live performances, in sessions both in person and online, and through workshops and other musical adventures.

The three tunes in this set, each composed by Shannon, connect with community. Against the Grain, a jig, honors their friend painter Vincent Crotty; Jig for Tim was composed as a creative way to honor the brother of a friend. The title track of the set, Last Days of Fourth Grade, is a waltz taking note of a time in Heaton family life, honoring the community created by their son and his classmates and teacher, who connected well online during the pandemic.  

Shannon’s main instrument is flute. Matt’s is guitar. With their instruments in conversation, they inspire and honor community and connection.

This next song might be familiar. Even if it’s not, it has a chorus which invites singing along, as you will find Kathy Mattea invites her audience to do in this video. Both the story in the lyrics and that invitation in the chorus seek community and connection.

Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses was written by Paul Nelson and Gene Nelson. You will find it recorded on Kathy Mattea’s album called Untasted Honey, and on several of her greatest hits albums, as well.

Lauren MacColl’s instrument is the fiddle. She is from the northeast Highlands of Scotland. On her album called Haar, she offers original tunes based on stories of the sea and sea coast there.

Her tune The Port is also based on that, with a personal element, too: it honors the town where her late grandmother grew up, and the stories her grandmother told which helped inspire Lauren’s love of the region her family calls home.

Carrie Newcomer offers a road song and a connection to community in a different way. Driving home late one winter evening returning from a tour, she saw lights in windows as she passed, which led her into thoughts about choice, change, and connection. The result was Newcomer’s song A Light in the Window.

There's a house set way back where the lamp light glows
Like a star out in the cold
Filled with people I'll never know
Who left a light, left a light in the window

You will find the song recorded on Carrie Newcomer’s album A Permeable Life.

Connection and community have to do with home, however the idea of home may be experienced. To go along with that, here is The Road Home, composed by Martin Tourish. He is the one playing accordion in this video, as a member of the top Irish band Altan. You will find it recorded on Altan’s album called The Widening Gyre.

Explore the ideas these musicians offer as you reflect on community, connection, and home in these shifting times.



Thank you for staying with us through this journey. Below, you'll find a link that will take you to an article which has a bit more backstory on the series. It also has links to a number of the stories, including ones called Listening for Community, Music for Winter's Changes, and The Geography of Hope.

Music for Shifting Times

Music for Shifting Times


Kerry Dexter is Music Editor at Wandering Educators. 

You may find more of Kerry's work in National Geographic Traveler, Strings, Perceptive Travel, Journey to Scotland, Irish Fireside, and other places, as well as at her own site, Music Road. You can also read her work at Along the Music Road on Substack