Connections Through Musical Journeys

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
May 20, 2024 / 0 comments


That’s an idea and a theme that has been part of this series from the first days of Music for Shifting Times. Connection to ideas, to places, to friends, to strangers, to memories: all are good ways to find and renew stability as times continue to shift.

Consider the creative ways these musicians find connection in shifting times.

Connections Through Musical Journeys

Joy Dunlop comes from Argyll in the southwest of Scotland. You might know her as the presenter of the Speak Gaelic series, or perhaps from her work as weather presenter for BBC Scotland and BBC Alba. She is also a gifted musician with many projects on the go.

One of those is her recent album Caoir (that’s pronounced koor; it means blaze of fire, flames, and flashes in Gaelic).

Am Bràighe/The Braes is one of the Gaelic songs she chose, in part to honor her connection to Cape Breton. Cape Breton in Nova Scotia in Canada is one of the few places in the world outside of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland where Gaelic is in daily use.

“Cape Breton is an island very close to my heart, after spending a wonderful six months living and working in the small village of Mabou,” Joy said. “This song was written at the beginning of the 20th century by Malcom Gillis, praising his home of Margaree...I can confirm that it’s just as beautiful as the song describes!” 

Joining Joy on the song are Mhairi Marwick on fiddle, Ron Jappy on guitar, Gus Stirrat on bass, Ifedade Thomas on drums, and Euan Malloch on electric guitar.

Thanks for Writing is a song Anna Massie wrote during the first part of pandemic lockdowns in Scotland. It’s a gentle and gently humorous celebration of keeping in touch -- keeping connected, if you will -- through actual letters and postcards even when distance and other circumstances might seem to intervene.

You will find Thanks for Writing recorded on Anna’s album called Two Down. It’s an excellent place to hear Anna’s solo work on a range of instruments with original and traditional tunes and original and cover songs. You most often hear Anna playing as part the bands Blazin’ Fiddles and Rant, both of whom you’ve met in this series before. Based in Glasgow these days, Anna is originally from the Black Isle in the north of Scotland.

Nicola Benedetti is also a native Scot. She grew up in East Kilbride, just outside Glasgow.

Nicola is a classical violinist, known worldwide for her recordings and performance of classical repertoire. Several years back, she decided that she’d reached a point in her career where she could create a project she had long had in mind, a recording honoring Scotland.

The result was her album called Homecoming, on which you will find both classical pieces referencing Scotland’s landscape and music as well as traditional and original music. Among the musicians joining Nicola are a number of folk you’ve met in this series, including Duncan Chisholm and Aly Bain on fiddle, Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, and accordion and keyboard player Phil Cunningham. This is a tune Phil Cunningham composed called The Gentle Light That Wakes Me.

Chloe Matharu is of Scottish and Indian heritage. As she puts it on her album Small Voyages, on land she is a singer, songwriter, and harp player; at sea she is a navigational officer in the Merchant Navy.

These days, when at sea, she sails the globe with the Merchant Navy. When she was starting out, though, she began her training on small voyages. Thinking of that gave her the idea, and the title for this song, which also became the title song of her debut EP, Small Voyages.

The Northern Lights have been showing up recently with sightings in unexpected places far south in the northern hemisphere. At this writing, the Southern Lights are beginning to kick up displays across Australia and New Zealand, as well. People have been connecting by sharing their stories of seeing this unexpected beauty in many places.

One place that is a reliably good spot to see the Northern Lights of a winter season is Orkney, in Scotland’s Northern Isles. In Scotland, the Northern Lights are often called the Merry Dancers.

On their album Energy Islands, the members of the quartet Fara offer the song Merry Dancers, which finds words of a poem from Lucy Dougall adapted and set to music by band members Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price. Jeana sings lead on the song; she and Price on fiddle are joined by Kristan Harvey (you’ve met Kristan here before in her work as a member of Blazin’ Fiddles), and Rory Matheson on keyboards.

Connection between humans and the natural world is a centerpiece of the Lost Worlds Spell Songs project. You’ve met their work here before, as well as individual work by several of their musicians, who are all based in Scotland and England. The musicians are Jim Molyneux, Kris Drever, Beth Porter, Julie Fowlis, Rachel Newton, Seckou Keita, and Karine Polwart.

There are two books, The Lost Words and The Lost Spells, which connect the work of artist Jackie Morris and writer Robert Macfarlane. There are three Spell Songs albums now, as well. You will find this song, The Lost Words Blessing, in two places: on the first of the albums, called Spell Songs, and on an album of live tracks, called Spells Songs: Gifts of Light.

Enter the wild with care, my love
And speak the things you see
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow
And even as you travel far from heather, crag and river
May you like the little fisher set the stream alight with glitter...

May the work of these artists be good companions to you as you make and recall connections in your travels through 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