Exploring Nature in Music

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Jun 21, 2021 / 0 comments

Nature is a deep source of inspiration for musicians. At times, that might lead to a symphony, or a concerto. It might lead to a children's song, a dance tune, or a hymn. There are many paths to explore and consider nature through music, through stories of weather, time, space, landscape, and many more aspects.

Exploring Nature in Music

Radmilla Cody takes in honoring the basics of nature, so to speak, in her song The Four Essential Elements. Cody is of Native American and African American background. She was raised on Navajo Nation lands in the southwestern United States. She sings this song in Navajo. The Four Essential Elements is recorded on her album K'é Hasin (Kinship and Hope), which includes songs in both Navajo and English.

Cathie Ryan considers the possibilities of healing and nature -- healing through nature -- in her song Be Like the Sea. Ryan often draws on her Irish heritage and her deep knowledge of Irish history and legend to create. With occasional phrases in Irish and a vivid evocation of the coast she walked as she was composing, in Be Like the Sea she brings those together in subtle and poetic ways. You've met Ryan's work in this series before, and you will find this song (which she wrote with John Doyle; you've met his work here before, too) recorded on her album The Farthest Wave. You may also wish to see her recording Through Wind and Rain.

In a quite different way, the sea comes into play in the song Windward Away. It was written by Scotsman Archie Fisher, who went to sea himself as a young man. Julie Fowlis sings it here, giving full measure to the mystic and mysterious aspects of the song. Fowlis is also a Scot. She grew up in the Western Isles, so she knows more than a bit about the sea herself. Windward Away is recorded of her album Alterum.

Seckou Keita came from his native Senegal to England more than twenty years ago, bringing with him knowledge of African traditions and mastery of harp-like kora. These he also brought to The Lost Words: Spell Songs project. That project arose when musicians took inspiration from the art and words of The Lost Words, a book Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane had created to honor and call back words from nature that Morris had learned were to be dropped from a popular children's dictionary. Finding resonances from Africa, Keita led the creation of the song Heron. He's joined by fellow Spell Songs artists Kris Drever, Beth Porter, Jim Molyneux, Julie Fowlis, Rachel Newon, and Karine Polwart on the song, which you will find on The Lost Words: Spell Songs. Word comes that these artists are preparing a second album, too.

Folk musician Phil Cunningham is from Scotland, as is classical violinist Nicola Benedetti. That is one reason she chose his composition The Gentle Light That Wakes Me to include on her album Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy. The album holds both classical and folk music; while that might sound unlikely, it works very well. A proud Scot, Benedetti had reached a point in her career where she could make an album honoring her Scottish heritage, and set about finding music that would work and collaborators to go on the adventure. On this track, you will hear Cunningham himself and Aly Bain along with Benedetti; elsewhere on the album, you will find several musicians you've met in this series, including the above-mentioned Julie Fowlis.

You may find resonances with each of these quite different pieces of music in Indiana-based Carrie Newcomer's song called The Shelter of the Sky. Listen and see what you may discover. The song is recorded on Newcomer's album The Point of Arrival.

Where will your next travel in nature take you? Down the road or around the world, may the music of these artists be good companion for your journey.


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 reach Kerry at music at wanderingeducators dot com.

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.