Living the Questions: Music for the Journey

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Jul 16, 2018 / 0 comments

Living the questions: that's a philosophical concept – or at least, suggestion – which shows up in many ways people have tried to understand life across the centuries. Music is, or can be, a part of living with and through questions, both as companion and as source of ideas.

Often, in this series of stories, the idea of questions has come up. As unexpected changes continue in the world's political and social spheres, here are four more songs which have good questions at their heart.

Living the Questions: Music for the Journey

Marvin Gaye wrote the song What's Goin' On after talking with his brother, who had recently returned from service in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. The song stayed with Grammy winning artist and producer Alison Brown over the years. She decided to interpret it on her instrument, the banjo, and invited Keb Mo' to be the singer. The lyrics, and the questions, are still timely. You may find What's Goin' On recorded on Alison Brown's album Song of the Banjo.

The issues around immigration and the lives of those who would move from one country to another for all their varied reasons are much in the news at this writing, in both the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as in countries  in Europe. Tish Hinojosa wrote her song Donde Voy (which translates to English as Where I Go) some years back, before the politics became as contentious and as much in the news as they are at the moment. Hinojosa is first generation Mexican American. She grew up in San Antonio, and when she began to make her life in music and to write songs of her own, she realized, she has said "that I had all this bag of experiences that I had not seen addressed in song." Her perspectives are still unique: You may find Donde Voy on Hinojosa's recording Homeland. Hinojosa's recent album at this writing is called West

Trouble in the Fields is a song Nanci Griffith and Rick West wrote in the late 1980s. In it, they talk of an earlier time, the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression of the 1930s. There are lasting ideas in this song, too. In addition to Griffith, it has been recorded by a number of artists; Maura O'Connell, for one, put a memorable Irish stamp on it. Kyle Carey has stepped up to make her own mark with the song, bringing her Gaelic Americana influences along with a dash of Cajun flavor to the recording of it on her album The Art of Forgetting. You may recall meeting Kyle here at Wandering Educators as she spoke about her time studying abroad and how elements of that became her life in music. The Art of Forgetting draws those threads together across the songs she's written and chosen. It was produced by Dirk Powell with a stellar cast of backing artists including award-winning Americana singer and songwriter Rhiannon Giddens (you've heard her voice as part of this series, too) and top Scottish fiddle player John McCusker.  

Carrie Newcomer's song Stones in the River provides both hope and reflection for the times when questions of What can I do? Does what I do make any difference at all? Should I do anything? arise. As Newcomer sings, ""...the truth is most of us will never know where our best intentions go..." You may find Stones in the River on Newcomer's album Before and After. You may also want to look for her most recent recording, Live at the Buskirk-Chumley.

There is another song Newcomer has written recently which works with the idea of living the questions. It was inspired by the book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old by Quaker author, educator, and philosopher Parker J. Palmer. Gathering together essays he'd written for the program On Being, Palmer considers questions of growing older and ideas of change, and living with what no one knows about what's next. Newcomer distilled this into the song On the Brink of Everything. 

It is not yet recorded on an album; however, you may download the song from the website Newcomer and Palmer have created for the events, conversations, and retreats they are offering related to the book's ideas, The Growing Edge



Other stories in this series....

Music for a Winter's Day

Music for a Winter's Night

Three Feet or So: Music and Creating Positive Change in the World

Geography of Hope: Music of Immigrants and Refugees

Autumn: Music of Harvest and Home

Music for Reflection

Music for a Winter's Eve

Music for Winter's Changes

Music: Listening for Community

Music of Resilience

Music: A Path to Community and Connection

Music: Songs of Hope and Respect

Story and Place in Music

Journeys Through Landscape in Music



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.