Music Inspired by Art, Landscape, Books, and Turning Wheels

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
May 15, 2023 / 0 comments

Challenge, exploration, reflection, change, connection: each of these things is part of the shifting times we are living through, and that we consider in this ongoing series. There are other aspects of life that musicians address, too, of course.

Take a bit of time to let the creativity of these artists speak to you of, and during, shifting times.

Music Inspired by Art, Landscape, Books, and Turning Wheels

The Composer is a piece Megan Henderson wrote as part a project she was commissioned to create for the New Voices strand of the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow. She turned to visual art as her inspiration, specifically the paintings of Christine Clark.

Clark comes from Lochaber in the Highlands of Scotland, as does Megan. There are elements of nature in her work, not Highland landscapes though: Clark describes her art as imagined landscapes which transport us to unknown lands, with moments of solitude, love, beauty, hope, and loss.

“This is something I really connected with and wanted to reflect in my own art,” Megan said.

Fiddle is Megan’s primary instrument, though she plays a number of others, and is a fine singer and step dancer as well. In The Composer, you will hear graceful connections between Scottish tradition and classical music, including a bit of Gaelic song.

All of these are aspects of Megan’s background, which come into this piece as well as the others you will find on the album on which it is recorded, Pilgrim Souls. It is Megan’s first solo recording. In the sleeve notes, you will also see some of Clark’s artwork.

Though this is Megan’s first solo album, she does not appear alone. She’s invited along along a number of musicians you will have met in this series before, among them Anna Massie on mandolin, Alistair Ian Patterson on piano and harmonium, Laura Beth Salter on voice and mandolin, and Su-a Lee on cello and musical saw.

For more than a dozen years now, Megan Henderson has been a member of the top Glasgow-based band Breabach. You have met Breabach’s work here several times before in this series.

This song, Revolutions, comes from the band’s recent album, Fàs.

The song was written by Ewan Robertson, who sings lead. You will hear Megan along with other Breabach members James Lindsay, Conal McDonagh, and Calum MacCrimmon, singing backup.

Ewan was inspired to write the song after having read the book Revolution by Todd Westbrook and making a visit to a wind farm. It’s a poetic and thougthful response to those experiences. There’s a lot going on in the song, and in the video, too, which band member James Lindsay edited.

Gordon Lightfoot passed on recently. He was known for songs which spoke of the hard sides of life as well as the brighter ones, and for celebrating the landscapes and people of his native Canada. Here is Alberta Bound, which was first recorded on Lightfoot’s album called Don Quixote and may also be found on many compilations.

Hanneke Cassel wrote the tune Evacuation Day on March 17, 2020.

That’s a holiday celebrated in the Boston and Somerville areas of Massachusetts, marking a day in the American Revolutionary War when English troops quickly evacuated themselves from that area up to Nova Scotia to avoid defeat in battle. It turned out to be a day when many aspects of the global pandemic began to take hold too, and -- it’s also Saint Patrick’s Day.

Evacuation Day is recorded on Cassel’s album Infinite Brightness. It’s a collection in which she offers music that acknowledges loss and celebrates joy, as well.

Cassel, who is based in the Boston area, draws on Scottish and Cape Breton traditions in her work, and at times includes touches of the western swing she began learning growing up in Oregon and bluegrass chops she admires from other musicians. A respected teacher, composer, and musical collaborator, Cassel chose to focus on celebration when making the video for Evacuation Day, which was recorded at The Burren in Somerville.

The video begins with just Cassel on her fiddle and longtime musical partner Keith Murphy on guitar. Soon, though, the two are joined by members of the New England musical community to share tunes and dance and joy in making both.

One of the people you will see in that video is Neil Pearlman, clapping along and laughing, playing mandolin, and step dancing.

All of that makes sense: Pearlman, who is based in Maine, is known for his skills as a collaborator, including working with the fusion band Alba’s Edge, the Cape Breton music- focused ensemble Farsan, the Katie MacNally Trio, and in a duo with Shetland fiddle player Kevin Henderson.

For his solo album Refractions, Neil chose to focus on piano.

“Traditional Scottish tunes are some of the very first music I ever heard or played, so going into that repertoire and having a conversation with it as the artist I am am today was a powerful experience, and a good way to explore both who I am and where I come from,” Neil said.

This is his take on the traditional Gaelic melody 'S I Mo Cheist An Gille Donn. That is a title you could interpret several ways: the brown haired lad is my darling is one, the brown haired lad perplexes me is another. Since cheist/ceist is a word for question in Scottish Gaelic, that could be closer to the mark -- although both are often true in relationships, anyway.

May the creativity of these musicians inspire your own creativity and reflection 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.