Music for Autumn's Landscapes

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Nov 15, 2021 / 0 comments

Shadows slant differently in autumn light. Nights draw in sooner; there may be an edge to the wind. That wind often plays music on the rustling leaves as they turn to autumn's colors of red and gold.

It is a time of gathering as well as solitude, of reflection as well as celebration. All these take place in the frame of the natural world. Those changes and connections are subjects artists often turn to for reflection themselves.

May this music aid in your reflections and actions on the changes of this autumn season.

Music for Autumn's Landscapes

Oak: Kris Drever uses that one word to weave stories of connections among humans and nature across time, from ships to wood for the hearth, from barns to caskets to "tables that we sing around," the oak's cycles of life intersect with our own. A single tree may see generations come and go.

Oak is part of the Spell Songs II: Let the Light In project. That is the name of the album on which it is recorded also. The music was composed and is performed by the Spell Songs artists who are, in addition to Drever, Secko Keita, Beth Porter, Karine Polwart, Rachel Newton, Jim Molyneuxand Julie Fowlis.

The music is inspired by the work of artist Jackie Morris and writer Rob Macfarlane. It all began when Morris, who lives in the UK, learned that a number of words, most to do with the natural world, were to be dropped from a popular children's dictionary. A respected illustrator, she determined to make a book of paintings to honor the words, to call the ideas back to life.

She contacted nature writer Macfarlane to see if he would write a forward for such a book. He came back with the idea of writing poems -- spells, if you will -- to go along. The book the Lost Words came to be. It caught the attention of the organizers of the Folk by the Oak Festival, who brought the musicians together for their first collaboration, The Lost Words: Spell  Songs. You have met several songs from that project already in this series.

Morris and Macfarlane created second book, The Lost Spells. After lockdown restrictions eased, the musicians, who live in various parts of England and Scotland, were able to gather again and create new music. Spell Songs II: Let the Light In is set for release in December, with songs about bramble, swifts, wrens, and silver birch, among other things.

Connection is an idea Cathie Ryan explores in her song In My Tribe. As a first generation daughter of parents from Ireland who has lived in both the United States and Ireland, that idea has always been present in her life and work. While she was on a visit to the Navajo Nation in the US southwest, aspects of this came up that Ryan hadn't expected. She distilled them into this song. You will find it recorded on her album Somewhere Along the Road. You may also wish to see Ryan's album Through Wind and Rain.

Connection to landscape, season, and memory may become even more powerful when one has moved away. That is an idea Karen Matheson channels as she sings Chi Mi Bhuam. That translates as I see afar. The writer is far distant from his well-loved place on the isle of Mull in Scotland's Inner Hebrides. Matheson is singing in Scottish Gaelic, supported by graceful piano work from Donald Shaw. You will find the song on her album Downriver. You may also wish to see her album Still Time, and her work with the band Capercaillie.

Knees Up from the Scottish band Breabach joins a tune composed by band member Calum MacCrimmon called Knees Up in Hanoi with Dòchas Glan Na Fàire, a song written by MacCrimmon and Ewan Henderson. It is sung by Ewan's sister Megan, who is also part of Breabach. The video to go along is about connection, journey, landscape, and renewal as well. It is recorded on the band's album Frenzy of the Meeting. You may also wish to look for their album Dùsgadh.

Jay Ungar and Molly Mason make their home in the Catskill Mountians of New York state. Seasons play a part in their lives there, in their music, and in the work they do at the educational site The Ashokan Center. Molly drew on this, and her background growing up among farms in the Pacific northwest, to create the song Bound for Another Harvest Home. You will hear Molly singing and playing guitar, along with Jay playing fiddle, on the piece. It appears on several of the couple's recordings, among them the one called Harvest Home. You may also want to se Jay Ungar and Molly Mason's album called The Quiet Room.

Mason sings

Soon the time will some to rest
and know that man and earth are blessed
and they're bound for another harvest home
we're all bound for another harvest home


May the creativity of these artists make a good companion for you as you go through this autumn of change, renewal, and connection.


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.