Music and Connection: Telling Stories

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Jul 15, 2019 / 0 comments

A conversation with a friend, a passing exchange with a stranger, a favorite show, an article in a magazine or a headline in a newspaper, a window display, a note in a journal, a sketch on a napkin, a photograph, a book, a song: these are all stories, all ways in which we organize, create, and remember our days, and our lives.

How we tell these stories, to ourselves and to each other, shapes and shares perspectives on the world. In shifting times, especially, it is important to think about such perspectives and ways we share and shape them.

Music and Connection: Telling Stories

For this article in the music for shifting times series, I've been thinking about music and story. Read -- and listen -- on:

There are stories within stories within stories in the song (and the video made for it) Drifter's Wind. It is a song rooted and grounded in the southwestern United States. The ideas it may suggest are not limited by that landscape, though. Tish Hinojosa wrote the song more than twenty years ago. When I came across it again recently, it sparked the idea for this article. You may find the song recorded on Hinojosa's album Culture Swing. That whole album is well worth your listening, as are the many recordings Hinojosa has made since. Two recent projects from Tish Hinojosa  are the album West and a re-recording of her early album Homeland, called My Homeland

There's a rather different but equally well told story of memory, change, family, and travel in the song The Hills of South Armagh. Armagh is a county in Northern Ireland, a place of long history and a landscape of hills and byways which suggest the stories they hold. Briege Murphy, who wrote the song, is from those hills. Her recording of the song is out of print at present. You may hear it sung, though, by Aoife Scott and Frances Black together. Both of them have recorded the song, Aoife on her album Carry the Day and Frances on her recording This Love Will Carry.

Music is as much a part of telling stories as are the words put to it; at times, in all sorts of music traditions, music without words -- called tunes in Celtic traditions -- is part of the mix. These can work just as well for storytelling. Matt and Shannon Heaton have performed on stages and headlined festivals from Boston to Thailand and points between. They are both top songwriters and singers, too. In this lighthearted approach to the tunes Lucky Dozen and Skylark, they are equally accomplished at playing a set out in the back yard by their garden shed at home, too. You may find the set recorded on their album called Blue Skies Above. You might also enjoy Matt's children's album Happy You Made It, and Shannon's podcast Irish Music Stories, as well as their recent album as a duo, called Tell You in Earnest.

Just the compass of my heart
to find the path 
Seen only in the dark, flash to
lightning flash

sings Carrie Newcomer as she tells the tale in of her song called Writing a Better Story. In just about four minutes' time Newcomer talks of journeys, ending, beginnings, and risk -- a lot to tackle, sure, and set to a finger-snap melody, too. It all works. You will find the song recorded on Newcomer's album The Point of Arrival.

Spell Songs is a project that arose from a book that arose from a collaboration between writer Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris. Learning that certain words, many of them to do with the natural world, were being dropped from a major children's dictionary, they decided to create a book with the idea of summoning the words back into people's knowledge. One of their concerns was that that if you don't know something's name -- a wren, say, or an otter -- you don't really take notice of it. There's a lot more to be said about that book, which is called Lost Words. There's more to be said about Spell Songs, too, music which arose as several musicians challenged themselves to get together over a week's time to create music inspired by the book. You've met some of these musicians elsewhere in this series and elsewhere in my writing, too, and some will be new to you: Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart, Rachel Newton, and Kris Drever from Scotland, London based composer Kerry Andrew, kora master Seckou Keita, cellist Beth Porter, and multi-instrumentalist Jim Molyneux. Though there is quite a bit more to be said about all that, for this story line, let us end with the song The Lost Words Blessing, which seems entirely appropriate as we consider we tell stories to ourselves, and to each other. "May you set the stream alight with glitter... be the singer and the speaker..." indeed.



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.