Music for December, a time of hope and reflection

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Dec 19, 2023 / 0 comments

December is a time which invites reflection. That is true wherever you might be, and whatever else may be going on.

December can also be a time of many things to get done, holidays to celebrate, gatherings to attend, travel plans, resolutions for the coming year...

Each of those activities will benefit from a bit of space, a bit of time for reflection. That may come before, during, after you take part, of course—and music is a fine way to invite reflection and a fine companion alongside quiet consideration, as well.

Music for December, a time of hope and reflection

O Watch the Stars is a song that makes a fine way to begin. This recording is by The Furrow Collective, who are a quartet of musicians from England and Scotland. The song began its life in the African American communities of St Helena Island in South Carolina in the US. The members of The Furrow Collective (Lucy Farrell, Rachel Newton, Emily Portman, and Alasdair Roberts) learned the song from a 1950s recording of it by the Seeger Sisters, and chose it for the Collective’s recent album We Know by The Moon. Andy Bell, whose work you’ve met before in this series in connection with Spell Songs, produced the album.

Andy Bell also produced this next track, which comes from an entirely different album. The song is called Bird of the Blizzard. It is on the album Spell Songs: Gifts of Light. You’ve heard other songs from Spell Songs projects in this series before: the music, inspired by the art of Jackie Morris and the words of Robert Macfarlane, has to do with the natural world.

It is the third album from Spell Songs, just released at this writing. It is a gathering of live recordings, chosen from concerts at Birmingham Symphony Hall and within the Hintze Hall of the Natural History Museum in London.

This finds Julie Fowlis, who comes from Scotland’s Western Isles, singing lead, joined on voice and instrument by the other Spell Songs musicians, who are Jim Molyneux, Kris Drever, Beth Porter, Rachel Newton, Seckou Keita, and Karine Polwart.

The story told in the song is one of journey and change, ice and snow. One verse which speaks of that journey:

A map made of wonder
That tracks what’s fading.
Cold has a memory
And its colour is blue

The live recordings on The Gifts of Light reveal more facets of excellent songs and musical collaborations. You may find the studio verison of Bird of the Blizzard recorded on the album Spell Songs II: Let the Light In.

Boston area-based Matt and Shannon Heaton decided to draw together African American and Celtic traditions for the song Fisherman’s Lullaby. In doing so they have created not only a Christmas song, but one which resonates and reaches beyond the story of the season to remind of hope.

"When trials rise, sing gloria/When the world reels, sing gloria..." is part of what they sing. You will find the song on their album Fine Winter’s Night.

Also one with notes of hope and resilience, this time without words, consider Carol and the Kings from Alison Brown.  

You will recognize parts of the melodies Alison brings in but may not have heard them in quite the way Alison and members of the Alison Brown QuartetGarry West on bass, John R Burr on keys, Larry Atamaniuk on drum—and guest fiddle player Joe Craven play them.

Alison’s main instrument is the banjo, to which she brings bluegrass, jazz, Celtic, classical, and country influences. This track is recorded on The Alison Brown Quartet’s album called Evergreen. Alison Brown is based in Nashville, where in addition to being a Grammy winning musician, she is co-founder of Compass Records Group.

Fiddle is Hanneke Cassel’s main instrument. Her distinctive style of playing both fiddle and piano and her gifts as a composer are well represented on her album O Come Emmanuel, on which she has invited musical friends to add their voices to several tracks. One of those tracks is Silent Night.

Kaela Rowan, Jasmine Chen, Lizje Sarria, and Helene Blum sing lines of the well-loved song in Gaelic, Mandarin, Spanish, and Danish respectively, joined and backed by Hanneke’s fiddle work with her piano and fiddle drawing the music to to graceful conclusion.

December is often a time of journeys, both through geography and in other ways. The stories told in the songs we have explored here are part of that. Hope of varied sorts is a thread which conncts this music in several ways, so it seems only right to send you on the next stage of your winter journey with the song Find Hope.

Emily Smith, who is from Scotland, sings it here, accompanied by her husband and musical partner Jamie McClennan on fiddle and top Scottish instrumentalist Anna Massie on guitar.

You will find the song recorded on Emily Smith’s album Songs for Christmas.

Wishing you thoughtful and peaceful winter journeys.


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.