Music for Reflection

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Jul 17, 2017 / 0 comments

In the midst of change, news that's challenging, unsettling, or inscrutable, it is often good to take a step back, to pause and let such things settle in the mind or in the heart while thinking over what's next. Music can be a useful and interesting way to take such a pause. Here are four ideas of music to invite or go along with such times of reflection.

Music for Reflection

The Lark Ascending is one of the most well loved pieces of music in the UK. You could hear it as a joyful celebration -- composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was inspired by the words of a nineteenth century poem celebrating the singing of a lark. You could also hear it as a lament, or something in between. Nicola Benedetti plays it here with graceful interpretation that makes a statement yet leaves things open for the listener's own thoughts as well.


Benedetti is good at that. She is a native Scot who grew up in East Kilbride just outside Glasgow. Rather than taking her interest in violin into Scottish traditional music, as might have been expected, from a young age she was drawn to classical music. Benedetti has made a stellar career playing with symphonies worldwide, in chamber music configurations, and in duo work. She is a passionate advocate of exposing children to music and was recently given a Queen's Medal for Music by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of her work in music education. The Lark Ascending is recorded on Benedetti's album My First Decade. She does not forget Scotland, either: at this writing, her most recent recording is Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy, in which she pairs Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy,  a classical piece based on themes from Scottish folk music, with folk music pieces. Several of Scotland's most respected folk musicians collaborate with Benedetti on the folk music, among them Phil Cunningham, Duncan Chisholm, and Julie Fowlis.

There is no doubt that MacCrimmon's Lament is, as its name says, a lament. More than a simple expression of sorrow, though, it is a reflective piece. The MacCrimmons were hereditary pipers to the MacLeods of Skye. This piece is said to have been written about Donald Ban MacCrimmon, who was killed in a battle during the Rising in 1745. Some stories say that Donald Ban wrote it himself in premonition of his own death. MacCrimmon's Lament has been recorded by many singers, among them Jean Redpath and Dick Gaughan; here it is sung by Robyn Stapleton, at a performance in City Halls, in Glasgow.


Robyn Stapleton comes from Stranraer, in southwest Scotland. She focuses on music of her Scottish and Irish heritage, and  has studied at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow and the University of Limerick in Ireland. In 2014, she won BBC Radio Scotland's Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition (this video is from that concert) and has performed with Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Scottish Ensemble, and at festivals and on broadcast programs internationally. Like Benedetti, Robyn Stapleton is committed to the importance of community education in music, and has been recognized as an Ambassador of the Scots Language by Education Scotland. MacCrimmon's Lament is recorded on her album Fickle Fortune.

Hanneke Cassel is a fiddle player, composer, and educator based in the Boston area. Her original work is centered in the music of Scotland, tempered on occasion by her international travels and her love for American bluegrass. This is a three tune set of original pieces, Conchas Chinas/ Walks with Yih Wen/SimonDesilets of Saint Louis. It is recorded on the album Trip to Walden Pond


Cassel, who counts a US National Scottish Fiddle Championship among recognitions on her resume, has found inspiration for her compositions in ideas as different as the Boston Red Sox and a thought about painting she encountered on a trip to China. She says that many of the tunes on Trip to Walden Pond were commissioned to help others celebrate people or events. The title track commemorates a happy circumstance in her own life: the day after a trip to Walden Pond one summer several years back, her husband, cellist Mike Block, proposed. When Cassel is not composing or performing, you'll often find her teaching at fiddle camps as close to home as Boston and as far away as India, China, and New Zealand.

One of the fiddlers Hanneke Cassel learned from when she attended fiddle camps as she was starting out was Alasdair Fraser. A Scot who has been long resident in California, Fraser is the founder of Valley of the Moon and other stringed music camps which have set many gifted musicians on the path to top careers. One such student was cellist Natalie Haas. Together she and Fraser have reinvented the Scottish fiddle cello duo idea, and taken their collaboration into Cape Breton, Quebecois, and other styles, as well as into composing original pieces based in Scottish tradition. When Haas, who is based in Massachusetts, and Fraser, who is based in California, are not performing on stages across the world, you can find them teaching at fiddle camps and workshops from Spain to Australia. For this consideration of reflective tunes, Freedom Come All Ye is a good fit in melody, idea, and history. 

Freedom Come All Ye was written by Scot Hamish Henderson in the early 1960s. The melody is based on a First World War pipe march called The Bloody Fields of Flanders, which was composed by John McLellan. Henderson's original lyrics were in Scots, though some rather awkward translations to English have been offered. The original lyrics contain some time and place specific references. The main thoughts, though, are that Scots will no longer be oppressors abroad or be oppressed at home, and that the day will come when people of all the world will unite in harmony. Here, Fraser and Haas present the tune without words, all the more powerful for that. It is followed by a jig composed by Haas and is recorded on their album Ports of Call

Read other stories in this series:

Songs of Courage

Asking Questions, Telling Stories: Music for Times of Change

Music for Unsettling Times: Conversations and Questions

Music of Resilience

Songs of Hope

Songs of Hope, Gracias a La Vida

Songs of Friendship

Music in Times of Change

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

Music: The Power of Connection


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