Music's invitation to reflection, to connection, to peace

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Jan 18, 2021 / 0 comments

Music for shifting times. Four years ago, when we chose the title for this series, we could not have known what lay in store. There is no need for me to rehearse those events for you, and in any case, you will see them as you choose. Several threads which I would encourage you to follow, though, and which run through the music we have been sharing with you over these years are respect, reflection, connection, integrity, and peace.

Sunset on a snowy landscape in the Pentland Hills. From Music's invitation to reflection, to connection, to peace

Music is a way to reflect on these things, and to get back to them when noise of changes drowns them out for a time.

Directly and indirectly, the music in this episode of Music for Shifting Times relates to that idea.

Emily Smith is from Scotland; Jamie McClennan comes from New Zealand. They live in the southwest of Scotland, making music that honors both Emily's interest in the music of Scotland's traditions and Jamie's inclination toward Americana style. They both write, they both sing, they both play instruments. This quiet video, filmed at home by their fireside, is of the song Wait for Me, which Jamie wrote. You will find it recorded on their duo album Smith & McClennan: Small Town Stories.

Western Wall is a duet also, with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt joining up on a song written by Rosanne Cash. As with the other songs in this story, there's much for reflection in a few verses. It is a story told by singers who illuminate the song by understatement.  You will find it recorded on their duo album Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions.

The Lost Words: Spell Songs is a project which grew out of a book.

Several years ago, artist Jackie Morris learned that some words, mainly to do with nature, were to be dropped from a children's dictionary popular where she lives in the UK. She decided to do a book of illustrations of these words, hoping to call them back, so to speak. When she contacted nature writer Robert Macfarlane about writing an introduction to such a book, he came back with the idea: what if he wrote a series of poems, spells, so to speak, to go along with her art?  

This became the book The Lost Words. When Caroline and Adam Slough of the Folk by the Oak Festival heard and saw this work, they thought, what if these ideas were given to musicians? The result of that was a collaboration among musicians Karine Polwart, Kris Drever, Rachel Newton, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Kerry Andrew, Jim Molyneux, and Beth Porter...which came to be the album The Lost Words: Spell Songs.

The eight musicians gathered to create a cycle of songs. Their talents and backgrounds are varied, though each of them has connections with traditional folk music. You will see the artists at work in this video, which was filmed by Elly Lucas Photography and edited by Ben Davis.

The song itself is called The Lost Words Blessing. It is the last track on the album, and was inspired by forms of traditional blessing in Gaelic. It is offered, the artists say, "both in hope and light, and in grief for the losses and dark times yet to come."

Walk through the world with care, my love
And sing the things you see
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow
And even as you stumble through machair sands eroding
Let the fern unfurl your grieving, let the heron still your breathing
Let the selkie swim you deeper, oh my little silver-seeker
Even as the hour grows bleaker, be the singer and the speaker
And in city and in forest, let the larks become your chorus
And when every hope is gone, let the raven call you home

Jay Ungar and Molly Mason have been making music together for more than three decades now. His main instrument is the fiddle, hers the guitar, though they both play other instruments, and they both sing. This tune is called The Misty Dawn, which you may find recorded on their album The Lovers' Waltz. You may also wish to check out their recent album The Quiet Room. In addition, since March the couple have been offering an hour or so of music each Wednesday evening US eastern time from their Jay and Molly Facebook page. Past episodes are archived there, also.

You met Emily Smith and Jamie McClennan by their fireside in the first song in this story. Here they return, this time in a video of them on stage with Emily taking the lead in singing the contemporary song John o' Dreams. It is a song which could be taken as a blessing of sorts, a lullabye, an invitation to reflection, to connection, to peace. You will find it recorded on Emily's album Echoes.

May these songs and reflection on them offer you peace as you make your way 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 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.