Music for a Month of Transitions

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Feb 21, 2022 / 0 comments

February: whether you are in the northern hemisphere with winter or the southern one with summer, it is a month of transition. In weather, in plans, in quality of light, and in the stories we tell, there are contrasts and changes, back and forth, from one day to the next.

Here are several ways musicians look at these things. At whatever point in the year you are reading this, there is much to explore and consider.

Music for a Month of Transitions

In the United States, this is a time of year when Black history is especially celebrated. To honor that, learn about an artist whose presence reaches beyond any one month, race, or community: Odetta.

Odetta Holmes learned a lot about change. She was  born in Alabama in 1930; she died in New York in 2008. Folk music, jazz, spirituals, and blues made up the music she loved. With her powerful voice and passionate style -- and passionate commitment to social justice -- she put her own stamp on songs, including Water Boy, Cotton Fields,Take This Hammer, If I Had a Ribbon Bow, and many others. She has inspired many as well, among them Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Carly Simon, and Rhiannon Giddens.

Odetta toured and participated in civil right events until shortly before she died. Though late in her life she used a wheelchair, her power and presence remained undiminished.

There are many recordings of her work available; Odetta at Carnegie Hall, a live concert recording from 1960, could be a good place to start.

Saint Bridgid of Ireland was another woman whose power has lasted beyond her lifetime and native place. She lived from around 451 to about 525. She grew up in Louth and later, further south in Kildare, became an abbess and may have traveled with Saint Patrick.

Bridgid is the patron saint of poetry, healing, learning, and blacksmithing, among other things, and she shares a name, and perhaps some legends, with a Celtic goddess.

Irish American musician Cathie Ryan lives in Louth and often tells stories of Bridgid in her teaching and in her concerts. This is a hymn in praise of Saint Bridgid, in Irish. You will find it on Ryan's album The Farthest Wave.

Making it through storms and changes often suggests thoughts of refuge and home. That is part of what Megan Henderson was thinking of with her tune Almost Home; she was also thinking of a painting by artist Christine Clark.

Megan has known of Christine's work for some time; they both come from Lochaber in Scotland. When Megan was offered a commission by Celtic Connections to create a project of original music, she knew where she would turn for inspiration. This project would lead to Megan's first solo recording, Pilgrim Souls. in which all the music is inspired by Clark's art.

A fiddle player, pianist, and singer, Megan has toured the world and recorded a number of albums with the top band Breabach (you've met their work here in this series before). "I wanted to capture the energy and emotion that Christine's artwork makes me feel," Megan says, "and I am delighted to be able to share that with everyone."

Scottish composer Kenneth I. MacKenzie holds several different aspects of home in his piece Glendrian. It is a lament, inspired in part by an abandoned village in an area of the Highlands with family connections for Kenny, who plays pipes on the tune.

There is sadness, but also reflection, respect, and a touch of welcome. Landscapes, people, and stories of the Highlands are MacKenzie's inspiration for the waltzes, jigs, marches, reels, and slow airs which fill the album on which you will find it. Within them, too, you will find that mix of welcome and reflection. The album is also called Glendrian.

Connection is one of the themes the artists of the Spell Songs project bring to their work, as well. You have met them in this series before -- Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart, Rachel Newton, Kris Drever, Seckou Keita, Beth Porter, and Jim Molyneux -- both with their individual work and as part of the Spell Songs collaboration.

That collaboration began when artist Jackie Morris decided to create book of illustrations to call back into use and celebrate a number of words to do with nature which were going to be dropped from a popular children's dictionary where she lives in the UK. She contacted nature writer Robert Macfarlane to see if he'd write a forward for such a book. He came back with the idea: what if I wrote poems --spells to call the words back, so to speak -- to go along with the art?

There are two books now, The Lost Words and The Lost Spells. The presenters at Folk by the Oak Festival in England became intrigued and thought to bring together musicians they knew had interest in nature. Now there are two albums, as well.

There are also concert tours, which have been affected in varied ways by recent events. After the first few dates of a recent tour, the artists arrived at Sage Gateshead in northeast England to find that the concert could not go ahead, not because of health considerations, but because a storm had damaged the venue, so it would not be safe for the audience to attend. They decided to record a song to share on the night anyway. You will find it on the album Spell Songs II: Let the Light In. It is called Thrift. The song honors both the plant, which grow along seacoasts in often challenging conditions, and the concept of resilience.

May the creativity of these artists offer you reflection, insight, and inspiration in whatever season you may find yourself.


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.