Music for a New Year

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Jan 20, 2020 / 0 comments

The turning of a year invites looking forward and looking back. The ancient Romans knew this, hence Janus, from whom January takes its name, faces in both directions. Seismic changes in all areas of life seem to be almost normal in these last years, which is certainly a looking-both-ways statement in itself.

Music for a New Year

To begin this new year, here are several pieces of music to help you consider living in such an age of change, and what may be learned.

When Rabi Arbo and Scott Kessel, Andrew Kinsey, and Anand Nayak decided to make what became their album Wintersong, one of the things Arbo did was to go looking for poems that for which she might write music. Ring Out Wild Bells, a section of a longer poem by Victorian writer Alfred Lord Tennyson, is a result. "Tennyson published it in 1850 after the death of his sister's fiancée at the age of 22; it is part of a longer elegy, In Memoriam," she said. "It seems to balance an unshakeable grief with a need to articulate hope. In my reading — and in this musical setting — the grief is winning, even while it's understood that hope is the only way forward." The whole recording, she pointed out, "is our ode to light and dark, and to the balance of both at the turning of the year."

The work and hope, the uncertainties and possibilities at at the year's turning and at other times are times to think of giving an receiving blessings for the journeys, too. Music makes a good way to experience both. Here is Cathie Ryan's version of Roger and Camilla McGuinn's song, which includes and extends an ancient  Irish blessing you may know -- and which, among other places, you will these days find on the walls at the Dublin airport if you take notice of detail. You may find the song on Ryan's album Through Wind & Rain.

Reflection—that often goes along with the turning of the year. Thinking about growing older, the changes that may bring, how much time is left, and what you've done with the time you have, all of those come along, whatever your age as a new year begins. Author and teacher Parker J. Palmer has been thinking about these thing as he goes into his eighties, and has written a book about it. Musician Carrie Newcomer respects and enjoys Palmer's work, and she decided to write a song inspired by it. Book and song share the title On the Brink of Everything. They also share a look at aging and change and the turning of the calendar as sources of wisdom and grace, though these may come in unexpected ways.  Newcomer has recorded the song on her album The Point of Arrival.

At the turning of the year, landscapes and people often find themselves in the depths of winter. Winter is a season which holds both bleakness and beauty, solitude and community. In her piece Winter Song, Emily Smith takes note of these things, and of the idea of hope which is at times hidden in the heart of winter landscape. You will find the song on Emily Smith's album Songs for Christmas.

Friendship is well needed to celebrate, navigate, and live through changes seasonal, personal, and political. More than 200 years ago, Scottish poet Robert Burns recognized this. Among the hundreds of poems Burns wrote the are several lasting ones about friendship. Among them is one sung around the world at the turning of the year, Auld Lang Syne. Here, Jim Malcolm, himself a Scot, sings an understated version of this classic, which you may find recorded on his album of the songs of Robert Burns, which is called Acquaintance.

May these songs be good companions for the shifting times as the year begins, and beyond.

Take a listen to the work of these artists beyond these pieces, too. They have wisdom and creativity to share.



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.