Winter's Music for Connection and Celebration, Solitude and Reflection

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Dec 20, 2021 / 0 comments

Winter: it's a season of connection and celebration, solitude and reflection.

It is also a time of stories, and of music.

Quite a few of those stories have to do with Advent, and Christmas. Whether those are within your faith or not, there is much to enjoy and learn in the stories. There are many stories of the season told with no words, as well.

Winter's Music for Connection and Celebration, Solitude and Reflection

One such is O Come O Come Emmanuel/Star of Wonder. Hanneke Cassel pairs the Advent hymn with which she opens the set with her own tune, Star of Wonder. This makes an inspired pairing, which is the title track and the opener of Cassel's album O Come Emmanuel.

It is newly released at this writing, though making a Christmas album has long been a dream for Cassel. Her clear and creative touch on the fiddle centers the album, for which she has chosen contemporary and classic seasonal music, along with music she has composed. Based in the Boston area, the former Scottish National Fiddle Champion and award-winning composer has chosen musical friends both near and far to join in, among them cellist Mike Block, Jeremy Kittel on violin and viola, Jenna Moynihan on 5 string fiddle, and Yann Falquet on guitar. There are guests on vocals, too, including Aoife O'Donovan, Keith Murphy, Like Bulla, and Helene Blum. Tracks include Solid Rock/Eilidh's Christmas Morning, See Amid the Winter's Snow, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and an especially creative and lovely take on Silent Night.

April Verch, who plays fiddle, step dances, and sings, and Joe Newberry, who plays guitar, banjo, and other instruments along with singing, have been doing Christmas tours together for several years. The first time they have recorded their seasonal music comes this year, though, with the album On This Christmas Day. It is mostly original material, drawing on April's background growing up in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario, Canada, and Joe's Appalachian and Ozark roots. That leads them to excellent collaborations, whether the piece is a reflective one, such as the title track, or lively pieces such as Round the Christmas Tree and Breaking Up Christmas.

Kathy Mattea has two seasonal albums out, Good News and Joy for Christmas Day. There is much to enjoy on both. This song, called When the Baby Grew Up, brings together lively music with lyrics that remind that the story of Christmas both includes and goes on beyond seasonal celebrations. It's on Joy for Christmas Day, where you will also want to listen out for a thoughtful Christmas Collage of traditional holiday music, and the contemporary song Straw Against the Chill. On Good News, you might listen for New Kid in Town and Mary Did You Know?

Rani Arbo, along with the three men who make up daisy mayhem, Andrew Kinsey, Anand Nayak, and Scott Kessel, look at varied aspects of the winter season on their album Wintersong, where you will find original and traditional material. The New England-based musicians draw on a range of folk styles to make their own distinctive music. All four are singers, with harmony being a mark of their sound. They are each talented players, as well...Arbo on fiddle and guitar, Kinsey on bass and ukluele, Nayak on  acoustic and electric guitars, and Kessel on percussion. With the song Hot Buttered Rum, they consider how love and connection intertwine with and transcend seasonal celebration.

Connection during and beyond the season threads through Massachusetts-based Matt and Shannon Heaton's album Fine Winter's Night, as well. Drawing on places where Irish and Americana music meet, both Heatons sing and both write songs and compose tunes. Shannon plays flute, Matt guitar and bouzouki. On First Snowfall of December, Matt imagined a holiday story of connection inspired by a house he often passes by...

In addition to the title track, listen out especially for O Little Town of Bethlehem, the Wexford Carol, First Dust of Snow, and Fisherman's Lullabye.  You may also enjoy checking out Matt's winter-themed children's music album Snow Day.

Several years back Phil Cunningham, one of Scotland's top musicians, had the chance to put together a Christmas concert. It was meant to be a one-off thing, but Cunningham and musical friends John McCusker, Ian Carr, Eddi Reader, Karen Matheson, Kevin McGure, and Kris Drever had such a fine time they decided to continue it, and worked out their schedules so that they could join up for short holiday tours around Scotland. Eventually, they put some of that fun on record, too. On the album Phil Cunningham's Christmas Songbook, you will find music including Little Drummer Boy, In the Bleak Midwinter,  Santa Will Find You, and The Holly and the Ivy. Karen Matheson sings lead on Sweet Bells, a song which evokes the spirit of holiday connection which lasts beyond the season.

May the creativity of this music help you find and enjoy connections amidst this festive season.


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.