Adventure in Music: Holiday Gift Ideas

Music makes a good gift, and one that invites adventure: it may be enjoyed in company or in solitude. It can inspire movement or stillness. It comes in all sorts of forms and brings with it all sorts of ideas. Music can evoke memories of places you have traveled, help create memories while you are on a journey, and open doors of imagination to places new to you.

christmas gifts adventure music

Music does indeed make a fine gift. The winter season of gatherings and gifts is here as I write this – music makes a fine gist for any season, though. The travelers on your list, whether their travels are through geography or imagination, will find much to enjoy and inspire through these recordings.

Working in Australia, Tim Cole and Bao Bao Chen became inspired and concerned about what might be lost as climate change affects the southern hemisphere – especially what knowledge and gifts that music passes on might be lost. They set out on what became a three year journey to connect with artists, particularly tradition bearers, across an Austronesian landscape that included Taiwan, Borneo, Vanuatu, Australia, Easter Island and other places. The result is the recording Small Island Big Song, in which they found creative ways to honor and share the music heritage and adventures of these often unfamiliar cultures.

Darol Anger and Emy Phelps took a different approach to adventure. They chose to re-imagine and focus on the enduring – folk, if you will – aspects of eleven songs from past decades of popular music. These are songs you’ll most likely know, whichever country you may call home at present. Up On the Roof, These Boots Are Made for Walking, You Keep Me Hanging On, Stoney End, Bird On a Wire: that gives you the idea. Music of Our People, they have chosen to call the album, Phelps is the singer, Anger plays guitar, mandolin and fiddle. Both have a range of top class past experiences in music. For this they have also invited along an acoustic orchestra of sorts including banjo wizard Tony Trischka and harp player and singer Maeve Gilchrist.

Jeremy Kittel has always been a musician who respects adventure, playing and composing works in Celtic, jazz, and classical styles, to name just a few. Raised in Michigan, he travels the world with his fiddle and makes a base in New York. For his album Whorls he has put together a quintet of fellow adventurous acoustic players to create a landscape of engaging instrumental music which moves among mood and genre in ways that lead the listener from dance to reflection and back again. Update: Word comes that a track on Whorls, Chrysalis, has been nominated for a Grammy in the category of best original instrumental composition. Congratulations Jeremy!

Rhiannon Giddens draws on a background that includes North Carolina stringband music, opera studies at university, and immersion in Gaelic culture, as well as her experiences of and reflections on growing up African American in the US south. These inform both her songwriting and her choice of songs to cover for her album Freedom Highway. It is an intense journey, one that can give context to unfolding political events as well and remind of timeless ideas.

Sarah-Jane Summers brings intensity her work, as well. In her case that is passion for the music, language, and landscapes of the Highlands of Scotland where she was raised. Summers is a fiddle player, often found sharing her talents in collaborative situations. Her album Solo, however, is just what it says: the woman and her fiddle. In in she honors music she learnt early in her life and includes pieces drawn from recent research as well. There’s a nod to her love of connections between Scotland the Nordic lands on one tune. Summers is a gifted composer as well. The one of her own tunes she’s included on Solo honors that aspect of her work and stands well alongside the pieces from Scotland’s tradition.

winter adventure music

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh also knows what she’s about when honoring tradition, in her case that is traditions of the music, especially Gaelic language music, of Ireland. She’s a fine interpreter of contemporary song and a gifted flute player, too. All these come into play on her recording Foxglove & Fuschia. The title track is a recently composed song from her frequent musical collaborator Gerry O’Beirne. “It makes me think of what the roads around West Kerry look like in spring,” she says. Nic Amhlaoibh wanted the music on Foxglove & Fuschia to be a mix of what it’s like when she’s at home in West Kerry playing a gig with friends , when she mixes tunes played on her flute with Gaelic songs and contemporary music in English — and so it is. Update: A track from Foxglove & Fuschia, Bean Dubh A’ Ghleanna, has been named best traditional folk track of the year at the RTE Radio 1 Folk Awards in Ireland. Congratulations Muireann!

The music on Childsplay’s recording The Bloom of Youth brings several strands of the musics explored above together.

The core of Childsplay is more than a dozen New England based fiddlers, all playing instruments made by Bob Childs. In their lives outside the group they have careers in areas including Scottish, Irish, Americana, and classical music. Flute, guitar and keyboard players come along to add depth to the original and traditional music. So does the singing of top Irish artist Karan Casey. This too is an adventurous journey, with new tunes and songs and familiar ones showing the creativity and fun the musicians enjoy.

As you are considering gifts for the travelers on your list, the work of these musicians will create many an adventure. Perhaps you will decide to listen for an adventure of your own, too.

Perhaps you are thinking about ideas for music of the winter season? Those will be coming up. Meanwhile, have a look at this piece Music for a Winter’s Eve over at Wandering Educators.

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