We’re kicking off this month’s Contributor’s week by interviewing my friend Kerry Dexter. She’s your friend, too, if you read A Traveler’s Library Great American Road Trip last year, because she provided the musical accompaniment for each and every place we visited. I enjoyed that partnership with Kerry so much and also am always delighted by her thoughtful posts at Music Road. Even before we partnered on the road trip, I had picked her brain about music while traveling, so it seemed only natural to ask her to use her music travel expertise and contribute Music Travel Monday to A Traveler’s Library. Last month she took us to Nova Scotia for the Celtic Colours Music Festival at Cape Breton Island.
Kerry Dexter: Are we not all born travelers? As I was growing up, there were people in my family and in my neighborhood from other parts of the world I always knew there was a wide world, and that it was made up of real people with real lives.
I could talk about hours and days and years immersed in the music in various ways, about academic study in history and visual arts, about time spent in Ireland and Scotland. The truest and best way to answer, though, is through Irish American musician Cathie Ryan’s words: “In my tribe, music is blood memory.”
ATL: You mention poetry as being part of your travel kit. Who are some of your favorite poets? What poets would you recommend for travelers to read?
KD: Robert Burns wrote widely on all sorts of subjects with command of language and insight that always offers something new for travelers and armchair readers. Two of my favorites are Westin Winds, which is a reflection on nature, and a gently funny one about marriage, The Plooman. I’d also recommend the Bible. Whether it represents any part of your faith or not the language will get you seeing the world in new ways. King James version for me, but this idea works in many translations. Though it is not strictly speaking a book of poetry, I’d also recommend The Fireside Book of Folksong, for the same reason.
Works by early Christian Irish poets, and also the ancient Irish cycles of myth, which mix poetry and prose are eye openers for the traveler, too, whether or not you’re going to Ireland. Shakespeare. Walt Whitman. Robert Frost. Coming up to more recent times, Wendell Berry, whose work is based in American landscape. Carrie Newcomer is better known as a musician, but she is a very fine poet as well.
ATL: Anyone reading Music Road can see that Ireland and Scotland are your favorite destinations, but in your bio on the Contributor’s page, you mention that you’d like to go to Moscow, Salzburg and Ann Arbor Michigan. A wide range of places. Why does each appeal?
KD: Your question was about places I have not yet been, after all.
Moscow: do you remember that scene at the end the movie Dr. Zhivago where Lara disappears in to the streets of Moscow? Moscow — all of Russia, really — has always struck me as enigmatic and very far away. There’s the sound of the balalaika, too.
Ann Arbor has, I’m told, a great food scene, and I know it has a top folk music venue, The Ark. There’s the university as well. I’ve a number of friends in the midwest and we don’t get to see each other often enough. Ann Arbor would be a good crossroads for us all to gather together and explore all that.
Salzburg: the music of course, both Mozart and the traditional music of that region of Austria. I also have to put some of my interest in Salzburg at the doorsteps of Julie Andrews and Samantha Brown. Julie, because how could you watch the opening sequence of Sound of Music and not want to explore those mountains? Samantha because on an episode of Passport to Europe she went to Salzburg in the middle of winter. It looks wonderful and intriguing then too.
ATL: How can travelers get the most out of the music of a place they are visiting?
KD: Listen — to the music, and to the speech of the people you meet, the sound ofwind and water, to sounds of street and countryside, the stories people tell. All these are part of the sound of place and people as much as is the music. As I am also a photographer, I’d add that you can often hear the music of a place through what you see.
Be aware that every country and every culture has more than one sort of music. And that every person hears music differently.
Allow time for what you hear to sink in.
What lovely ideas to take with us as we travel. And a good reminder–”allow time for what you hear to sink in”–that could apply to words as well as music, I think. Thanks so much Kerry for your thoughtful replies. And please note, Kerry Dexter owns the copyright to all photos here. Please do not reuse without express permission.
My most special musical moment when traveling came when I went to the New Zealand Biennial Arts Festival in Wellington. We attended a Maori sing at their old wooden-floored town hall, and the audience was nearly all Maori who chanted and stomped along. Then we went to a jazz concert and I found myself filled with pride that this native American music was so popular so far away from our shores. What special musical experiences have you had while traveling?