In honor of the winter holidays, we start with three songs from A Midwinter Night's Dream (2008) by singer-songwriter, harpist, and music scholar Loreena McKennitt, from Ontario, Canada. McKennitt has spent many years exploring the history of Celtic music from its ancient roots along the Silk Road to western Europe, the British Isles, and on to the New World. Her own work draws on the musical traditions of countries all along the way.
In the videos above and directly below, she records the vocal tracks for two of the pieces on the album over music tracks already laid down by McKennitt and her band. The first is a traditional French song, "Noël Nouvelet" (late 15th century); the second is an English folk carol, "The Seven Rejoices of Mary" (collected in the 18th century).
Above: "Snow," another lovely song from A Midwinter's Night Dream, performed live in 2012. The lyrics are drawn from a poem by Archibald Lampman (the "Canadian Keats," 1961-1899), with music by McKennitt. Caroline Lavelle, a long-time member of McKennitt's touring band, is on cello.
Below: "Sweet Bells," a traditional carol from the north of England, performed by Yorkshire singer-songwriter Kate Rusby, with her husband Damien O'Kane on guitar. Rusby has recorded two fine albums of folk carols: Sweet Bells (2008) and While Mortals Sleep (2011).
Here in England's West Country, too, the "sweet ringing" of the village church bells on Christmas is a lovely thing, even for a dyed-in-the-wool pagan like me. But then, so many Christmas customs are rooted in those of pagan solstice celebrations that we can fairly share the holiday.