Monday, August 31, 2020

Music in times of change: The Point of Arrival from Carrie Newcomer

Endings and beginnings, change, balance -- or not --- of faith with uncertainty, ways all these things connect and intertwine: those are some of the threads which run through the songs Carrie Newcomer offers on her album The Point of Arrival.

Newcomer always looks for the story behind the story Through the music on each of her more than a dozen albums she has traced varying ways and times and places of finding the deeper tale, as she often names it, the sacred in the ordinary.

She does this with poetry and melody, with music that crosses between and braids folk and Americana told in a lovely alto voice with storyteller’s phrasing.

Newcomer’s considerations, both lyrically and in arrangement, are as likely to include dark as light. They are also more likely to ask and invite questions than to offer answers.

Dashes of humour and language which illuminates ideas in unexpected ways thread through the lyrics and music, too.

Learning to Sit With Not Knowing brings in the challenging aspects of doing just that, sitting with the uncertainty, the questioning, the waiting, which may make way for and blend into possibilities of hope and healing..

It is a constant in Newcomer’s writing that she says a lot by saying little. Often, she begins by working on ideas through writing a story, a poem, an essay, sometimes more than one, to have, as she describes it, a lot of language in hand. Language and idea meet as Newcomer distills them together into song..

Though her songs vary in subject and in sound, she’s been working on that aspect of her art across her career. At present that spans seventeen albums, as well as a respected presence as a spiritual thinker, and a collaboration with writer and teacher Parker J. Palmer on live presentations, a newsletter, and a podcast.

What sets her off exploring idea and language varies. Nature and landscape in their many aspects are constants. Newcomer is a native of Indiana. She continues to be based there, and draws directly and indirectly on ideas she comes in walks in Indiana woods near her home.

Snippets of conversation, or bits of things she’s read also spark ideas for her writing. Newcomer is a visual thinker, as well -- she has a degree in art -- so it’s natural that how things look and ideas from things she’s seen inspire her words and music as well.

Her choices of melody and arrangement evolve and change, too. She’s as adept lyrically and melodically at a lively song such as Impossible Until It’s Not as she is at reflective pieces with a touch of classical influence such as The Plumb Line or The Brink of Everything.

of these aspects find place through the songs on The Point of Arrival, and naturally enough, several aspects often come together within one song.

You will discover your own favourites in the eleven songs Newcomer offers on The Point of Arrival. Within them and through the course of how they are sequenced, you will find stories of endings and beginnings, of grieving, loss, hope, and resilience.

In addition to the song named above, listen out for Writing a Better Story. The title alone suggests all sorts of stories to find within the song. The Shelter of the Sky brings in nature to frame thoughtful ideas, as does the title song, The Point of Arrival. It’s Always Love and The Plumb Line find poetic and quite different ways to tell of what lasts and what may change.

Newcomer begins her music on The Point of Arrival with a piece called Learning to Sit with Not Knowing and draws things to a close with a song called The Brink of Everything. Those two song titles, suggest a journey, as do the stories, music, and language they contain.

Thoughtful questions, creative language, ideas that may seem at once familiar and new: all of these are present in Newcomer’s music. All are well worth your discovering, and repeated listening.

You may also wish to see
Carrie Newcomer’s website
Music & Mystery: conversation with Carrie Newcomer continues.
Signposts:Music of Hope, at Wandering Educators, which includes video of The Plumb Line
Laws of Motion, from Karine Polwart

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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