Friday, November 19, 2010

Five Things: Music That Makes Me Think Deep Thoughts

The New York Times critics' blah-blah about Lincoln Center's White Lights Festival--dedicated to spirituality and exploring our "inner universe," something like that--got me thinking about music that makes me contemplate the Big Questions.

1. Rheostatic's "Shaved Head" on Whale Music

There's nothing like a song about chemotherapy to get you thinking about the great beyond. At least I think it's about chemotherapy. I hear in this song all the pain that comes with the realization that your relationship with the one you love is short, transitory. Every time I listen to this I cry, so I don't listen to it much. It's exhausting.

For end-of-life poignancy, it's right up there with Alden Nowlan's "This is What I Wanted to Sign off With."

2. Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" 
In whatever version I hear it, this melody gives me that little chill on the back of my neck. You can't help but feel as if we're all in this together, and everything's going to be OK.

(I was going to post a clip of Bernstein going on about Beethoven. I stand by my choice.)

3. Arvo Paert's Cantus in Memorium Benjamin Britten

Back when I was in college, Symphony Nova Scotia had a series for 20th-century music, and their performance of this piece (with Peter Lieberson conducting) was something I still remember. It was like nothing I had ever heard. This version is by A Far Cry, a group from Boston.

4. Ani DiFranco's "Amazing Grace" on Dilate

This album came out the fall I arrived in the US for grad school, and I listened to it a lot. It's maybe the most lascivious version of "Amazing Grace" I've ever heard. But I like it (although I think the church bells at the beginning are a little obvious).

The close association I have with "Amazing Grace" is highly connotational. My mom told me once that "The Old Rugged Cross" was my grandfather's (her dad's) favorite hymn, and it was played at his funeral. My grandfather died just before I was born, and whenever I hear any spiritual, I think about how Mom's story helped connect two family members that never knew each other.

5. Above all, though, there's this: