Music is my constant companion. In this list I put together my top lifelong songs and other pieces of music. They are in order of when I first heard them from 1=earliest to 17= most recent. Certainly not hastily slopped together in a day, after several months of giving this ‘Top’ list sincere consideration, it’s done. For now. What is yours?
1. Mantra of Avalokiteshvara—Song Huei Liou, Ya Ging Ging, Huang Tung Sun, Sheng Yan
This Tibetan Buddhist chant of compassion has filled me with love and awe since first hearing it at Tenzin’s little Tibetan shop off of Pearl Street in Boulder as a thirteen year-old. I would take three buses for the two-hour long journey from where I lived just to sit on the rugs and listen to the music, that didn’t stop with just filling me, but I was overcome with gladness and felt joy for humanity. This was true prayer! I will also forever attribute my attraction to China and Tibet to this music, along with ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ on this album, Tibetan Incantations.
- Seek Up—Dave Matthews Band
I refer to the live version from Live at Red Rocks—1995. No other song reminds me more of my pondering high school days, getting lost with friends up in the mountains, watching the stars and falling in and out of love. The instrumentals, particularly the sax and violin, moved me and I would cry at how beautiful they were interwoven. Honestly, I still don’t know exactly what Dave is singing about in this song, besides that it is describing the falling nature of humankind; but it is the composition, the climax, and resolution that keeps it a favorite.
- Piano Quintet –Dmitri Shostakovich
I was late for my bluegrass band practice but could not turn off Colorado Public Radio because I had never heard such a dynamic piece of classical music. Sure, I had grown up with Beethoven and Debussy and the romantics, but this piano quintet (piano, violin, viola, cello, bass) was saying something. The tipping scales and tyranny of the twentieth century, my own personal history of pain and divorce: I got this guy, Shostakovich. This Russian composer’s music, more than any political, historical, or philosophical reading of that progressive era, taught me about the world.
- St. Andrew’s Fall –Blind Melon
Shannon Hoon, the band’s lead singer, died of a drug overdose in 1995, but in 2002, just out of high school, my sister and I were driving west and listening to Nico, an album of unfinished tracks released after his death. This song, about a man jumping to his death, had the most beautiful cello solo during what I pictured to be the unfortunate man’s last few moments alive. And above us, crows circled to the backdrop of an unusual gray sky, as if mourning with the notes of the bowed instrument.
- Dawg’s Rag—David Grisman Quintet
I first heard this on vinyl at my university’s listening lab, where I worked cataloguing records and helping music students with their listening homework. My favorite part is the dancing of the mandolin and violin toward the end of the piece. I heard these guys live a few times and probably cannot think of better dance music for the versatile dancer, as their music ranges from twangy, old-timey stuff to tango/Latin rhythms to classical. And it may be frowned upon to get up at the symphony concert hall and start feeling the music moving through you in expressive dance, but not at these shows!
- Chan Chan—Buena Vista Social Club
A Cuban song originally written in 1987 by Compay Segundo, but made famous a decade later by BVSC. It is sexy but also made dark by the sax and guitar solos accompanying a downward minor theme.
- Symphony No. 9—Antonín Dvořák
‘The New World’ Symphony was written in1893 and inspired by the composer’s wide open expanses of his new world, having come to Iowa from Czechoslovakia, and also incorporates old slave spiritual themes. I love introducing friends who don’t know or think they don’t like classical music, by laying down in the dark and hearing this. They are always blown away.
- Maninda—Moussa Diallo
This catchy Mali tune with a chord progression of Em-C-D, incorporates West African instruments and has been filling me with dance since I first heard it in 2005.
- The Longing—Béla Fleck & The Flecktones
It was difficult to pick a favorite Fleck song since so many of them have what I think is essential to a quality song: the build-up and the banjo. This one, from the album Three Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, won out because of the bonus bass solo.
- Gopala Hare—Wah!
I love singing simple ‘sacred syllable’ songs that exist solely so that humanity may come to know God and have peace. Wah’s soothing voice, along with the floating flute, the tablas, and the harmonium, makes this song ideal for yoga and meditation.
- Glassworks: Opening—Philip Glass
There is something so beautiful about this minimalist piano piece which has the right hand playing triplets over the left hand’s eighth notes. The “chorus” is especially moving as I always sing or play on the violin what would be a pretty melody over the chords.
A weird song consisting of Mongolian chanting and what sounds like a Chinese erhu (though it could just be a synthesizer) over some electronic tracks, but the result is that it heals something deep within, as any uninhibited chanting should do. I worked for an acupuncturist who asked me to compile a playlist for patients receiving treatments and of the two thousand songs I put together for him, this one most effectively moved the qi.
- Sicut Cervus—Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
The same year I worked for the acupuncturist I also sang in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception Choir in Denver. I don’t remember ever singing this 16th century polyphonic song based off of Psalm 42 for the congregation, but I loved singing this piece during rehearsals. A few years later I was director of a community choir and we pulled it off during a Christmas concert. (I passed it off as an Advent tune:) “As the wild deer longs for streams of water/So my soul longs for you, Lord.”
- Gumbo Variations—Frank Zappa
This raucous 18-minute song was our cake fight song at our wedding. Zappa’s guitar solo with the electric violin brought out the party animal in everyone. Even Grandma.
- Inamorata—Miles Davis
I wish more jazz were like this. If it exists, please someone enlighten me. I’m talking Cellar Door Sessions 1970, ballpark organ, plenty of top-hat, vibraphone, and of course, trumpet and sax and keys solos. If I could find this kind of live jazz today, I’d be right there with it shaking my ass, drawing wildly, or writing poetry.
- St. Joseph—Round Mountain
Round Mountain is the Santa Fe-based brother-duo, sons of our friends, Henry and Julie Rothschild. These guys, Robby and Char, are so eclectic and versatile, not only able to learn the instruments that color their travels, but also incorporate complex timings and rhythms that really let you know they’re serious about paying tribute to the various places. I’m not normally too big into lyrics, but the words in this song speak right to the wandering soul: “It’s a dangerous life but you don’t have to run away/It’s a dangerous life but you can look inside/Look inside people’s eyes.”
- Tashamanaletch—Alemayehu Eshete
I could really put any song from the Éthiopiques compilation of Ethiopian jazz of the 60s and 70s. Apparently it was a golden age for jazz around the globe, alive and full of spirit.
© 2016, Amaya Engleking