Top 17 Musical Pieces


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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Kizuna—Sorma

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.

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.”

  1. 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




  1. Way Past Due · February 23, 2016

    I’m going to make my way down this list. I have Mantra of Avalokiteshvara playing right now. I quite like it! All of this is new to me. I don’t recognize any titles on your list. Although, I have to admit, music isn’t a huge part of my life. I find the quiet soothing so I tend to keep it that way. But how fun for me to try something new!

    Thank you for sharing and for putting so much thought into it. Makes it more special!

    • gospelisosceles · February 23, 2016

      I’m so glad you’re listening to these songs. But if you tend to stick to the soothing, I’d skip over the Zappa tune:)

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  3. Mark · January 15, 2017

    I am a music lover but also only recognize a few of these. Music kinda dominates the background of my days. It’s nice to expand my horizons. thanks

    • Gospel Isosceles · January 16, 2017

      Share some of your favorites! I wish I would have gotten more of a response here, as I too am curious as to what sounds move people. And of course always like to discover new music. If you have gotten a chance to listen to any of these selections, I’d love to hear about your experience. Thanks for commenting, Mark. Do you have a site?

      • Mark · January 16, 2017

        Yes, I need to do this, listen to your favorites and I will gladly share some of mine when I can… soon. No, sadly I don’t have site, a lame profile is all. I’ve thought about it… this group of writers is inspiring though. I just checked out your page cause Jasper said he likes your page and you’ve had very detailed and insightful comments elsewhere.

  4. Mark · January 16, 2017

    I realize now how deep and diverse your list is, scanning many of these briefly. I have heard music like this here and there but I’m in awe the detail and story behind your passion for not only these artists, but these specific songs. I hope not to disappoint you but my list is less diverse and I haven’t nearly spent time explaining the depth and affection I have for these artist’s… and… with my responsibilities I feel like I’m missing out on so much… hopefully in time I will be at concerts weekly, AT LEAST!

  5. Mark · January 16, 2017

    No particular order except my glaring faves:

    Right now obsessed with Bon Iver. In particular 8 Circle… don’t know if its all innuendo or spiritual enlightenment but it makes my day.

    Daniel Lanois… his guitar… see Friday Night Lights sound track… amazing, melancholy, uplifting, haunting.

    Hurray for the Riff Raff… anything by them

    Elbow… especially love Grounds for Divorce… and let’s build a rocket boys. Best concert I’ve ever been to at first ave no less

    Jillian Banks…like Lona Del Rey esque… check out Under The Table… love that song, longing, pain, infatuation… my then girlfriend wasn’t impressed.

    City and Colour… amazing

    Sun Kill Moon…. most haunting… most melancholy… their song Duk Koo Kim… listen!

    Wallin Jennys, trampled by turtles, Ray lamontagne,

    Otis redding, sam cook… and their cuts of A Change is Gonna Come…
    Leela James killed it too.

    There’s more… oh, Clair De Lune makes me stop every single time… Aldo Ciccolini… great stuff

    That’s a good start. I could listen to all this forever… and love changing my pallet

    And this excludes my fun music… this list is just powerful for me

    • Gospel Isosceles · January 17, 2017

      Bon Iver–futuristic, soulful, perfect for this multiple-browser age.

      Daniel Lanois–good highway contemplative music, also listened to his ‘The Maker’ and recognized it as a Dave Matthews song.

      Hurray for the Riff Raff–good old rockabilly roots, bluesy and poetic. Their harmonies were a big plus, as you don’t hear too much of that in contemporary music. And that Cajun violin 🙂

      Elbow–like 16 Horsepower, a band out of Denver when I was in high school, and reminds me a bit of Black Keys and the lead voice of Gorillaz, then listening to Build a Rocket Boys, I was like, ‘Wow, they’re like Radiohead!’ I liked the switches from major to parallel minor. I could see how they would make a great live show.

      Jillian Banks–I’m going to assume is just Banks on YouTube. I too was not too impressed, liking the instrumentals more than the singing and the general progression of the song. It reminded me of a song I used to like in the 90s, Kristin Hersh’s ‘Me and My Charms’ the version with the strings.

      City and Colour–the song I listened to was ‘The Girl’ and loved it right from the opening. (The banjo!) I will be checking more of this band out.

      Sun Kil Moon–I listened to at a dark, druggy time in my life and don’t really want to go back there with music. But you’re right: haunting and melancholic.

      Trampled by Turtles–grassy music good for being on the river.

      Leela James–liked ‘Fall for You’ and her voice is gorgeous, but Cooke and Redding (oh, my man Otis!) do better versions of that good old song.

      Speaking of Otis, I’m doing a piece on one of his songs on Feb. 3 as part of my ‘Lyrical Love’ series I’ll do all year, first Fridays. Trying to appreciate lyrics more, as you can see most of my favorites are instrumentals. You can also check out the first in the series which was Joan Osborne’s ‘St. Teresa’.

      Thanks for ‘playing’ Mark 🙂

      • Mark · January 17, 2017

        Thank you so much for your feedback, its great to hear another perspective and boy you know a lot. There is a lot of good music to enjoy here. Black Keys are great (as is White Stripes and Gary Clark Jr). I will definitely check out your series. I think musicians are often underrated poets/writers and look forward to your thoughts.

      • Mark · January 17, 2017

        I got through a couple on your list (at work… shhh). Never listened to Zappa before and am now interested and curious. I watched an old interview from Letterman… he is an interesting and very forthright dude. That alone intrigues me.

  6. Mark · January 16, 2017

    sara gazarek yours

    • Gospel Isosceles · January 17, 2017

      Going through them all now. This one was sweet but didn’t move me too much. I did like the piano part and the tempo change just before that groovy bass solo.

      • Mark · January 17, 2017

        Yes, I get that. You have much more complex palette than I. Hopefully something strikes your fancy. I will also be giving some of your list a try today.

  7. Mark · January 17, 2017

    DMB definitely does it.

  8. Mark · January 17, 2017

    I’ve been a little jazzed out in the past but the Miles Davis is great. We have a jazz station here… not sure but you can probably get it on-line… … I see now they have poetry readings… hmm.

    • Gospel Isosceles · January 17, 2017

      I know what you mean. Jazz is definitely more of a live experience, but I don’t remember the last time I got to go out, what with two littles. Thanks for the link!

  9. Mark · January 18, 2017

    I would be remiss of I didn’t also list Gregory Alan Isakov, Damien Rice (The Blowers Daughter) and assume you know Gillian Welsh.

  10. purelandsutras · January 21, 2017

    Excellent list!

    • Gospel Isosceles · January 21, 2017

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. What are some of your favorites?

      • purelandsutras · January 21, 2017

        Thanks for asking, here are some of my favorites:

        Ravel Pavane

        Henry Hall: Here’s to the next time

        French Baroque Album:

        • Gospel Isosceles · February 7, 2017

          ‘Pavane pour une infante défunte’ by Ravel has long been a favorite, having played it in an orchestra. Have you heard Faure’s ‘Pavane’, particularly the choral version? I like that one even better.

          • purelandsutras · February 9, 2017

            Certainly have, and I concur!

            You might also enjoy this:

  11. Visionariekind · June 15, 2017

    beautiful , I’ve begun more meditation early morning this is powerful

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