Not everyone in this world is into meditation but we live in an increasingly busy world which is noisy and infiltrates our every waking moment. The birth of ‘social’ media, now firmly the main point for most of us to have mobile phones, looks after the twin contradictions about mankind – our need for company and our need for privacy. We can get both now 24/7 because we can take ourselves off to our rooms by ourselves and converse with others or watch endless streams of TV, listen to music or read motivational memes.
But the result is noise which never ends and can lead to fatigue even as we sit alone. I’m not sure we can do much about that but we can give ourselves time – if not to find silence (though I live in the Lake District area of England and so am blessed with many places to go and find that silent peace) then at least sound which helps us to be calm and relax.
As a musician by training as a young man, I’ve had the luck to encounter and study a lot of music and as such I realise that it is impossible to give a definitive list of music to chill to, relax or meditate with. Also, everyone’s tastes are different. So here I simply offer you the pieces I listen to when I feel my soul freezing through the bitterness of modern life. Our so-called ‘social’ media hasn’t taught us anything about being truly social. The opposite if anything. So we need something to reconnect us to humanity, I believe.
I’ve arranged this list by category so if classical isn’t your thing then scroll on and find the next category. With this in mind I’ve added a most unusual one at the end and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. Be warned! If nothing else this list might tell you something about me – make of it what you will…
Holst: Venus, The Bringer of Peace
There’s no better piece for doing what it says in the title. This movement from Holst’s deservedly famous Planet Suite is just pure peace in orchestral form. No agenda, no mischief. Just lie back and float away.
Barber: Adagio for strings
Since returning to the UK in 2014 my family and I have gone through the most awful torments which means that I’ve not been able to play this most sublimely beautiful piece without bursting into tears. It was bad enough as it is that this music accompanies the death of John Merrick in the film The Elephant Man. The real Merrick is one of my heroes and a man I hope I meet one day in heaven.
Khachaturian: Adagio from Gayane
I can’t say much more about this piece that isn’t repeating what I’ve said about the Barber and Holst pieces. Khachaturian has fallen out of favour in recent years but I rate him as one of the very best. This piece is much loved by film directors at least which is something. There is a great loneliness about this piece which empathises with my soul when I feel lost.
Arnob: Amar Hariye Jawa
Arnob is a popular rock musician from Bangladesh. All his music is good and he’s a talented songwriter. This piece though just touches me in a very different way. It takes me back to Bangladesh every time.
Pink Floyd: Echoes
There’s so much chill out music to enjoy by the masters of psychedelia. You could, for instance, listen to the whole of Dark Side of the Moon, or Wish You Were Here and chill out forever. Here I’ll present just one side of an early album, Meddle. This is a little more upbeat than anything I’ve shared so far though it starts moody and spaced out. If you like something with a drumbeat then this is for you.
Kate Bush: And Dream of Sheep
Taken from possibly the most perfect album this astonishing musician made, Hounds of Love, the second half is my favourite part once we’ve lost the commercial Bush and got into her truly creative and unique side. This track is the beginning of the second half (from the days when you had to flip the album or change over the tape – yeah I’m that old…).
Apologies for those of you who don’t like being lumped together as ‘the rest of the world’. It’s true but there’s little I can do about it and have time to get this post written. Brought up in the Western tradition, to an extent all other musics will have a feel of being ‘foreign’ to me – I’m not sure if that’s justification or an excuse however! Apologies anyway.
When I studied ethnomusicology during my degree I was introduced for the first time to Indian ragas – in particular, Raga Lalit. I fell in love with both ragas, Lalit and sitars which is an affair which endures to this day. A close rival to the sitar though is the Bengali flute and Hariprasad Chaurasia is the undisputed master of this instrument. This piece is sublime and I defy anyone with a soul not to be taken away to another world with this.
Ravi Shankar: Jogeshwari-Alap
Shankar is beyond doubt the greatest sitar player in modern times and I wept for his loss to the world when he died not so long ago. He is the reason I play the sitar today (badly, alas) and one of my great heroes. There are many parts to a raga but my favourite is the opening alap section which is calm, meditative and explores most creatively the whole range of the raga scale before the tabla kicks in and things get a bit more hectic! It is the alap I most enjoy playing because it’s just me and the sitar as one being.
Juana Molina: Tres Cosas
I heard this track late at night on Radio Three I think many years ago. It haunted me and I immediately bought her album. Though a second album was disappointing I loved her style and this piece is still most unusual and haunting in its peacefulness.
This last section is just a few pieces which I love to chill out to but…they are very strange and to some people even frightening. Listen to them at your peril!
John Adams: On the Transmigration of Souls
There was no doubting that 9/11 was a most dreadful day in history and we all live in the aftereffects of that. But this commissioned piece by one of the great composers alive today is haunting, challenging and peaceful in equal measure. This is meditative music for the thinker and the feeler. I burst into tears every time at “love you to the moon and back”. All the words are taken from the bereaved, victims or notice boards for the missing. Gut-wrenchingly beautiful.
Gyorgy Ligeti: Kyrie from Requiem
This is not an easy piece to listen to and only certain kinds of people – like me – can find it relaxing and exquisitely wonderful. Not saying if that’s good or bad! It just takes a certain type. For me, this is as peaceful as any of the pieces above.
Mongolian Throat singing – Kargyraa
This may be the strangest thing you will ever hear if you listen to it! Initially it just sounds like a bass singer gargling. But listen carefully – listen for the overtones not the obvious bass growl you can hear. Listen to the tune he is simultaneously singing through overtones. It’s like an angel singing a hidden melody of the universe. When I listen to this piece I find myself in awe of…well everything really!