Thursday, March 3, 2016

Music to My Ears: The Transcendent Experience of Repetition

Can we just take a moment to talk about music?

I love music generally as much as the next person, but since having children, I've found myself listening to music a lot less. Like, almost never. Part of this is because from the moment he wakes up, to the moment he goes to bed, my oldest son rarely stops talking to me (I stopped listening to music in the car because I got tired of him shouting over the music to continue talking to me), and in those rare moments when he is not talking to me, I just want to bask in the beautiful sound of silence. Silence truly is one thing I would love more of in my life.

But last week I stumbled across a new-to-me composer (Ezio Bosso), and one of his songs took my breath away so hard that I haven't stopped listening to it since then. I play it on repeat while I'm getting ready for school, while I'm making dinner, while I do my homework, because every single time it continues to be just as breathtaking. I listen to it even while my son chatters away at me, and somehow it transcends even that.

This song got me thinking about other songs in my life that have provided this same feeling of transcendence, and I picked out three songs that I realized had some unique but related characteristics: they were long instrumental pieces oriented around a simple musical theme that repeats over and over while slowly building to an epic moment of brilliance. If you have the time and the solitude to give these songs a proper listen, I highly recommend closing your eyes, focusing on the repetitive melody, and thoroughly basking in the transcendent experience of the slow build.

But first, here's a short but fascinating piece on why repetition in music is so important. When I watched this a few weeks ago, it made me think of these experiences I've had with the songs below, and appreciate them all that much more.

Bolero by Maurice Ravel

This first song, I hope you all are at least vaguely familiar with. This is the song that defines repetition, but in the best possible way. My dad once told me how his teacher in high school turned off all the lights, made the students sit in silence, and listen to this entire song from start to finish, and it was the most memorable experience of his high school career. As soon as he told me that story, I went and found the track in my collection of The Top 100 Masterpieces of Classical Music of All Time (perfectly normal part of any teenage girl's music collection), laid down, closed my eyes, and listened to the entire thing (it's long, around 15 minutes from start to finish), and it was just as memorable an experience for me. Yes, it's the definition of repetitive. But so, so beautiful, and you really need to listen to the whole thing if you haven't had the chance before. Side note, for the completely fascinating story behind Ravel and this song, listen to this Radiolab podcast episode about it's composition (but don't let it change your opinion of how beautiful the song is).

Variations on a Theme From Pachelbel's Canon in D by David Lanz

I discovered David Lanz from a mixed cd someone gave me in college (my roommate, I think?). I love, love instrumental music, especially piano music. I know it's way over cliche, but I also love Canon in D. So let me set the stage for you. I'm listening to this cd as I'm driving to my summer job at a camp up Provo Canyon in Utah. The trees are creating this beautiful green canopy over me with dapples of sunlight showering down. The drive is winding and peaceful following the river up the canyon, and this song comes on. I'm alone in my car, and it just sort of soaks through me. If I could live that moment over again, I absolutely would. (Honorable mention goes to "Cristofori's Dream," another of my favorite Lanz songs that is awesome for other reasons.)

Rain, In Your Black Eyes by Ezio Bosso

And last, but not least, here it is, the song that inspired this whole post, the one I've had on repeat every day for over a week. I love piano music, but I also love the violin, and when these two instruments get together, *chills*. (Might have something to do with the fact that I play the piano, and my husband plays the violin, so naturally the marriage works.) The way this song builds is slow and methodical, but the last 3-4 minutes just kill me dead. Every time. (Although, one small complaint, I don't love the very last note, the dissonance spoils the lovely harmony of the rest of the piece, but whatever, I obviously don't let it ruin my experience). Also, I highly recommend the rest of Bosso's oeuvre, but this is above and by far my favorite. Just beautiful.

So right, I understand I just handed you a few hours of listening material (with all the extra recommends), which I understand is asking a lot. Especially if you are a busy mother of young ones who never stop talking. But if you ever do get that moment of solitude when you have time to really immerse yourself in the mesmeric, transcendent experience of repetition, give these songs a try. You won't regret it.

Any other songs that fit this pattern I'm missing here? What are your favorite pieces of transcendent music? (Also, I do listen to music that is not classical or instrumental, but like I said, music in general is not high on my priority list these days, so I'm pretty out of the scene. It's a bit of a miracle when I learn about bands that actually have music currently playing on the radio, but my tastes can be wide ranging, so no shame if your transcendent music involves rocking out to Top 40 in the car, I'd still love to hear about it.)


  1. I love piano music, too. George Winston's "December" CD is one I could listen to on repeat for ever.
    More on a regular basis, though, I almost always choose Broadway musicals or movie soundtracks--something I can sing to! :) Les Miserables (except that one is still a bit old for my kiddos to listen to...), The Secret Garden (have it memorized), The Music Man... all those good old favorites. Love them!
    I'm glad you posted this. It's fun to get to know you a little better. :)

    1. I love musicals too! Although, it's been a long time since I've busted out my Les Miz and Phantom albums. I only know one song from The Secret Garden (Hazel Eyes, or something like that) but it's a great one. I will definitely have to check out George Winston, I'm not sure I'm familiar with him. Thanks for the rec!

  2. I liked your new favorite song a lot :)
    I must say that I am biased to Pachabel Canon performed by string quartet. I've played it for dozens of weddings and I still get a thrill playing it! I've also performed Bolero, and if done well it is awesome, otherwise it is too repetitive for me. Tim says you like repetition because of your percussion background! Other repetitive songs include Moonlight Sonata (if you had a piano, you would here this all the time since it is the only piano piece Nathan knows), Fur Elise (which we hear all the time because Natalie is leaning it), and In the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg (not a soothing song, but still awesome!) Fun post!

    1. I don't think it has anything to do with my percussion background. Actually, I think repetitive songs for a musician can be terribly boring (I never did, but I imagine playing Bolero as a percussionist would be torture). The repetition thing is more of a listening preference (although right, Nathan's Moonlight Sonata on repeat is NOT one of the reasons I'm looking forward to getting a piano someday ;).

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing, that is a beautiful one!