I've been thinking about what I would consider really seminal pieces of music, examples of cinema, works of literature, et cetera today. So I decided to craft a list of my five desert island songs and why they're worth picking as the only music I would ever listen to again - if I had to. (Thankfully, that's not going to happen.)
In no particular order.
Eric Whitacre - Water Night
I still remember the first time I ever heard this piece of music. It was the lead-in from an intermission at a friend's choir concert. I spoke to her during the break, and she proclaimed, "I just wish I could see your face during the first song of the next set."
Perplexed, I asked her why. She responded, "You'll see."
I did see that night. I saw things I never had seen before about music; what it can do, what it can mean, how it can be made. It caused a complete paradigm shift in me - and forever altered my perception.
One listen and you can see why. There's so much going on in this for being a piece of a'cappella; there are up to fifteen parts coursing in and out of each other at one point. It's an overwhelming piece of choral music, and every time I hear it I get goosebumps.
Rush - Natural Science
Anyone who knows my taste for tunes knows the importance of Rush in my formative years. The first album I ever owned was Grace Under Pressure; I can probably sing every single song of theirs off the top of my head, simply out of beautiful repetition. But after all is said and done, and heaps upon heaps of great songs, my favorite Rush track is "Natural Science". It's a wonderful amalgam of different tunes, telling a story of the microcosms we each are trapped in and how we don't understand how ephemeral and transitory everything is.
I could listen to this a million times.
Samuel Barber - Adagio for strings, Op. 11
I heard Barber's Adagio for the first time in an uncharacteristic place - during the opening sequence to an old video game, Homeworld. (That was a great game, by the way. One of the best. And way, way too hard for its own good.)
It was the choral version rather than the strings version, and was truncated to two minutes, but I remember vividly sitting there watching the opening sequence and hearing this song and my heart pumping a million miles a minute, and sitting back and thinking, "What was that?!? That makes my person ache with loveliness." Needless to say, I did my research and hunted it down, and have been enamored by this song ever since.
Art Tatum - L'Elegy
I don't know what else can be said about the inimitable Art Tatum. He was the best jazz pianist. Like, ever. Even in this day and age where there have been so many sages at the ivories, he remains The Man. Just listen to it. It's the greatest piano solo of all time - so far, at least. Goosepimples every time.
Opeth - Blackwater Park
I may not listen to heavy metal very much these days, but metal is still in my core. Deep down in my bits. And Opeth will forever be the band that introduced me to brütal heavÿ mëtal. (With umlauts.)
And this is their most compelling single song. (Their last album, Watershed, is easily their best, but I digress.) It starts with such forceful energy, and then recedes to the corner, content to seethe for two minutes of distressing calm, before erupting once again. And it just gets heavier and meaner, until there is just a moment of clarity at about the nine and a half minute mark - where you're staring into the abyss at the edge of the cliff, and then you get kicked off and plummet. (Sorry this crappy video cuts the last twenty seconds off the song.) Ah, this tune. Certainly not for everyone. And certainly not what I usually listen to. But so very, very good.