For a while I’ve wanted to discuss my musical favorites, which are something off from the mainstream. In the process of searching I’ve discovered several gems that even the mainstream Western audience might enjoy if they were familiar with it, but I also enjoy trying to figure out why I like such music. You can see that my tastes, although different from those of “normal people,” are diverse. I have included in here a brief overview of some of my favorite styles (broadly defined), and then a list of sample favorites with links to YouTube: music for a variety of moods and in a variety of styles.
When I am in the mood for harder folk, which takes some concentration because of the more complicated rhythms and chords, I often go to Persian folk, such as Shahram Nazeri’s magnificent singing or the dancing melodies of the dulcimer. Celtic ballads are excellent for a more sentimental or slightly melancholy mood.
And yet, when I feel like something quite thoroughly melancholy, I turned to Slavic (especially Russian) music. There can be something heartbreaking about just listening to one of the great bards, and understanding the lyrics often just assists this feeling. The other mood that Russians do well to capture is that of the warlike, and often the melancholy and the warlike sentiments are combined beautifully, as in Farewell to Slavianka, Far Across the Broad Stream, and Orlionok.
When I feel like something that will wake me up a little but remains sort of quiet and thoughtful, I turn to the tango and the romance, especially those of Poland, Finland, and Russia. This “classic pop” music has at once a frivolity and a sense of weight that lifts the spirits. Olavi Virta was a Finnish singer, and I enjoy his songs.
Classical music was my first favorite genre, and it still holds a place in my heart. I love Bach in particular, including his works for organ; I do not care much for Mozart, but I am fond of many of the Romantic-era composers such as Brahms, Liszt, Chopin, Dvorák, Smetana, and Schumann. The Russian composers such as Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff rank high in my estimation. I have an appreciation for some of Tchaikovsky and Wagner. Fauré’s Pavane is one of my favorites, and I also enjoy the music of Shostakovitch. Classical music is good for working.
Finally, there is always that music that is just good for relaxing: Fariborz Lachini’s gentle piano solos; soundtracks; some folk; and I cannot forget to mention Allegri’s beautiful Miserere Mei. Church music, including Gregorian chant and hymns, is incredibly calming. Then there is always the simple lute music of the Renaissance that is by and large neither overtly sad nor joyful; merely quiet and contented, if ponderous.
As far as modern music, I have come to appreciate a Spanish-language group called Gipsy Kings, the boys’ choir Libera, Josh Groban, and songs from a host of 20th-century musicals. I should also not end without noting Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operettas, such as The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore, Patience, The Gondoliers, etc.
I know I’m leaving many things out, but there is a brief glimpse into what I enjoy listening to. Here is the list; all of these songs I have found independently through searches in English and other languages. I have deciphered the lyrics to some of them. I’ve probably messed up a few of the links; if I did, let me know.
Some Top Songs
- Shatilis Asulo — A modern rendering of a Georgian folk song with a magnificent video. This is a constant inspiration for me.
- Khorumi — Another Georgian song with a good, culturally-relevant video. I think, from its title, it is based on the traditional Georgian war-dance.
- Dle Yaman — Probably the most famous of Armenian songs, sung by Isabel Bayrakdarian, who also sang on The Lord of the Rings soundtrack, with duduk accompaniment.
- Amen Hayr Soup (The Lord’s Prayer) — A fine piece highlighting that unique instrument, the duduk.
- Ólavur Riddararós — A Faroese folk song telling of a knight baned by a woman of Faerie, a common story in northern folklore. It’s repetitive and fairly simple, but I enjoy it nevertheless.
- Cherniy Voron (The Black Raven) — A sad Russian folk song sung by Maxim Troshin, a child singer who died before adulthood.
- Zhuravli (The White Cranes) — The essence of melancholy; one of the finest modern Russian songs I have heard, and this is one of the finest renditions. The singer mourns his comrades fallen in war, imagining that the cranes flying up are the souls of the dead.
- Orlionok (Eaglet) — A Russian children’s choir sings a beautiful patriotic song of a brave boy going to his execution. There is visible emotion in the soloist’s face in the video.
- Ogonyok (Little Flame) — A dance/classic pop-styled Russian song from the war. Good for casual listening.
- Mgnovenia (Moments) — The theme song from a great Russian spy-historical TV show, Seventeen Moments of Spring. Much like the show, it is thoughtful but steady.
- Dle Yaman / Ach Ti, Styep, Sherokaya (O You Wide Steppe) — A fine combination of a traditional Russian and a traditional Armenian song. It’s almost heartbreakingly beautiful.
- Tyemnaya Noch (Dark Night) — If I remember right this is Putin’s favorite song. One of the touching hymn-like Soviet soldier songs. Notice how the audience is in tears by the end.
- Song of the Volga Boatmen — Everyone has heard this song. Here is a Red Army Choir version of it with a fine arrangement and a good video to go along with it.
- Black is the Colour — Something in English, at last. I have mixed feelings about “Celtic” folk groups, who are by and large only superficially connected to true Celtic music, but this group has done a fine job with the neo-Celtic style. This is probably the most beautiful English-language love song I know of.
- Lochnagar — I must include a song from the Corries, the two-person folk group that wrote Scotland’s unofficial national anthem and started the whole revival of interest in British (so-called “Celtic”) folk music. If you hear me singing a song in Scots as I walk around campus, it is probably from the Corries. This is a fine example of their music; many more can be found on YouTube, such as The Bloody Sarks, The Roses o’ Prince Charlie, Lord Gregory, etc.
- Santianna — Probably my favorite sea chantey. Many versions of the lyrics exist; classically they are about Santa Anna himself. This version of the lyrics is not my favorite, but the arrangement is fantastic.
- Roosam (Rostam) — The first Shahram Nazeri song I heard, and still one of my favorites. The lyrics refer to the great hero of Persian myth, Rostam. I don’t have the exact translation, but here is the hilarious readout from Google Translate. Roof gutters, heart valves, and calamitous staples….
And remember to C l and Roger and age albino (or remember someday N. Zal took the crown lost) Did rag rugs, B Pvs you (such as clothing and wearing tiger skin rugs to bring) Maybe the owner of roof gutters and Rakhsh force, boron think Nlkhsh Rvsm heart valve (a valve holder force and Rakhsh brave and fearless sacrifice your name is Tiger) Maybe the owner of roof gutters and Rakhsh force, boron think Nlkhsh heart valve (a valve holder force and Rakhsh brave and fearless sacrifice your name is Tiger) B Pvs wear light combat (combat dress that is made of tiger skin wear) Ron stamina Rkav Rakhsh Ranger (Ranger Rakhsh pedal your way in, let) Ragy Ashkbvs off the field (Ashkbvs Way took the field) Q Mpr Vsvz air cocoon tone (with all your colleagues will search) Rvsm Ragy Ashkbvs off the field (Ashkbvs Way took the field) Q Mpr Vsvz air cocoon tone (with all your colleagues will search) Rvsm Calamitous Rvsm staple Nkhav Calamitous staple Nkhav Who Vkht Khavh (Rustam sleep get up now when the time is sleeping) Calamitous staple Nkhav Who Vkht Khavh (Rustam sleep get up now when the time is sleeping) N. Afrasyavh Vkht Vdayn significant (significant time is drawing Afrasiab) Rvsm N. Afrasyavh Vkht Vdayn significant (significant time is drawing Afrasiab) Ill trooper Bvrzjan Kurdish (Kurdish army overthrew Borazjan) Magic Qltany and blood xenon (Xe Ghltandy wizard in the blood) Syh Khvrshh mag mount Trzyn Shay hey did you get blurry Vspasansh Vmar (evening Corps Khvrshh the rattlesnake was a good horseman did the Tar Vmar) Rvsm Syh Khvrshh mag mount Trzyn Shay hey did you get blurry Vspasansh Vmar (evening Corps Khvrshh the rattlesnake was a good horseman did the Tar Vmar) Lsr feet up oh CIA Brgmh (head to toe black Pvshydm) Lsr feet up oh CIA Brgmh (head to toe black Pvshydm) B dos Qrchh Qrch Jrgmh beard (like parting the roots in my heart is burning) Without del Tau crushed Dvryt N. Qra RA (I remember Dvryt restless) D. M. see quite suffocating vision Tarh N. (Dvryt sad eyes were blurry) D. M. see quite suffocating vision Tarh N. (Dvryt sad eyes were blurry) Calamitous Rvsm Rakhsh Glgvnt sacrifice (sacrifice Rakhsh Glgvnt Rustam I) Best Iranian bottom Calamitous Arts Avmyd seats (you just hope Iran s) May the wrong place Yvmydshan Yvmyd (Amydshan not disappoint)
- Sheyda Shodam — Another Shahram Nazeri song. See also Flames of Love and Shirin-shirin.
- Baba Yetu (Our Father) — The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili. Believe it or not, this is the menu song for the immensely popular game Civilization IV.
- Psalm 135 — A Serbian Orthodox chant. Repetitive but calming.
- Llef/Ar Doriad Dydd/Laudamus — Coal miners sing hymns in Welsh. What could be better?
- The Last Sunday — A sad Polish-Russian tango famously associated with suicide. Follow the links on the side to many more Polish tangos.
So, why do I like this music? Everything for a different reason, I suppose. Sometimes I like complexity, and sometimes simplicity, or better yet a mixture of both. I always seek beauty in music, and strongly dislike noise or busyness in general. There are genres I have not mentioned from which I accept only a few representatives as enjoyable, such as Christian Contemporary. There are some that I have not yet explored sufficiently, such as jazz or classic rock. Meanwhile these pieces do somehow touch my emotions and my mind, and I do not regret the time I spent hunting them down and reaching for what was “possibly out there.”