The lunar tundra

About once a year, a recording seizes my hand and pulls me into a labyrinth. Once there, I want to wander around forever. I spent much of 2006 meandering through a CD called Cloudburst by Polyphony, an English choral group.

I played the song 'Sleep' over and over and over.

The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon.

CloudburstCloudburstI wandered through “Sleep” on my way to work, to the grocery store, to the library. Every moment a driveway moment. I lost myself in a trance. 'Sleep' is the collaboration between Eric Whitacre and poet Charles Anthony Silvestri. It explores the mystical moment between awareness and sleep.

This year, I've been drawn to “Into the Light” from the choral group The Sixteen. Director Harry Christophers, the singers, soloists, and guitarist Kaori Muraji create an otherworldly space with the simplest combinations. I’m hypnotized by Pachelbel's Canon wedded to a poem by Oscar Wilde.

Into the LightInto the LightTread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

OK, it's a bit morbid, but so am I.

Gigi Yellen from KING-FM in Seattle suggested this whole CD is journey to death, a kind of hospice guidance tool. Others have described it as “too sentimental.”

I still like it.

Which brings me to a friend’s blog about buying the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.

You can read the whole thing at, but the lines that struck me are:

“I've been saying for years that I wanted to get the soundtracks to the Lord of the Rings films. I finally borrowed the first two from the library. I'm not an expert on classical music or film scores, but I think Howard Shore's compositions stand as great works in their own right.”

What’s that again?

“I'm not an expert on classical music or film scores, but . . .”

I hear phrase this all the time.

People only talk this way about classical music. I mean here’s a well-read, intelligent, culturally savvy person tacking on a unnecessary disclaimer. I doubt he would feel the need to do so if he were talking about a film or novel. The problem stems from what writer Alex Ross calls “the lunar tundra of the classical experience.”

I wish people didn’t think they needed a level of expertise to enjoy classical music – or any kind of music for that matter.

Don’t think. Listen. Let it pull you in. Lose yourself.



Good point


Had I simply said I liked the soundtrack, I'd have likely left off the disclaimer off. It is when I say the scores "stand as great works" that I find myself questioning my authority to make such assertions. You are absolutely correct, though, that I would feel no such reluctance making a similar comment about a book or film.

So your point is well taken. I try to avoid such caveats in the future. And I have been pulled way into those film scores.

not a criticism of you

Hi, Andrew,

My point was a criticize the pseudo-religious cultural trappings that have surrounded classical music. Thanks to priests of high culture like Arturo Toscanini, people feel incredibly stifled about expressing their opinions about what they like.

I hope this will change.


Maestro Shore

Howard Shore was the MD of the original Saturday Night Live band. Remember "Howard Shore and His All-Bee Band?" No? Just as well. But it was a great band. Lou Marini, alto. Howard Johnson, tuba. And Paul Shaffer was the pianist. And, yeah, Shore writes for orchestras. It's all good. But, 50 years after Bernstein wrote a blues for Billy Holiday, people still can't let go of the hierarchy.

I didn't know that about Howard Shore!

Hi, there,

Thanks for the comment.

I didn't know about Howard Shore's colorful SNL past!
That's interesting.
He's certainly doing well now. I hear he's gotten very expensive for orchestras who want to bring in the hobbit-loving crowd.
I think people are letting go a little more these days, don't you?