The Songs That Get Stuck in my Head … or just Pop Up Randomly
With my busy life lately, I have not been taking that much time to listen to music for pleasure. This, apparently, has not stopped my brain from mentally replaying songs that are familiar to it, as I’m going to bed, just waking up, even in the middle of my sleep or just at random times during the day. It remembers songs from TV commercials, songs playing on the radio in stores while I’m shopping or sometimes just pulls songs from the mental archives that I don’t remember hearing recently. It might even decide to put on “repeat” a song I don’t particularly like. I find music hard to ignore when I hear it. My brain just tends to tune in whenever I hear it, whether I particularly like it or not.
So, I started making a list of the songs that either popped into my head or repeatedly played mentally over the past few days. It’s quite a list: ’70s pop, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Celtic, Christian contemporary, ’80s New Wave in French language … I think I might be the only quirky ding dong in the universe whose brain could come up with this particular list. I almost wondered if this was too embarrassing to post, and it reminded me of the meme below.
So, here is the first one, “I Think I Love You” by David Cassidy from Partridge Family. I do remember how it got started. I recently heard this while food shopping, and it hasn’t fully left my brain since. I do happen to like it. It’s sweet and innocent and tells a little story. Though I remember watching the show as a kid, I’m not sure that I remember the song from then. I think I was reminded of it some time later, probably from listening to oldies radio.
A short time later, my brain pulled up this one from Brady Bunch, and I thought, “Really, brain?” Again, I watched the show as a kid but was reminded of this song since from a friend who is a pop culture aficionado. Unlike David Cassidy, the Brady kids aren’t exactly known for their hit songs. It may have been some mental association between Partridge Family and Brady Bunch that brought this up in my mind, but then, I remembered that there was another reason why this song would pop up. I’ve been hearing a snippet of it in a recent 2020 commercial. I couldn’t recall which one, but, with help from the Internet, I found it, a Perdue chicken commercial. Now, I am wondering how many people have heard the song from the commercial without knowing its Brady Bunch origins? I don’t believe the commercial has the original Brady kid voices though. Some of the lyrics do seem to fit the pandemic, “I just can’t stay inside all day. I’ve got to get out and get some of those rays.”
Okay, so, now we are out of the ’70s. Mandisa’s “Overcomer” was mentally playing in my head as I was waking up one morning. It’s a song I heard a lot on Christian radio when it was a new hit, 2013. I don’t remember hearing it recently, but it was most definitely not the worst song to wake up thinking about. I’ve had a few struggles lately, caretaking for parents. Both Dad and I were bitten by a dog recently, and Dad has now had two surgeries to close the wound and cover it with skin. These positive thoughts are certainly welcome.
This Loreena McKennitt song, “The Highwayman,” was on a playlist I used to help me to sleep, and, oddly enough, my sleeping brain began a mental playback on another night without any help from the actual music playing. It’s a long storytelling song, so you might wonder how much of it my sleeping brain could reproduce. I’m not sure. Maybe, it was one section of it on repeat, but it seems to me my brain recalled a full sound, the voice and instruments.
This next one is an odd one. I am a bit of a musical theater enthusiast, but State Fair is not one of the more popular Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, and its title song is also not the most popular of Broadway style songs. Still, out of nowhere, this little piece of music came to mind, “Our state fair is the best state fair. Don’t miss it. Don’t even be late.” I couldn’t recall any other words, but there it was.
I enjoy this song from South Pacific, but the way it came to mind was very odd. What I remembered first was this little dramatic orchestral section that follows her beginning phrases in the song, say, right after “my faith in romance.” That part came to my mind alone, and I had to think hard to remember why this orchestral bit was so familiar and in what song it belonged.
This next one is in a completely different category, an ’80s New Wave song in French. I was not familiar with it in the ’80s but learned of it more recently through Wii Just Dance games. I don’t think this particular song is available on U.S. versions of the game, but I found the Just Dance song on YouTube. My interest in French language led me to look up the French lyrics and the English translation and then the original video and the story behind the song. By the time I did all this, I gained more and more of an appreciation of the song. The whole video has a bit of a surrealist feel. In spite of its bright colors and costumes and dancing, the subject matter is rather dark. It’s about a woman who died from cancer, a friend of the band and a dancer. The rhythmic beginning and more lyrical sections of the song express a celebration of the woman’s life, but the more aggressive sounding section speaks more bluntly about death, “It is cancer that has assassinated you …” There are a few hints in the video of the sad, dark content: bones used as percussion instruments, a splash of red paint, tears in the lead singer’s eyes. I do have an appreciation for it but feel that an English version would feel too blunt for me, rather than hearing it through the filter of a foreign language.
I have quite mixed feelings about the next one, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Melodically, it’s very pleasing. Lyric-wise, it is cryptic. I’m not sure which rendition became familiar to me first. I’ve listened to both the Leonard Cohen version and the Jeff Buckley version, and neither seem particularly familiar. Lately, I’ve heard renditions by several artists and bands I like including Pentatonix. In spite of its title and mixed Bible references to David and Bathsheba and Samson and Delilah, it is not essentially a religious song and does not belong on either a Christmas album or album of sacred arias. I’ve seen it on both. It seems to be more about a human relationship, and the expression, “Hallelujah” which literally means “Praise to the Lord,” does not seem sincere to me in its literal meaning. After all, the writer expresses, “Maybe there’s a God above” and seems even in doubt about this basic faith. Still, I like to hear it sometimes and puzzle over the artist’s meaning. This article in Rolling Stone might give some enlightenment.
I remembered that a friend and I were riding together in a car and a version of this with more Christian lyrics came on the radio. The one below may have been the one we heard. If you are a person of faith, or even if you aren’t, give this one a listen. This version would be appropriate on a Christmas album.
Lately, I’ve been again reflecting on how difficult it is to define my diverse musical interests, so I decided to blog a long playlist with a sample from all of my musical YouTube subscriptions.
This post is more about discovering YouTube talent than mainstream artists from the radio. A few of these artists are musicians with YouTube channels but are not primarily YouTubers. Although some on this list are gaining more and more fame and a few of them have competed in or won TV talent shows, there is a good chance most of these will be unfamiliar to you. You may recognize many of the songs they cover, but be prepared for completely different interpretations or creative remakes from the originals. Also, there are a few worthy originals from lesser known artists.
I have a lot of YouTube subscriptions, so this is a pretty long list, 57 of them, to be exact. You can read things over and click on what interests you most from the description or video preview. There will also be a link to the full YouTube playlist at the end of this post.
Seb Skelly plays multiple brass instruments and creates multi-tracking videos where he plays all the parts and harmonizes with himself. He also does some of his own compositions and arrangements. Here, he collaborates with a lot of other artists to form a full band with vocalists.
This might not be the best example from these pretty young identical twins. Everyone expects classical pieces from the harp, but not everyone expects rock, pop and even heavy metal arranged for and played on harp. These girls play a lot of different pieces and produce beautiful videos where they film in outdoor settings and dress in identical outfits or costumes. They also play a lot of theme music from movies, TV and video games. I chose this one, because it was a newer one I haven’t overplayed. It’s great, sets a mysterious mood, and even features some of their vocals.
3. Google Translate Sings: “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran
Malinda Kathleen Reese (Translator Fails) uses Google Translate to translate the lyrics of popular songs into one foreign language after another and back into English to get Mad Lib like results. This Ed Sheeran song transforms into a song about someone who really likes geometry and biology. The original is a little suggestive, but the Google Translate version is somewhat more innocent, although a few strange words have slipped in, accidentally, of course. Watch out for the “Gradually Watermelon” part.
The original Billie Eilish song is very popular right now. Simply Three covers this one using a combination of acoustic and electric instruments, and I think they did a fantastic job creating interesting effects with acoustic instruments that match the original.
The MonaLisa Twins are 20-something identical twins from Austria, who, interestingly, do a lot of covers of Beatles and other American music from the ’60s. They both play guitar and sing in harmony. They also have a number of originals that are very enjoyable, and this is one of them. “I know I don’t know birds that well, but they always seem to sing about love … “
6. Material Girl — Walk Off the Earth
So, I always had a little trouble with this song because of the lyrics, because I really hope I’m not materialistic. The way Sarah sings it makes me believe she means it only satirically, which helps me appreciate it more. Several members of the band are multi-instrumentalists, so many different instruments show up in this song. There definitely wasn’t a theramin or banjo in the original! There’s also a clever percussive use of piggy banks.
You may remember Avi Kaplan as the bass from the acapella group Pentatonix. He left the group and began his own folk band, Avriel & the Sequoias. I really enjoy creative restyling of songs, so here is a folk rendition of a soul/funk song.
9. Cheap Thrills – Sia (Oud Cover) by Ahmed Alshaiba
I don’t remember how I discovered Ahmed Alshaiba, but I’m glad I did. He plays an instrument which may seem a little strange to western ears, an Arabic stringed instrument called an oud. I began to write that there is a “wavery” sound though it was not the most musically precise term and then was reminded that the term I was wanting was tremolo. I’ve kept both terms, in case some readers might appreciate a less technical term. He plays a western pop song with the oud, guitar, bass, keyboard and percussion and ends up with a worldbeat song that sounds a little eastern and western at the same time.
10. Tetris Opera — Video Games Live (VGL) — Jillian Aversa
Tetris has a really great theme song, and here is an operatic version of it performed by Jillian Aversa at a past Comic Con. Aversa is a composer and vocalist who describes her style as “ethereal vocals/emotional music.” She has recorded music for several game franchises and has three solo albums.
Here is a rumba/Latin jazz version of a movement from a Beethoven symphony. The original piece feels a little melancholy to me, but not this version. I am impressed with the musical skill required to make such a successful arrangement. He also transforms the piano into a rhythm instrument. Joaquim has an impressive resume as a composer, creating scores for the Disney show, “Big City Greens” and the National Geographic show, “Great Migrations,” just to name a few.
Leia Zhu is a 12-year-old violin prodigy who was already traveling the world and playing with orchestras as a soloist at the age of six. She also vlogs about her travels and adventures, and her vlogs remind you that, though her talents are advanced, she is still a young girl.
Jacob Koller, who calls himself the Mad Arranger, plays an extremely difficult jazz arrangement of “William Tell Overture,” aka “Lone Ranger Theme,” in a cowboy hat and in the middle of what appears to be a ghost town.
Dave Wave has a variety of interesting videos, some that explain musical concepts, some unlikely mashups of songs as well as electro swing, stride piano, ragtime and jazz performances, some of which are arrangements of songs of other genres.
16. Dance of the Line Riders — DoodleChaos
DoodleChaos has a lot of highly creative videos that are synchronized to music, such as Rube Goldberg Piano or Ping Pong Trick Shots Play the Xylophone. In this Line Riders animation, the three sledders help you visualize the harmonies and rhythms in “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
17. Up Music Box with Illustrations (“Married Life”)
This YouTuber punches holes for a music box and creates adorable appropriate illustrations on the scrolling paper.
18. Super Mario Bros – A capella Medley — Julien Neel & Nick McKaig
This particular video by Julien Neel is fun and whimsical but doesn’t demonstrate his, uh, ordinary singing ability as in his other offerings. Here, he and his collaborator, Nick McKaig, scat sing and impersonate horns, kazoos and other musical sounds. The video is also entertaining as they impersonate Mario and Luigi.
Julien does a lot of multi-tracking acapella videos in several styles: traditional barbershop, Beatles covers, love songs, popular songs from various decades, hymns, national anthems, foreign language songs, themes from movies, TV and video games and even some commercial jingles. He is a French citizen who speaks English like an American.
I fell in love with Janet Devlin’s voice after hearing her compete on The Voice with Elton John’s “Your Song.” This Irish girl has a sweet and unique voice and makes songs her own with her emotional musical interpretations. She has also recorded a few albums of original songs. She does a fantastic job with “Jolene.”
So, I admit that I have never even seen an episode of “Game of Thrones,” but that doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the haunting and beautiful harmonies of this multi-tracking cover. Malukah is a Mexican singer who does a lot of fantasy and game related music.
I have become quite a fan of fingerstyle guitar, and “Pink Panther” theme is one of my favorite movie theme pieces. Marcos Kaiser has video performances in a variety of styles: classical, flamenco and various Spanish guitar styles, jazz, blues, funk, movie, TV and game themes, rock and popular music and his own compositions.
I discovered Bailey Pelkman’s channel when she collaborated with Peter Hollens. I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve heard from her. Her channel features gentle acoustic covers of hits from today and past decades.
Postmodern Jukebox is a fun and unique group that takes modern hits and restyles them into styles from past decades from the ’20s to the ’80s, mostly some form of jazz but also rock and some other styles like tango, bluegrass or klezmer. Here, they team up with American Idol veteran, Haley Reinhart, as lead vocalist. They don’t specify a decade here, but it is a jazz cover. Her vocals are so fantastic and so full of emotion that I think even fans of the very different original can appreciate it.
Anne Reburn is another multi-tracking YouTuber who harmonizes with herself as well as plays several instruments. In this cover, she plays keyboard, bass and guitar and sings several parts. She has an idiosyncratic voice. On her channel, she covers songs from different genres, from today and past decades, as well as performs originals.
27. What If Katy Perry made a Nickelback Song? — Ali Spagnola
By now, you probably know that I appreciate creative remakes of songs, which is why YouTube recommended Ali Spagnola to me. Honestly, I’m not much of a Katy Perry fan, and I think she is sometimes a little risque with her whipped cream cans and whatnot, but I just found this fascinating how Ali analyzes the music and figures out how to restyle the song. Ali actually describes her entire process before she performs. That might sound a little boring, but her personality and enthusiasm for music keeps it from being dull.
Vinheitero is a talented Brazilian pianist who does a lot of interesting videos. The linked video is one of few where he actually looks at sheet music in some form, on a tablet. He is usually gazing into the camera as he plays, like in the photo above, or as one commenter put it, gazing into your soul. He plays several songs or snippets of several songs in most videos. In one, he gives a brief tour of the history of music. In several others, he does sad versions of happy songs, which shows his talent for arranging. He also does top 10 videos in different categories and much more.
29. Shut Up and Dance Mashup — Evynne Hollens and Nick Pitera
I keep mentioning Peter Hollens’ name, and he has yet to appear in this list. Evynne is Peter’s wife, and she has her own channel where she sings Broadway, Disney and pop songs. Whereas Peter does acapella videos, Evynne usually sings with instrumentals. She also does duets with her husband. Her videos are well produced and visually fun to watch. Here, she collaborates with YouTuber, Nick Pitera, in a mashup of “Shut Up and Dance” with “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
Hetty and the Jazzato Band is another vintage jazz band, although I think “Tintarella di Luna” is more of an oldies rock and roll song, originally recorded by Italian singer Mina in 1959. If you are an American and the title, which translates to “Moon Tan,” seems unfamiliar to you, you may have heard it before. The original was recently used in a commercial for The Venetian.
31. Lindsey Stirling — Prism
Lindsey Stirling is a violinist who plays electronic music and dances at the same time. She’s also a composer and does some singing. She was first discovered on America’s Got Talent. I chose the video below, partly for the visuals. Here, Lindsey has a lot of costume changes and sports a variety of wigs while playing and dancing with clones of herself.
32. Tarts — Performed by Erutan
The artist known as Erutan (Nature spelled backwards) is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who plays several folk instruments such as Celtic harp, lute, violin and kantele. Her musical style is Celtic/medieval. Those who know me well know I am a fan of Alice in Wonderland. This song is inspired by a Lewis Carroll poem in the book. The video is beautifully produced with costumes and visual storytelling.
Lenka is an Australian singer/songwriter who made her debut in 2008 but I’ve only discovered somewhat recently. This is a fun song with a lot of comparative phrases and a video with interesting black and white visuals.
2Cellos, Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, play both acoustic and electric cellos. Their albums have covers of rock and heavy metal as well as movie scores. In this video, they cover Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”
35. Wintergatan — Marble Machine (music instrument using 2000 marbles)
Wintergatan is a Swedish folktronica group. Wintergatan means “Milky Way” in Swedish. Band member Martin Molin created this complex marble machine that plays a vibraphone, bass guitar, cymbal and drums when marbles strike them.
36. Now We Are Free (Gladiator Main Theme) — Tina Guo
Tina Guo is a cellist who plays both acoustic and electric cello. I love some of her costumes and staging for her movie theme music. Here is one of my favorite movie theme pieces, though I’ve yet to see The Gladiator. Her repertoire is pretty diverse, from classical to heavy metal.
On his channel, Caleb Hyles describes he sings Broadway, Disney, anime, Top 40, Steven Universe, and then adds, “I think that covers it?” I selected this Lion King cover, because it suits his voice so well and he’s incredibly dramatic with it, even the spoken parts.
38. Jerry Lee Lewis — Great Balls of Fire — Christopher Bill
Christopher Bill, a trombonist, collaborates with three others, Ryan Keberle, Javier Nero and Jennifer Wharton, playing “Great Balls of Fire,” while standing in a ball pit at the Color Factory in New York City. Christopher plays popular hits, theme music, does his own arrangements, creates looping or multitracking videos for harmonies, collaborates with other brass players and creates educational videos for musicians.
Alex Boye was discovered on America’s Got Talent. He is known for his “Africanized” covers of popular music, sometimes called “hipster Africanized” covers. He was born in Nigeria, was raised in the U.K. and is now living in America. I like his style and personality that comes through with his performances. “Lemonade” is one of his originals. It is fun and uplifting, and the video is even a little comedic.
Christy-Lyn is a South African harpist and singer who creates videos where she sings and accompanies herself on harp, a few acapella multi-tracking videos and some educational videos for harpists. She also does livestreaming concerts on YouTube. Strangely, I remember learning “Scarborough Fair” in elementary school music class and finding it a strange song. I guess I’ve learned to appreciate it since then.
41. Honoka & Azita — Bodysurfing
These two Hawaiian girls play wonderful surf music on ukuleles. Their fingers are so fast. It’s hard for me to believe they can create this kind of sound with ukuleles.
The Gothard Sisters describe their music as contemporary Celtic music, “a blend of Celtic, folk, classical and northwest musical influences.” The three girls play a variety of folk instruments including violin, acoustic guitar, mandolin, bodhran, djembe, octave violin and whistle. They also sing in harmony.
Sam Robson is a really impressive acapella multi-tracker who has a ridiculous vocal range and does some astonishing music arranging and video editing. He does a number of hymns as well as gospel, Disney, Broadway, traditional folk, rock/pop and original music. “Be Thou My Vision” is one of my favorite hymns.
Celtic Thunder is a Celtic music show featuring all-male singers who sing a lot of traditional Irish songs and mix in a few other styles such as folk, pop and oldies rock and roll. Although the singers are all men, there are sometimes female instrumentalists. They are backed by a band including traditional folk instruments and sometimes a full orchestra. The group’s membership changes from time to time. I first discovered them in a PBS concert.
Kurt Hugo Schneider is a music producer who creates a number of interesting videos and helps to produce music videos for a number of YouTube musicians. Here is a song featuring Mike Tompkins and Tyler Ward. It’s an uplifting love song and is visually interesting with a lot of video effects, settings and dancing.
46. Classical Music Mashup III — grantwoolard
Grant Woolard has some great talents for music arrangement and creative video editing. In this mashup, he created counterpoint arrangements with snippets from several popular classical pieces, and you can follow along the sheet music with composer heads on the staff to represent the snippets from the particular composers. He has a few other similar videos, some for classical music as well as Disney and game music.
The harpejii is an electric stringed instrument that is kind of a cross between piano, guitar and bass guitar. If you’re not sure what that is, you should check out Mathieu Terrade’s channel. He plays all different musical styles from classical to jazz, pop and rock.
48. Video Puzzle – F.U.N. — We Are Young — Joe Penna
Joe Penna, aka Mystery Guitar Man, is ridiculously creative and talented. He plays guitar, as his YouTube name would suggest, as well as multiple instruments and is also very skilled with video techniques. Some examples of his creative work are “Bohemian Rhapsody” featuring slide whistles and other instruments, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony on vuvuzelas, an orchestra arrangement where he plays all the instruments and another where he plays “Miserlou” using 90 different instruments in one video. Maybe, he should change his name to Mystery Every Instrument That Exists Man? Some of his videos are non-musical and more about playing with video techniques. This example features both his guitar and video editing skills.
49. Lucky Chops — Full Heart Fancy — (Official Video)
Lucky Chops is a brass band I’ve discovered somewhat recently. In this video, there are dancers in strange, abstract, paper costumes. Strange as that is, it does help keep things interesting, light and happy.
50. My Hair Song — Rhett & Link
Buddies Rhett & Link are fairly well-known on YouTube for their Good Mythical Morning show. I’ve only recently begun to listen to some of their comedy music. Here is one where they make jokes about their hairstyles. It’s not one of their more recent songs, and some commenters have pointed out that Link has since changed his hairstyle. My favorite lines, “A mama bird laid some eggs up there. I didn’t mind that much. She raised them in my coif ’til them birdies flew off, and we still keep in touch.”
Identical twins, Derek and Brandon Fiechter, compose fantasy and world music. Many of their pieces are good for quiet moods when you want to play something soft, soothing and non-distracting. This one has a lot of ethereal sounds.
Here, finally, is acapella artist Peter Hollens singing a traditional Celtic song. Peter sings Disney, Broadway, traditional folk, pop songs, a little bit of everything. He has collaborated with artists such as Lindsey Stirling and The Piano Guys and many others.
53. An Awkward Duet feat. Jon Cozart — Dodie
Dodie Clark is a singer/songwriter. Here, she plays and sings this entertaining and humorous duet with YouTuber Jon Cozart on the awkwardness of feeling shy while singing with your duet partner.
54. Jackson 5 and Bach were funky way before Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” “I Want You Bach” — The Piano Guys
The Piano Guys are really one piano guy, Jon Schmidt, and one cello guy, Steve Nelson. They have a lot of creative arrangements and visually interesting videos, and often put a little humor into their acts. This is one of my favorite performances by The Piano Guys for comedic reasons, a mashup of 1770s and 1970s music.
55. Cissie Redgwick — Gimme That Swing
I do like some retro jazz sounds. This one is a little modern and retro at once in this electro swing song. I absolutely love Cissie’s sweet vocals. The rhythm is catchy, and it’s fun to watch the swing dancers in this performance.
Playing for Change Foundation helps provide art and music education to children around the world. Playing for Change has also created interesting music videos featuring musicians from all over the globe.
Tal Zilber is an Israeli pianist who does some impressive playing in different styles. In this video, he works with pianist, Eyran Katsenelenbogen, to deliver “When the Saints Go Marching In” in 10 styles: boogie woogie, Mozart, stride piano, Chopin, Latin jazz, Liszt, gospel, Debussy, bebop and Bach.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on a few different times when someone has asked me, “What kind of music do you like?” and I was almost completely at a loss as to how to begin to answer the question. It doesn’t, in theory, seem like it should be a difficult one.
I enjoy music in many different genres, and it really depends a lot on my mood and activity what I like to hear at any given time. It never seems easy to summarize the scope of my musical likes and dislikes. I end up thinking, “How many hours do you have available while I expand on that answer?”
I’ve heard people say, “I like everything,” but I doubt that is literally true that they like everything indiscriminately, unless they have no taste or discernment at all. Those who say this probably mean that they listen to music in more than one category, and it seems simpler to say, “I like everything,” than to give a long answer and proceed to list all the specific songs or musicians on their like and dislike lists.
I originally thought I would attempt the long answer and list a few favorites per genre in one post. When I couldn’t narrow the Celtic genre favorites to less than five, I knew I was in trouble and would have to create a series. So, here is the first in the series … 11 Classical Music Favorites … which was almost 15 Classical Music Favorites.
I especially like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and other composers from the Romantic period onwards on the timeline. Two things helped me gain more of an appreciation of Bach in somewhat recent times: discovering the Swingle Singers’ jazz scat renditions of Bach and watching a biographical film on Bach. I still probably like the Romantics a bit more. My absolute favorite composer is George Gershwin, and my favorite composition of his is Rhapsody in Blue.
“Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin
Gershwin, I think, is in a bit of a class by himself. When you hear his orchestra pieces, it’s hard to say whether it’s jazz-sounding classical or classical-sounding jazz. George Gershwin was inspired to write “Rhapsody in Blue” while traveling by train and hearing the rhythm of the train. I know the piece has come to be associated with United Airlines commercials, but, when you hear it, try to imagine a train and not a plane.
The embedded video in the playlist at the bottom of this article is a 1976 performance by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Leonard Bernstein. I’m amazed that Bernstein can both play the leading piano part and conduct the orchestra during the same piece.
I like the part at 1:26 where it builds up to a point that is truly bombastic and 3:29 where a lot of jumpy hand-crossing piano craziness begins. At 11:02, there is a pretty, smooth string part that is a change in musical mood, leading to a sweet violin solo. After that, things begin to build and gain a little more tension, some swelling and lessening which leads to some more almost jarringly jumpy piano.
I love this swelling brass sound at 14:46. It’s all these changes in mood and dynamic that makes the piece so exciting and emotional for me.
2. “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin
The performance in the embedded playlist is by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel.
One interesting thing about watching an orchestra performance is observing the percussion section. There are so many different percussion instruments, and while listening to a recording, I know I can’t always visualize the instrument responsible for the effect. At 1:32, some percussionist is honking what looks to be a series of old-fashioned bicycle horns. Yes, it is noisy, but I believe it is meant to suggest the traffic on Paris streets. In fact, Gershwin called these odd instruments “taxi horns.” You can see Gershwin with the original here.
It is this kind of genius that I admire in composers of movie scores where the composition fits the atmosphere or mood of a particular scene or activity or paints a picture with music. The piece, a symphonic tone poem, has segments that suggest frenzied city life like this one and other segments that are more smooth, sweet and romantic as in this smooth trumpet part set up by an interesting rhythmic segment.
If you enjoy the orchestra performance, you might also like to see it expressed in dance. The 1928 piece was featured in a 17 minute long ballet scene in the 1951 movie, “An American in Paris.” It features Leslie Caron, a ballerina, and Gene Kelly, a tap dancer, and incorporates both of their dance styles. No, you won’t see Kelly or any of the male dancers in ballet tights. It is really an artistic masterpiece with scenes that mimic the art of Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and others. You can watch the dance scene in this YouTube playlist or order the “An American in Paris” movie from the Amazon image link below.
3. “Hoedown” from Rodeo by Aaron Copland
So, this is another piece that has come to be associated with a TV commercial, this time for beef … “It’s what’s for dinner.” The performance in the embedded playlist is by the Philadelphia Virtuosi. It really is a fun mood-setting piece. There are sounds that seem to suggest the movement of horses as well as an old American folk sort of fiddling style. In fact, Copland sampled traditional folk music in “Hoedown” and in “Appalachian Spring.”
4. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
This is probably the most recognizable classical piece. Even if you don’t consider yourself a classical music fan, you most likely can recognize Beethoven’s Fifth. Everyone knows the DUM DUM DUM DUM part, so I thought I would highlight some of the other segments.
The playlist performance is from the 2012 Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. The conductor, Daniel Barenboim, is interesting to watch with his dramatic arm movements and faces … and so is the drummer, for different reasons. There is an interesting shift in mood at the beginning of the second movement. If you heard the first few seconds of the second movement alone, would you recognize it?
5. “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven
“Moonlight Sonata” is perhaps the quietest of the pieces in this list, but it still has a lot of quiet drama, a little moody and melancholy. It evokes more of a peaceful than melancholy mood in me. It was this piece of music that helped me discover that music could have a soothing, pain-reducing effect on my migraine attacks.
The playlist performance is by YouTuber and piano player, Rousseau, who uses a reactive visualizer for an effect similar to the visuals in rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution. It may help a piano player learn the finger positions, but, even if you are not, it is interesting to watch.
6. “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven
It’s a dramatic and joyful-sounding piece, a prelude to the final movement in Beethoven’s 9th and last symphony.
The video performance of “Ode to Joy” was done flash mob style in Sabadell, Spain and is sung in Catalan. It really is a joyous performance, beginning with a single bassist who is joined by more and more strings, a bassoonist, timpani, a brass section and a choir. It’s great to watch the reactions of the people in the courtyard, particularly some of the children.
7. Overture to “The Barber of Seville” by Giacomo Rossini
I confess that I was first introduced to music from The Barber ofSeville by Bugs Bunny cartoons. As a high schooler, I was reminded of the overture on a classical radio station and have loved it ever since. What’s even more wonderful is that, in my hometown, my father and brothers visited a real life Italian barber who sang opera to them as he gave them their cuts and shaves. That must have been quite an experience.
The video performance is of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra with Yuri Temirkanov conducting. At 3:23, there’s this wonderful floating sound chased by a tripping little rhythm. It seems perfect for a cartoon, a movie score or some other visual presentation. At 3:50, there is this lovely, gentle swaying and swelling melody that builds into a rapid, dance-like sound suitable for cartoon rabbit shenanigans.
8. “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky wrote his “1812 Overture” to commemorate the 1812 Russian victory over Napoleon. The piece was originally written to include such unusual instruments as church bells and cannons, 17 of them.
The video outdoor performance by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra does not have cannons but does use rifles at 12:38 and what looks to be a carillion, visible at 13:35. The part at 11:38, during one of the gentler segments, sounds a bit like Russian folk music to me. At 14:53, you can hear a little piece of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” which makes sense when you consider the event commemorated by the piece.
9. “Romeo and Juliet Overture” by Tchaikovsky
The performance in the video is by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Valeri Gergiev at the 2007 Proms. At 7:56 begins the repeated theme you often hear in movie or TV show scenes where characters fall in love, sometimes in cases where it’s meant to be overly dramatic and comedic. I enjoy the beautiful harp at 4:04 and the building tension at 4:36. With a story like Romeo and Juliet, involving feuding families and a double suicide, there ought to be some tension.
10. “Hungarian Dance No. 5” by Johannes Brahms
I first became familiar with “Hungarian Dance No. 5” in high school when a couple of my classmates played the piece as a piano duet for a competition. It’s been a favorite ever since. I remember getting tense at this dramatic point where things get a little louder and the tempo get faster, just as some would at a sports event, because I wanted my classmates to compete well. Like so many classical pieces I love, it seems to alternate between loud and soft, fast and slow, in ways that are dramatic.
11. “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Franz Liszt
This piece of music has so many associations for me from Bugs Bunny (again) to the comedy piano performance by Victor Borge. In the video in my playlist, Valentina Lisitsa plays it seriously, without any dancing rabbits, silly showmanship or stunts, and she doesn’t need it.
She has a wonderful touch, caressing those keys and knowing just when to tickle them or give them a little more force. I love how she manages this bit that begins at 1:49 and again at 4:09. It’s wonderful to watch her and see how dexterous her fingers are. In comedy, a concert pianist always begins by dramatically stretching and flexing their fingers. This makes you believe that might actually be necessary.
Close friends and family know I am a fan of Alice in Wonderland. It all started as a child when one of my older brothers gave me a picture book based on the original Disney animation. I had it read to me so many times that I memorized the book. As a teenager, I read the original Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass that inspired that movie and picture book and, more recently, read the novel in French.
In my YouTube explorations, I discovered three songs themed around Alice.
The first is just a fantastic cover of a fairly well-known Alice song, Danny Elfman’s Alicein Wonderland theme from Disney’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland live action film. The performer is Angela July, an Indonesian harpist and singer who competed in Asia’s GotTalent in 2017. The song is ethereal with a hint of mystery. Ms. July does a multi-track performance where she harmonizes with herself, singing in three parts, and accompanies her voice with harp. Of course, her ingenue pink dress and floral hair wreath does seem to put her into character.
The second is based on one of my favorite poems, which happens to be a poem from Alice Through the Looking Glass … “Jabberwocky.” “Jabberwocky” may seem to be a strange choice for a favorite poem, because it’s seemingly nonsense, but it’s clever nonsense. It tells the story of a slaying of a creature invented by Carroll but has the feel of a knightly dragon-slaying. It’s more difficult to understand when you read it out of context, but in the context of Alice Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty explains the poem, the first four lines that is, (which are also the last four lines.) Humpty Dumpty is an egghead, so he ought to understand things, right?
Many of the nonsense words are explained as portmanteaus, two words combined in one. “Mimsy” is explained as flimsy and miserable. “Slithy” is a combination of lithe and slimy. Other explanations are a little more fanciful, things that would not be picked up by the reader just by the sound of the word. “Well, ‘toves‘ are something like badgers … they’re something like lizards … and they’re something like corkscrews,” says Humpty Dumpty. For most of the silly words, you get a feeling of the meaning from its context. It has been suggested that “chortled” is a combination of chuckled and snorted.
This song is an original by Erutan, a classically trained singer-songwriter who specializes in a Celtic/medieval sound. She has three albums: Raindancer (2010,) A Bard’s Side Quest (2013,) and The Court of Leaves (2014.)
The third song makes no references to Alice in the actual lyrics, but the visual references in the video should be obvious. It’s “Pocketful of Poetry” by indie singer-songwriter Mindy Gledhill. The song is about being a creative soul, and the video tells the story of her imagination going wild while trapped in a mundane office job. I think any creative type, whether a writer, visual artist or musician, can find it very relatable. Look for the slightly disguised characters — the caterpillar, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and the pack of cards.
Double your pleasure and double your fun with these sets of identical twin musicians.
Derek & Brandon Fiechter
Derek and Brandon Fiechter may not be as visible on their YouTube channel as the other two pairs named later in this article, only because they do not film themselves. Their videos feature instrumentals of their own composition and still artwork … often fantasy artwork.
The brothers describe themselves as fantasy and world composers. The twins both started composing around the age of fifteen.
They are very prolific and have many instrumental pieces on fantasy themes such as elves, fairies, mermaids, pirates, space, steampunk or on world music themes like Arabian, Caribbean, Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian and more. The music takes you away to a different world.
Their music would be great as soundtrack music for videos and movies, video games, podcasts or to be used in live dramas. Under their “About” section, they say that their music can be used in non-commercial videos (whether monetized or not) as long as they are credited.
Many of their fans comment that they enjoy listening to their videos while studying or writing. Their pieces are often relaxing and help to create a soothing atmosphere.
Here is some beautiful Celtic mermaid music from Derek Fiechter.
Some of their pieces have dark and spooky themes, such as this Creepy Doll music. Personally, I find it more relaxing than creepy.
The Harp Twins have a lot of fun as identical twins. Like the Fiechter brothers, some of their music also has fantasy themes. They often play popular movie and game theme music and dress in identical appropriate costumes in their videos. Their music covers many genres such as rock and pop, even heavy metal music, arranged by themselves for harp. These talented girls create all of their own harp arrangements and produce and create the concepts for their outstanding videos.
In case musical and video production talent was not quite enough, the girls are both third degree Black Belts in tae kwon do, are “distinguished experts” in rifle marksmanship and have had training in horseback riding. They are also members of the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA, dabbling in theater and film acting. This ability comes across in their video performances.
Their golden dresses and armbands look appropriate for ancient Rome as they play “Now We Are Free,” a theme from the Gladiators movie.
I love the beauty and color in this ’80s meets Victorian period video, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” The video features the 1890 Eden Palais Salon Carousel at the Sanfilippo Estate.
The girls have several albums including Harp Attack, Harp Attack 2, Harp Fantasy and Harp Fantasy 2. You can buy their music here.
The Mona Lisa Twins (Mona and Lisa Wagner)
These 24-year-old twins play and sing many tributes to artists of the ’60s such as the Beatles, Everly Brothers, Mamas and Papas, Peter and Gordon and other harmonic groups of that decade. They are also creating and recording original songs that are reminiscent of the styles from this period.
The girls are from Austria where the music tradition is classical and folk, but the twins themselves were highly influenced by British and American music of the 60s. Their father is a songwriter and musician with experience running a recording studio. He and their stepmother helped build up their music business.
My first video discovery was this version of “Bus Stop” by the Hollies. It’s a sweet and innocent love song about romance that develops at a shared umbrella at a bus stop. I enjoy their voices and harmonies, and I also just love their humorous and literal enactment of some of the lyrics.
Here is one of their original songs, “I Don’t Know Birds That Well.” This repeated line is followed by, “But they always seem to sing about love.”
On their album Orange, they collaborate with John Sebastian from The Lovin’ Spoonful. You can now pre-order Volumes 2 & 3 of Mona Lisa Twins Sing Beatles & More. You can find their music here.
Enjoy these musical discoveries from creative partnerships of identical twins.