In Memoriam I – Leonard Cohen

It was a shit year for our musical gods. Seriously. It almost couldn’t have gotten worse (hey 2017 that is not an invitation, its time to slow down!) when we lost Boulez and Bowie, but we thought the year was bad enough, but then we lost Prince and Rautavaara, and the rout (see what I did there?) was on. We even lost Merle Haggard, and he was tough as nails, a human grizzly bear. I’ve seen sidewalks that looked healthier than him and he just kept on going.

It was a shit year. We lost Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, and Keith Emerson. Hell, we even lost someone from Mott the Hoople. Just a dirty, dirty Donald Trump won the presidency kind of year.

So in an effort to commemorate a few of these legends before this year (which can go straight to hell) lurches to its own untimely death, may I present Leonard Cohen to you? Here are what I think are  his 12 best songs. If you disagree with my choices – let me know. Yes – Hallelujah is not on my list. Its a great song, but not a top 12 song in the Leonard Cohen songbook.

Why are there 12 songs? I challenge you to eliminate any one of these songs from your top 10 list. Just go ahead and try. Each one is a sculpted gem as close to perfect as you can get.

And it is so hard to get down to 10 songs. I could just choose either the I’m your man, or The Future albums. But it feels like that ignores the early and late work that were so fantastic in their own ways. Especially Ten New Songs, which was such an amazing offering.

So here is the playlist. Let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Carols (lets skip the lessons)

 

Here are 9 carols for Advent or Christmas that should be on the listening list for anyone who loves choral music. This list is incomplete – in truth the list is several hundred works long, and maybe longer if we put some serious thought into it. But if I had to choose 9, I’d have trouble getting past these ones. They are on a playlist at the top here (thanks Mr. Seagram!) or you can follow along one by one.

So without further ado, here are 9 pieces I think are great, unsullied by lessons.

9. O Magnum Mysterium, by Ola GjeiloA wonderful, emotional piece. It takes a cold heart not to feel the gentle warmth behind this music.

 

8. The Three Kings by Jonathan Dove. One of my favorites as a performer, it has almost everything that I would hope for.

 

7. Hodie, Christus Natus Est by Palestrina. This is a party piece most choirs can do. Even a highschool choir can do it, and its just a fantastically well written piece. I can’t find a good video of this, which is a crime. Someone should get on that. But folks, it is so good that it made the list WITHOUT a video.

6. Illuminare Jerusalem by Judith Weir. I just love old english, and this piece really scratches that itch for me. It’s also fantastic in an acoustic, dark/bright and damp and mysterious.

5. Adam Lay-y Bounden by Adam Larkin. This is not such a well known piece perhaps, but unjustly so. The word I’d use for this is shapely, this piece uses shape in an exquisite way.

4. The Little Road to Bethlehem by Michael Head. Along with Quilter, Finzi, and Vaughn Williams, Michael Head defined the English Art Song. And this one is very, very special.

3. Ave Maria by Felix Mendelssohn – Perhaps one of the most satisfying emotional experiences ever. Anyone who really opens to this experience is never disappointed.

 

2. Nesciens Mater by Jean Mouton. I can’t say much about perfection. Just listen.

 

1. The All-Night Vigil (also called the Vespers) by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Ok, I can’t choose all of it (which I was tempted to do) but here is a fantastic rendition of the third movement. Best Alto Choral Solo Ever.

I Love the Lord by Jonathan Harvey

Here is one of my favorite pieces from the choral literature – I Love the Lord by Jonathan Harvey. This is a performance from 2011 with a great pickup choir that came together for my masters degree recital. It was a very stressful but exciting experience. These singers were outstanding to work with; many very good friends. This recital happened at St. Matthias Church, which made it extra special. There are parishioners in the audience, and my priest at that time Ken Near with his wife Karen.