What’s one piece of classical music that you find relaxing and why? I recently posed this question to several of my colleagues at the PSO in the hope that they could help me put together a playlist of classical music for relaxation.
As those of you who regularly follow our blog know, personal preference affects whether someone finds a piece of music calming. You can see the role taste plays when you consider my colleagues’ contributions to the playlist, as well as their varied reasons for finding selections relaxing. We invite you to listen to our collaborative playlist if you’re interested in hearing everyone’s picks. To hear why each person finds his or her selections soothing, read on. Once you’ve finished reading, don’t forget to suggest your own additions to the playlist in the comments!
Lawrence Loh, Resident Conductor
“It’s generally difficult for me to listen to music for the purpose of relaxation, because music has inherent tension and release. But there are some performances of works of music that somehow still give me a sense of relaxation. If I want to relax to music, I like to listen to Angela Hewitt’s recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Having worked with Angela, I know that she is a pristine and thoughtful pianist who plays Bach in such a way that makes me feel very relaxed. I’m sure that one of the reasons I find this relaxing, aside from the incredible music itself, is that I simply love the way Angela plays this music. This makes me feel extremely satisfied and therefore relaxed.”
Fawzi Haimor, Assistant Conductor
“Beethoven’s Romances for Violin and Orchestra are my picks. They also always seem to help my children fall asleep; so I guess I’m not the only one that finds them soothing. Perhaps part of the reason is that these pieces don’t possess the sudden dynamic contrasts that Beethoven is known for in his other works. Instead, they sound far more like lullabies than anything. The melodies are quite lyrical and the rhythms are simplistic. There are no out-of-the-box surprises that interrupt the overall flow of the piece, they’re just simply relaxing, that’s what makes them so great.”
Suzanne Perrino, Senior Vice President of Education & Strategic Implementation
“I like listening to lyrical, slow movements of Baroque guitar pieces and impressionistic French works like Gymnopédie. I enjoy songs that don’t have an orchestral instrument or a voice because I find those things really distracting.”
Gloria Mou, Director of Musician & Community Engagement Programs
Gloria enjoys the fourth movement of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. She comments, “I like music that is usually sad music. It calms me down. It’s unusual for people but I think it’s because it has a lot of emotion to it. It’s slow, not upbeat. Slow music settles me.” It seems that Gloria is not alone in finding sad music soothing, as shown in a September 2013 New York Times article, Why We Like Sad Music.
Tommy Walters, Director of Education Programs
“I like to listen to concerti when I want to divert attention or distract myself. I particularly love Elgar’s Violin Concerto, especially the second (andante) movement. The entire movement is in B-flat and is generally calm and quiet, and melodic. When I listen to orchestral/symphonic music (that isn’t a concerto), I find myself focusing on the mechanics of the piece and listening with a critical ear. It’s hard to describe, but when I listen to Elgar’s concerto, I don’t focus on the mechanics as much as just listening to and enjoying the music without thinking about it.
When I want to concentrate and focus on my work while remaining calm, I listen to larger works for orchestra and choir. Durufle’s Requiem and Faure’s Requiem come to mind. I used to work in the Choral Music Library in college, and would work during choir rehearsals. I got used to working while listening to/hearing the choir rehearse.”
Gwynne Hamill, Coordinator of Education & Community Programs
Gwynne finds Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit calming. She says, “I remember before I even knew the name of this piece I thought it sounded like a ‘mysterious night,’ and it turns out the title translates to ‘treasurer of the night.’ This French impressionist style of music is typically associated with ‘relaxation,’ especially Debussy too. I just love the way the melody never really resolves—it feels like a wave pushing forward that can lull me into a sleep.”
Messay Derebe, Education & Community Engagement Intern
“Silent Woods by Dvořák! I love the feeling of openness in the piece, it’s very calming and peaceful.”
Katie Schouten, Education & Community Engagement Intern
Katie likes listening to “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah. She explains, “The alternating sections heighten the effect of the soaring melody, allowing the listener to float away…”
Victoria Visceglia, Education & Community Engagement Intern
“I guess I will stick with Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. In its original form with a solo vocalist, the piece does not include words for its haunting melody; the listener is left to interpret it however he/she wants. The transcription for orchestra is very string-heavy, which I find to be the most relaxing instrument family. The piece may be a little too Romantic to be entirely relaxing, but regardless of instrumentation, the piece is never too climactic.”
Jessica Ryan, Manager of Education & Community Programs
Finally, for my contribution I chose The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It has a tinge of sadness, yet I find it extremely beautiful and comforting. With a leisurely tempo that gently ebbs and flows, as well as a violin melody that dances and soars, it really does paint a picture of a lark gliding through the sky. When I listen to it, I feel like I’m transported to another place—perhaps sitting in a tranquil meadow and watching the birds fly overhead. I can sense that my muscles relax and my breath gets slower, and I feel my tension release.