Joe Hisaishi and Jeremy Zuckerman, my two favourite composer as of now.
I was and still am really hesitant to write this article, music is a universal language which communicates through emotions and memories, all tangible feelings but that also makes it incredibly hard to write about. How do you accurately describe a triumphant crescendo? There’s no doubt that my own personal experiences and emotions will affect how I interpret that piece, but how can I accurately communicate these thoughts to the wider audience? Though, regardless I think orchestral is one of the most undervalued genres of music and sadly there is a distinct lack of exposure since it doesn’t fit into ‘pop music.’
This is a key reason why I am writing this article, hopefully I will be able to intelligently and articulately explore how these pieces of music have touched me without allowing my writing to becomes overly personal and incomprehensible. I have written another article about the orchestral genre and unfortunately I decided to name it “Top Ten Orchestral” pieces, completely ignoring the fact that my knowledge in this field is still very shallow and that my top ten list would be constantly changing. Of course I will not be mentioning any of the songs I wrote about in my previous piece which you can find here.
Personally, I define orchestral as a more modern variation of classical music and whilst classical composers like Bach, Mozart and Verdi have all stamped their legacy upon the history of the world. My heart has been whisked away by composers like Akihiko Matsumoto, Jeremy Zuckerman and Yoko Shimomura.The most beautiful aspect of orchestral music is how the absence of words means that the audience can easily and freely substitute their emotions into the piece, orchestral music really is a blank canvas, allowing listeners to paint however they please.
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” – Plato
Title: Fantasia Alla Marcia
From: Kingdom Hearts II
Composer: Yoko Shimomura
What a musical journey, this is a song which incorporates many different emotions, from genuine warmth, to impending doom to glorious victory. This song starts off casually, a bouncy and bright melody that quickly transforms into a heart wrenching melody, softly whispering silent pains into the soul of the audiences. Then like a lion, it announces it’s return and it finishes upon a crescendo, the darkness is cast aside! The Keyblade remains undefeated and chaos has been imprisoned! One complaint I have of classical pieces is that too often the changes between their melodies seems forced, unnatural and inconsistent, the biggest strength of this piece is Shimomura’s ability to guide the listeners on a journey of highs and lows.
Now if only Square Enix could release Kingdom Hearts within the next century and on the PS3, that would be fantastic.
Title: The Village in May
From: My Neighbor Totoro
Composer: Joe Hisaishi
Joy to the world! Flirty without compromise, Hisaishi delivers one of his most memorable works for a Studio Ghibli classic. This song perfectly captures the innocent and curiosity of youth and in particular of Mei, the younger sister of the protagonist; Satsuki. It was clear that Hisaishi was trying to reflect the optimism and energy of youth, for myself this song triggers buried memories of picnics, sunflowers and spring; the simple events in life which give colour to our existence.
Title: Greatest Change
From: The Legend of Korra, Book One
Composer: Jeremy Zuckerman
Such power and strength, for anyone that has visited my blog they will know I am a huge fan of animation and The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra series both have a special place in my heart. Zuckerman has one of the most original sounds I’ve ever heard as both Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko wanted Zuckerman to create music which deviated from traditional styles. Zuckerman has managed to combine eastern instruments with the spirit of western orchestra to produce some of the most mesmerising music I have ever heard. Jeremy Zuckerman’s music was the emotional heart beat of Avatar The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, his impact on these works and my life can not be understated.
For me, this song represents growth and evolution, it starts off timid, shy and reserved but slowly the melody grows stronger, embolden by its success, until finally it creates a tidal of emotion to overwhelm the listener. The thunder of the drums further adds to the power flow of this piece, like a flash of stallions, galloping along a river.
Title: 150 Million Miracles
From: Summer Wars
Composer: Akihiko Matsumoto
“And if you remember nothing else, remember to find time to eat together as a family. Even when times are rough; especially when times are rough. There’s no lack of painful things in this world, but hunger and loneliness must surely be two of the worst.”
Having an angelic choir is one of the oldest tricks in the book, it adds a gorgeous sincere element to the music and the same could be said for 150 Million Miracles. Of course as someone who has watched and loved Summer Wars, I feel a much stronger connection to this piece of music than strangers to Hosada’s film, played during a very intense and emotional moment; for me this song speaks about family, loyalty and love.
Title: Omnis Lacrima
From: Final Fantasy XV
Composer: Yoko Shimomura
The goddess of Japanese orchestral strikes again, the flames of human adrenaline, the frenzy of battle and the fall of great empires. Omnis Lacrima taps into the darker elements of humanity, our desire for glory and our sub conscious thirst to vanquish our foes. Humans are a fickle species, being able to simultaneously shed tears for nameless victims of a tragedy whilst inflicting death in the name of love and loyalty. The crescendo of drums, trumpets and voices at the start of the song combined with the driving beat and the Latin choir produces a chilling piece of music, full of passion, courage and power.
Title: Ruby & Sapphire Ending Theme (I presume)
From: Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire & Emerald
Composer: Junichi Masuda
You could definitely make the case that I spent too much of my youth playing with my Pokemon Ruby and pretending my Blaziken was real. But did I regret spending over 300 hours training my Pokemon, capturing basically every Pokemon I could except that pesky Huntail and beating the Elite Four over and over again to the point where I could remember every single Pokemon the trainers had? NO. This song is so nostalgic for me, sending me down a roller coaster of memories from a close friend giving me a Camerupt EX trainer card, to switching Rayquaza to abuse the Air Lock ability to negate Solar Beam. I don’t expect my readers to be so emotionally charged when listening to this gorgeous piece, but one can still appreciate how lightly the keys echo, how the soft music seems to coat and soothe the soul. Sunflowers, seashells and a picnic with a beautiful girl in a grassy mellow.
Long live Hoenn, long live Swampert and long live Treecko.
Title: The Name of Life
From: Spirited Away
Composer: Joe Hisaishi
Joe Hisaishi at his very best, riveting and seductive. Like other Hisaishi pieces such as Journey to the West and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, he manages to intertwine bitter sadness, optimism and joy in a single piece. Whilst the echoing piano notes contain a sombre element, when stringed together, this piece of music delivers a powerful emotional punch. For the frequent listeners of Hisaishi, they may notice a distinct resemblance to One Summer’s Day which was featured in the critically acclaimed Spirited Away (arguably the 21st century’s version of Akira, in terms of influence and introducing Japanese animation to western nations). However One Summer’s Day lacks the haunting piano keys at the start of this piece, arguably my favourite section of this song (excuse the lack of musical terminology).
Title: Traffic Jam
From: Halo ODST
Composer: Martin O’Donnell
Martin O’Donnell’s music has the ability to transform the mundane into the spectacular, the ordinary into the chaotic and the predictable into a frenzy of movement. This piece starts with it’s head held high, every note reflecting its proud and militaristic origins, every thud of the dream saluting a distant victory. War is dangerous, filled with sorrow and suffering, but amongst such conditions, iron bonds of camaraderie are formed. This is a thunderous salute to the selflessness of sacrifice to the men and women who would die for their country and their peers.
Lock and load marines, time to flank some elites.
Title: Dearly Beloved
From: Kingdom Hearts I
Composer: Yoko Shimomura
I would often leave my PlayStation 2 on all day with my Kingdom Hearts disc inserted just to hear this song on repeat and repeat… And repeat. This is as bitter sweet as it comes, a tale of star crossed lovers, redemption and separation. Honestly, it’s hard to write about this song, it’s one of the defining soundtracks of my younger days. There’s something magical and soothing about Dearly Beloved’s soft and angelic start, like the final hug from a departing friend, or the warmth of twilight stars. Arthur Schopenhauer argued that music was the purest form of literature because of its ability to produce unfiltered emotions, unlike other mediums such as books or films which required the creation of situations, events and characters to move the audience. A tranquil song like Dearly Beloved is both haunting and beautiful and even cultural barriers can not hinder its message of loneliness. Music expresses emotions in its purest form, I truly believe that.
Press play and let the music sweep you away to a land of wonder and tranquility.
Title: Legend of Korra Ending Song (Has not been officially released, no official title)
From: Legend of Korra, Book Four
Composer: Jeremy Zuckerman
I had to. I had no choice.
Music has the ability to make or break films and television shows, adding a subtle splash of depth and emotion to accompany the visual. The finale of Legend of Korra impaled my heart, it was like losing a friend, a friend you never fully appreciated, but someone who was tenderly loving and supportive. Bryan Konietzko and Michael Di Martino told Jeremy Zuckerman to deliver an emotionally charged sound track, nostalgic and gentle and he delivered in spades. The ending notes in particular are what resonate with me the most, it’s so graceful and haunting leaving the audience satisfied but strangely wanting more.
I’ve stated this before, but I’ll state it again, Zuckerman has one of the most unique sounds I have ever heard, being able to masterfully combine the spirit of the east with the soul of the west. This was primarily achieved by playing the Erhu like a violin, allowing it to boldly produce its authentic high pitched sounds whilst being surrounded by the versatility of western instruments. That’s no easy feat and the end product is a heart breaking piece of music, which will strike you at your core. Maybe I’m a lot more invested in this piece because it featured in Legend of Korra, particularly at the ending which was just a tidal wave of feelings. Maybe it’s just a beautiful piece of music that needs no context for it to overwhelm.
I have always struggled with articulating my thoughts on music and its impact. Unfortunately I am not musically literate and thus I often have to discuss the context of the musical piece or my personal experiences and thoughts attached to the melody instead of publishing a piece which breaks down the different approaches and methods used to produce said sounds.
There are still many other pieces of music I have yet to suggest and discuss about, as you can tell sadly there is a distinct lack of musical appearances from the Lord of the Rings franchise, a sin which I shall mend in my next musical article. Music is that splash of colour that everyone’s life needs and humanity’s ability to create art to entertain and heal, separates our species from every other living organism.
Hopefully these ten songs I have recommend and written about will resonate with you the same way it has affected me. We live in an age where war and death are more threatening then ever with technology proving to be both a curse and a blessing. We live in an age where the mobile phone may replace physical interactions.
Music is something which we can never forgo, not even for a second. It may be the bridge which unites us all.
Hip Hop has been the staple to my musical diet for the past 3 years, I’m a 5 foot 6 Asian with a slightly under average frame but if you caught out my heart you would found out I’m equipped with 50 Cent’s vernacular and Method Man’s flow. However I’m still a sucker for beautiful, peaceful music that tugs at your heart strings, gently reminding you that there’s still hope and “through every dark night there’s a brighter day.” (2Pac) 2013 was a year of discovery for me, I aimed to push my boundaries and forever leave my comfort zone, I’m glad to announce I have achieved everyone of my goals. Along the way I discovered the tranquil affect classic and orchestra music had upon me, they were a total contrast to what I’ve religiously listened to over the past 3 years. They rarely had words, allowing you to shape the meaning according to your emotions and instead of draining my energy like some hip hop songs do, I felt more mature, relaxed and generally more optimistic after listening to songs of this genre. So to share my new found love of soft and gentle music, here’s my top 10, I can guarantee you this list is far from complete, after all I’ve only started to dabble in this genre 6 months ago. I can guarantee there’s a few songs which were absolute staples on everyone’s list that I’ve left out due to sheer ignorance. But this is my list, my personal list and at the end of the day everyone’s a winner (Unless you disagree with me… Then you’re the opposite.)
To The Moon is a game that deserves so much more recognition, it has a unique and quite frequently heart melting story line. We follow two scientist as they aim to give an old man (Johnny) his final dream; flying to the moon, a goal that could never be achieved due to the harsh and suddenness of life. Along the way, the audience learns about his life, his goals, his dreams and his failures and the game crescendos into an emotional explosion at the end. Everything’s Alright is a song which captures the main themes of the game perfectly, a beautiful soft voice accompanying a melodic tune. Honestly I could of easily put 2 or 3 of the songs from the game’s soundtrack on this list because they’re all so beautiful but Everything’s Alright definitely stood out. (Yes you should go check out the soundtrack, and NO I’m not getting paid for advertisement, you have to give credit when credit is due.) The lyrics are put together carefully and aim to reflect the tear jerking relationship between Johnny and his wife River.
When this world is no more
The moon is all we’ll see
I’ll ask you to fly away with me
Until the stars all fall down
They empty from the sky
But I don’t mind
If you’re with me, then everything’s alright
Grab the tissues children.
Bedroom eyes here, bedroom eyes there, bedroom eyes everywhere! I love Avatar The Last Airbender. I love everything about it, from the characters, the humour, the excellent story line and oh did I say the characters? This short song inspired by the budding romance between Katara and Aang and Eastern instruments symbolises the finale of my favourite series. The fire lord has been broken! The world is safe! The Avatar has returned and finally he has overcome his sense of failure and fear and fully cemented his relationship with Katara, go get him boy! It’s a short song but it ends on a triumph and proud note, it’s head held up high much like the cartoon series. You know this piece of music has touched the lives of thousands when you get comments like this on the Youtube page, “actually makes me weak. At the same time strong, it makes me remember the things that’s so good in my life that every time I make a mistake, it doesn’t keep me down. Avatar was the best cartoon I’ve ever watched. Thank you for the memories :’)” – Dom Novak and even “I want to walk down the aisle to this when I get married.” – Pevensify. 10/10 Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, 10/10.
You know I could make a top 10 list with only songs from the Final Fantasy series. You ABSOLUTELY know I could. Every game, Square Enix somehow is able to embed songs which we’ll remember forever. The Promise made me cry in year 9, it was just overwhelming beautiful, noble yet sad, proud yet solemn, I can’t explain it, just press play and let the genius flow.
No, I never finished Final Fantasy 7, I’ve downloaded on Steam and there it sits quietly in the corner. I don’t know why I don’t play it much, it’s probably a mixture of the fact I’ve slowly but surely moved away from video games and I already know 85% of the plot from Wikipedia and just searching the net. Regardless you can tell without a doubt Final Fantasy 7 was one of the most influential games of all time, solidifying Square Enix/Soft’s legacy, thus leading to Final Fantasy becoming one of the most famous video game series ever. Personally I feel as if this songs stands as a metaphor for life, it starts off slowly and sadly and then becomes joyful and triumphant. Much like Aerith, we will eventually pass from this world, all we can hope for is that we’ve touched those we’ve loved enough so that our legacy will be remembered. All I can say is I listened to this song for 3 days straight when I was studying for my University examinations. 3 days straight! I couldn’t even watch Michael Jordan clips for 3 days straight!
A Watchful Guardian.
The quiet before the storm. The echoing of thunder. The roar of horses and the taste of blood. That’s what I imagine when I listen to this song. I always see Theoden sitting proudly on his steed, armour gold, hair flowing shouting out his battle cry. “Arise! Arise, Riders of Theoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword day… a red day… ere the sun rises! ” A Watchful Guardian sums up passion, courage and camaraderie within the song, the quick beat creates a whirlwind of movement, exciting yet dangerous. It’s a gorgeous song to listen to.
Easily the most haunting piece of music on this list. Whilst searching for the Youtube video to embed, I knew I had to choose the MusicVideo version, so much emotion. It successfully captures the true essence of humanity. Like the other songs on this list, Time’s melody can be shaped into whatever emotions you are feeling. Need a song to give you strength when you are weakest? Need a song to inspire and empower? Time is perfect, it’s the Swiss army knife of classical orchestra. Hats off to you Hans Zimmer and hats off to Inception.
Man the turrets! Grab the ammo! Solidify the defense! The Halo Theme is an instant spark of energy, turning every day things like taking out the rubbish into an epic event for the ages. I feel unstoppable when I listen to this, it’s like sniffing cocaine and injecting moose testosterone into your veins simultaneously. The pace is fast enough to inspire courage but slowly enough so one doesn’t descend into the realm of sadness or insanity. This song takes you on an incredible high now choose your weapon, get your grenades and let’s kill some elites! WOO-RAH!
Journey to the West.
Just wait for it. It starts off weak and timid and then transforms into an explosion of power and strength. Princess Mononoke is also one of my favourite films of all time, it’s an instant classic for a wonderful plot with epic Japanese mythology combined with great characters. Can humans advance forward without destroying the natural environment? Will the animal spirits cling to their traditions despite a shifting landscape? The film and the musical score are both beautifully crafted and it stands as a testament to the greatness of Hayao Miyazaki. Long live Studio Ghibli, long live Totoro! Long live Chihiro! Now if only I had the courage to watch Grave of the Fireflies… I don’t want to become an emotional wreck for two days!
Promise to the World.
It’s just so beautiful. Fuck you Japan for being producing the most heart moving music, no I’m not crying there is just something in my eye! On a serious note, I’m 100% convinced an angel sang this. Listen to this whilst you just had an argument with a friend or family member and I guarantee you this will absolve away all tension and hatred. Once again Studio Ghibli you never cease to amaze! There’s literally nothing left for me to say, words can’t capture how gorgeous this piece of music is… Just press play.
I was literally spellbound when I held this. I was frozen with wonder, “How can music be this beautiful?” It’s music like this that makes one reflect… Why are we on this planet? Am I being true to myself? How should I better myself and thus better those around me? This song was used in the film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, a film I’ve never watched and don’t plan to because this song may reduce me to a babbling and crying two year old. For me, the songs is about a relationship that will never work because it’s deemed forbidden by society, it’s about the fundamental need every human wants; love. It’s about acknowledging joy can only be experienced with sadness, that heart break only leads to true love. This will play at my funeral and my wedding, hopefully serving as a reminder that people need more than just materialism to sustain them and that life is too short to waste on trivial matters. Ryuichi Sakamoto you are my deity and I’m your disciple.
There were so many runner ups for this list and I could of easily made a top 20 or even top 25. So here’s a few songs below which were excluded and YES, you SHOULD give them a listen… Here’s a short tip, Final Fantasy/Square Enix/Studio Ghibli/ To the Moon/ Hans Zimmer are my favourites and you should definitely check out their works.
Man of Steel.
Twilight Town. (I’m sorry Kingdom Hearts for not including you in the top 10)
My Neighbor Totoro
Married Life (From Up)
Once Upon a Memory (To the Moon)
Kairi I (Kingdom Hearts)
Born a Stranger (To the Moon)
For River (To the Moon)
Roxas Theme (Kingdom)
To Zanarkand (Which I have NO idea how it didn’t make the top 10… Should of made a top 20…)
Finish the Fight (Halo)
Into a Night Time Sky (Avatar)
Peace Excerpt (Avatar)
Ahh… Music, it’s the language of humanity, spoken by few but understood by all. It supports us at our most vulnerable and humbles us at our strongest. No doubt that I’ve fallen in love with this genre and there is still space for one more, yes you, the one reading this right now, now be ready to be gripped and moved.