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.