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Borrowing Brains: Beautiful Secular Music

Ipod ShuffleI’m a music freak. While the majority of my time is spent listening to Gospel-centered sacred music, I really enjoy secular instrumental music, as well. Think common grace. (Alas, I know that some of my friends will see my favorites below as more “common” than “grace.” Probably true.) Anyway, I’m looking for tips on knock-your-socks-off-gorgeous instrumental music—generally orchestral (though I enjoy piano and guitar, as well). I have a decent-ish classical collection, so I’m looking for more (again) “common” music. Realistically? Most of what I enjoy in this regard hales from movie soundtracks. Examples of my favorites? Sure.

I like big, dramatic music:

My…um…wife also likes sentimental, tear your heart out music with a stirring melody line:

It’s embarrassing, I know. But I…or rather, (ahem) she likes the stuff.

So, what can you recommend along these lines to me and others who read? What am I missing?

(Note: Bonus points if you can find it on Amazon with downloadable individual mp3s. Isn’t it great when you don’t have to buy a whole album for one or two tracks?!)

48 Responses

  1. A couple of my favorites:



    The Patriot

  2. You’ll probably like Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”. Pretty bombastic at times, and gorgeous at other times.


    I personally recommend Mars and Jupiter.

  3. My all-time favorite is “In the Steppes of Central Asia”. I suppose it’s considered classical, but it would certainly fit your wife’s preference for “sentimental, tear your heart out music with a stirring melody line” (which happens to be what I prefer, too). I really don’t like stories that try to make me shed a tear, but I like music that does.
    (I hope I did the link right. I’m a bit new to this blogging thing. If not, sorry!)

  4. I’m not familiar with all the selections on both lists, but I do like several from each. :)

    I imagine your familiar with the Mulfinger’s Eine Kleine Kaffeemusik (available at sacredaudio.com).

    I like pianist Kelly Yost, particularly Quiet Colors and Piano Reflections — first discovered her music on WMUU. I think you can only order them through http://www.channelproductions.com/ now.

    Emile Pandolfi is another favorite.

    Your wife probably would like the soundtrack to Sense and Sensibility if she doesn’t already have it., plus the Soundtrack to the Keira Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice — “Liz on top of the World” is a gorgeous piece.

    Christopher Parkening is a favorite guitarist, particularly on the Simple Gifts CD.

    Though they’re vocal rather than instrumental, I like the King’s Singers’ Chanson d’amour, Annie Laurie, and Watching the White Wheat CDs as well as most of the Irish Tenors.

    My boys love the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack.

  5. A couple of my favorites in the soundtrack line are Band of Brothers, Master and Commander, and Glory.

  6. OOOH. Good list you have already! Someone we found to be surprisingly beautiful is “DAVID OSBORNE.” There’s a lot of instrumentation, but the music is moving, and he has a lot of cd’s out. One of our favorite is December Morning. Sorry, I don’t have a link…but I know Mr. Google could help you out. Thanks for your contribution to Christian music. I actually just recently “heard” of you and some of your songs. I am excited to learn them and pass them along!

  7. How could you not put anything from Les Mis at the top of the list? (Well, maybe not Master of the House and Lovely Ladies.) I’ve seen it in NY once and its traveling production another 3 times. Musicals usually are troublesome either because the story is weak or the music is weak. But the heart of Hugo’s brilliant work is perfectly captured in the music making this easily the best musical ever.

    If you like piano, I know Phillippe Entremont is sometimes called the Mantovani of piano, but I’ve always enjoyed his Greatest Hits: Classical Piano album.

  8. Dan,

    An instrumental version of Les Mis is at the very top of my list. Did you miss that? :) Just saw it in Pittsburgh. Stunning. Several songs from the 10th anniversary concert are on the top of my ipod list right now. “One More Day” is powerful, and Lea Salonga’s “On My Own” (here) is brilliant.

    I’ve found a few more instrumental versions of various songs, too, which I’m enjoying.

  9. Glad you’re learning and enjoying the ChurchWorks songs, Erin. Praise the Lord!

  10. A great compilation CD is Summon the Heroes, which contains several John Williams pieces, including some Olympic themes. Great stuff that will get the blood pumping.

  11. Thanks, all. I hope this thread can be a nice resource for people. I’m excited to look into several of the recommendations.

    Since we’ve started including vocal pieces, as well, “You Are a New Day” by the King Singers is beautiful. You can get it for just 99 cents here. FWIW.

    What it actually means? I’m really not sure. :) (yikes)

  12. Dragonheart…I remember that movie. I especially liked the part when the movie was over.

    But for real, you mentioned Sense and Sensibility, and that made me think of Pride and Prejudice. I always thought that movie had a great soundtrack, especially some of the piano pieces. BONUS: it’s on Amazon.


  13. Oh man. I now know why you guys like the hymn tunes that you do.

  14. Welcome, Scott. Took longer than I expected. But totally the response I expected. :D

    Nick, I said I like the song, not the movie.

  15. This is a trap if I have ever seen one.

  16. Andrew, just so I understand: who’s the hunter and who’s the prey? :)

  17. Hi Chris… please don’t post my previous comment. I realized after I submitted it that you were asking for specifically *not* classical music. Duh. :D

  18. Chris, I am just playing with you. I do wonder how many have decided against mentioning a CD or an artist that they enjoy because they were leery. For instance, I am pretty sure that Aniol digs some smooth jazz :)

  19. mejohnso,

    Your recommendations give this thread some much-needed dignity and serious culture. I’m very interested in more classical music, and I’m grateful for the recommendations. Thanks!!

    BTW, there was a Holst recommendation earlier, too. I love the Planets. :)

  20. Sorry, Chris. The first line of my comment should have said “everything” instead of “anything” as in—-How can you not put everything from Les Mis at the top of the list?

    Some of the Phantom’s music is kind of good too.

    And elitists like Scott should not be permitted to comment. (It’s ok for me to talk about Scott that way. He’s family–my cousin’s little boy.)

  21. where to begin and (btw you must not get out much if you think that Gettysburg is a great score):

    – AI (Artificial Intelligence) by John Williams is one of his recent scores that truly rises above the rest (skip the two pop songs)
    – Stepmom by Williams features Chris Parkening on nearly half of the score and is very relaxing most of the time.
    – Dances with Wolves by John Barry is a nice epic, romantic score
    – Empire of the sun by Williams features some majestic orchestral and choral music.
    – Exodus by Ernest Gold Golden age classic
    – Hidalgo by James Newton Howard, great melodies and astounding harmonies and vocals
    – Hook by Williams, arguably one of his best scores
    – Lady in the Water by James Newton Howard, just cool music
    – Memoirs of a Geisha by Williams, yo-yo ma, itzhak perlman. need I say more?
    – Moviola by John Barry, a collection of the best of his best.
    – Munich by Williams, brooding score that has some guitar solos. (avner’s theme, track 10) also 1, 6, 8, 16, and 18 are great listens
    – Patriot by Williams, some guitar, mostly great orchestral writing. majestic.
    – Peter Pan by James Newton Howard, great fun score, some guitar in track 9
    – Shrek the 3rd (score not soundtrack) by Harry Gregson-Williams tracks 6 + 10
    – The Terminal by Williams, is a pure delightful listen, every track is fun. It’s the closest he ever gets to polka (in a good way)
    – Water Horse by James Newton Howard, a great Irish sounding score. Just ignore that the movie is in Scotland. Track 3, 10,11,12, 15, 19,20. btw, The Chieftains are on here, though they sound better in Williams’ Far and Away.
    – 13th Warrior by Jerry Goldsmith, Arabic sounding music meshed with Viking sounds… cool stuff, especially tracks 1,2 and 14-16.

    take notice, I didn’t mention Hans Zimmer…ooops!

  22. Very nice, da1. Thanks for taking the time to do that.

    “btw you must not get out much if you think that Gettysburg is a great score”

    You’re the second guy to beat me up for that one. Listing one’s favorite “guilty pleasure” music is about like putting a “mock me” sign on your back. :) Nevertheless, I’m unmoved. I like Gettysburg. (“Boom! Crash! Cue the trumpets! And the canned strings! Boom!”)

  23. Nice thread, Chris.

    I only had time to breeze through, so somebody may have already recommended this:

    Anything Yo Yo Ma (and no that’s not “ebonics” :-)). Particularly this CD: http://www.amazon.com/Yo-Yo-Ma-Plays-Ennio-Morricone/dp/B0002YCVXI

    You recently posted about the music from “The Mission”…hearing Yo Yo Ma play “Gabriel’s Oboe” stirs the emotions.

  24. “Rudy” by Jerry Goldsmith
    “The Right Stuff” by Bill Conti (if you can find a recording and don’t mind Conti’s borrowing from Tchaikovsky and Holst)
    “The Day After Tomorrow” by Harold Kloser (If you do only a few downloads, at least get the main theme and “The President’s Speech”)
    “The Lord of the Rings” soundtracks are good.
    The theme from “Schindler’s List” by John Williams, performed by Itzhak Perlman.
    If you’re in a really weird mood, you might find the soundtrack to “2001: A Space Odyssey” appealing.
    For a 4-disc sampling of movie themes available for download at a substantial savings, try “The Ultimate Movie Music Collection” by Erich Kunzel & the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

  25. I’m enjoying this very much. Keep them coming.


    This post is far more important than soundtracks and the like. You might give it a look. :)

    As you were…

  26. The soundtrack to HILARY AND JACKIE – amazing movie about a cellist – beautiful stuff.

    1. Renee Fleming singing anything, including the phone book, if she’d do it.

    2. Any St. Olaf College choir recording

    3. Chanticleer (professional all-male ensemble)- impeccable -if you get the opportunity to see them live, do it – amazing!!!

    4. THE SECRET GARDEN, since you like mu. theatre. Beautiful little show – lovely music.

  27. 2 soundtracks I forgot – SHINE and THE PIANIST

  28. More class:

    **Gabriel Faure’–Pavane, Opus 50
    **Joaquin Rodrigo–Fantasia para un Gentilhombre, First Movement
    **Christoph Willibald Gluck–Orpheus and Eurydice: Dance of the Blessed Spirits” (okay, I didn’t name it…or him!) =)
    **Jules Massenet–Thais: Meditation (I recommend Sarah Chang)
    **Edward Elgar–Serenade for Strings in E Minor, Opus 20, 2nd movement
    **Mozart–“Clarinet Concerto”, 2nd movement (I don’t care for clarinets, but love this)
    **Dvorak, “Song to the Moon” from the opera Rusalka (not an opera aficionada, but this is absolutely gorgeous, esp by Renee Fleming)

    These are all rather romantic pieces for your…um…wife to enjoy. All of these can be found on YouTube…one of its redeeming qualities. =)

  29. Chris — Don’t know if your classical collection contains much from him, but Rachmaninoff has written some incredible stuff — melodies that just rip your heart out — in a couple of his piano concerto pieces.

    I would highly recommend his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor (both the first and third movements have very memorable themes/melodies) and his Rhapsody on a Theme of Pagannini (especially the 18th variation — it is an inversion of the main Pagannini theme and it will just stop you in your tracks). Rachmaninoff has a very moving way of having the full orchestra just soar with the theme as the piano provides passionate accompaniment. Killer stuff written in the Romantic tradition.

    I believe you and your wife would like both pieces.

  30. How about “Peter Pan” (2003 version): http://www.amazon.com/Peter-Pan-James-Newton-Howard/dp/B00011D190

    Magically fun. I love the “Fairy Dance”.

    And for those who love all things “Anne-with-an-e”, there’s “Anne of Green Gables: Lullaby”: http://www.amazon.com/Anne-Green-Gables-Peter-Breiner/dp/B00078EPMO/ref=pd_sim_m_3
    Very pretty variations on snippets from Hagood Hardy’s scores.

  31. Hey Chris,
    Metheny is known for a wide range of music, but this piece is one of the most evocative instrumentals I have heard. I heard it 23 years ago, and it has never left my mind, or internal list of favorites. Maybe it will strike a chord, maybe not. Much of Pat Metheny’s music will not be on most fundamentalist “check” lists, (and much of it is not on mine) but his orchestrations, chording, chordal progressions, scale choices (mixolydian, etc.) have painted valued pictures in my little ol’ head for years.

  32. link:

  33. ummm, sorry, I didn’t know it would put the player up…just wanted to post the link…if you need to remove it, I understand…I am a troublemaker…

  34. Hi Chris,
    I enjoyed the soundtrack from “Liberty!”, a PBS special from 1997. Not all instrumental, but good.

  35. Note: The author of My Two Cents is not responsible for any music listed on this thread by himself or by others. If you find something offensive, don’t blame me. If, on the other hand, you like something, well, you’re welcome.

  36. I’ve come back for more, mainly cause I haven’t even listed some of my absolute favs yet. BTW, some of these readers are, ironically, not reading what you wrote and asked for. Had you asked for classical music I could certainly give some suggestions there too.
    If it seems like I beat you up, never fear. If you take time to listen to some of these suggested recordings you’ll come to the obvious conclusion that the aforementioned Edelman score is quite, indefinitely inferior. But don’t take my word for it…let the music speak for itself.

    – Cutthroat Island by John Debney, one of the best soundtracks of all time for the Guinness world book of records entry for Hollywoods #1 flop film of all time. (read the wiki article) truly great music
    – Signs by James Newton Howard, scary music if ever you wanted some but if you know what the movie is really about then the last two tracks (the hand of fate 1&2) will be an especially enjoyable listen.
    – Varese Sarabands 30th anniversary 4 disc collection, such great variety. You are bound to like several cues from the collection. Flicka.
    – Angela’s Ashes by John Williams, his best dramatic score with haunting piano, cello, oboe and strings. Though mostly deprressing in mood track 17 offers some inspiring sounds as a reward for listening to the whole thing. but if you get just that track you can avoid the antidepressant. :-)
    – Sabrina, your wife will likely adore this lush soundtrack by Williams
    – Land before time by James Horner, avoid II-XX, the first score is simply gorgeous
    – Dinosaur by Newton Howard, though similar in plot to Land before time, Dinosaur is a great inspiring ost. (the egg travels & raptors/stand together)
    – Ever after by George Fenton, yet another cinderella score that your wife will likely adore.
    – Home Alone 2 by John Williams, the first half is great holiday music with a culmination at track 11 with real Christmas music (O Come all ye faithful and Silent night) Other great sounding church sounding choral music in tracks 1,4, and 8) not very doctrinally correct but it sounds stellar.
    – Homeward bound by Bruce Broughton, if you like Silverado, you’ll most likely like this one to. Great Copeland-esque sounds.
    – Kingdom of Heaven by Harry Gregson-Williams, composed shortly before the first Narnia movie, this superior score seems to be in some ways a stepping stone to the music in Narnia. Chord progressions and percussion hits sound a little familiar in comparison but this score is much better in execution and sound design than LWW (thank Disney for that). (The King and The battle of Kerak) Beautiful choral sounds chanting the Latin Requiem are scattered throughout this wonderful score. Also many uniquely Arabic and Jewish sounding instruments color this recording in a way that rises above other such attempts.
    – Legends of the Fall by James Horner, track 2 (or the identical final track) is all you need from this recording. your wife may like it as well.
    – Passion of the Christ by John Debney, not sure about your feelings about the film but there is simply astounding, gorgeous music on the ost. Dark and moving. (keep away from the music inspired by the film cd=frisbee)
    – Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World’s End, I take it back. Hans Zimmer hit a home run here. A truly inspired score for a rather disappointing conclusion. (tracks 5, 10-13)

  37. As far as soundtracks go these are my favs:

    Dances With Wolves



  38. OK, I guess I’ll throw in my suggestions, readily acknowledging that there is a place for some candy in between meals now and then. :)

    Actually, most of this is what I would consider fruit: very accessible, but also quite healthy.

    Most of these are available for Amazon download or at least have audio samples.

    Bolero & Other Classical Blockbusters – Canadian Brass

    Britten: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; Simple Symphony, etc. – London Symphony Orchestra

    Children’s Classics: Prokofiev, Saint-Saëns, Britten

    Ancient Dances and Airs for Lute

    Christopher Parkening – Elmer Berstein: Concerto for Guitar

    Classic Yo-Yo

    Copland Greatest Hits

    Henry V Soundtrack

    Amadeus: The Complete Original Soundtrack

    Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Night on Bald Mountain

    Out of Africa soundtrack

    Paris – La Belle Époque – Yo-Yo Ma

    Classic Perlman: Rhapsody

    Roses and Solitude

    John Rutter/Distant Land The Orchestral Collection

    Schindler’s List soundtrack

    Sense and Sensibility Soundtrack

    Summon the Heroes – John Williams

    The Ultimate Relaxation Album

    Intimate Inspiration – the very best of The Amadeus Guitar Duo

    Williams on Williams (Music from the Films of Steven Spielberg)

    American Journey – Williams

    Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone

    Yo-Yo Ma Plays The Music of John Williams

    99 Perfectly Relaxing Songs

    And one choral album to replace King Singer’s “You are the New Day” :)

  39. Thanks, Scott.

    I actually own a couple of these. Which should probably scare one of us. Probably you. Philistine.


  40. Scott. Dude.

    I’ve dusted off Out of Africa from a 10-year hiatus. Wow. I’m used to being around female emotions, but mercy! I’m a blubbering pile of used tissues. I’m so depressed I’m having suicidal thoughts. This makes Somewhere in Time sound like Sousa.

    Anyone else who listens to that one, feel free to move over to this thread.

  41. In terms of music that’s “fun,” Erich Kunzel and the Cincinatti Pops have some nice collections. The Great Fantasy Adventure Album is a good example. It’s a mixed bag, and when it’s bad, it’s horrid. But it has Williams’ Jurassic Park and Hook, along with Robin Hood, Princess Bride, Willow, The Hunt for Red October and Henry V (both with a nice men’s chorus), and best of all, the high energy and sweeping Rocketeer. I love that. These almost make up for the inclusion of Beetlejuice, Terminator, and Total Recall. Almost. Anyway, at the link above you can get select tracts for just 89 cents. Nice. Albums like this are what individual mp3 purchases were made for.

    Another “fun” and “grand” movie theme is The Last Starfighter, available here for 89 cents.

  42. Out of Africa is John Barry’s best score. It simply is. But this kind of music is not for everyone, especially the suicidal. I for one find it to be relaxing. I think more along the lines of genre than the immature way of separating manly from sissy music. That is not very beneficial, in my opinion. There’s more to it than that, of course…

    Cinema Serenade II: The Golden Age, is a great compilation of the great romantic film music of the 30-60’s. Itzhak Perlman, conducted by John Williams (none of the music was written by Williams here, some arranged though and is stellar)

  43. It is the opinion of this poster that most of Erich Kunzel’s re-rcordings of OST material is inferior to that of the OST’s they mimic. The aforementioned “Great fantasy adventure album” for example, features several tracks that when compared to the original sound trivialized and cheap. Though they may sound great live, they are poorly mixed. Also avoid: Great Film Fantasies.

  44. I’ve enjoyed Pops Play Puccini, as well. FWIW.

    (Sorry, budaman.)

  45. I always enjoy NFL films music (I know the football fan in me) but I truly enjoy the musical scores – http://www.amazon.com/Selections-Autumn-Thunder-Years-Films/dp/B000QZTPWS/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1248955037&sr=8-2

  46. […] Anderson asked recently for recommendations of “knock-your-socks-off-gorgeous instrumental music.” […]

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