The Evening Mouthful

reasoned splutterings & hasty wisdom

Archive for March 2008

Live from the Abyss – March 30, ’08

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Currently Listening
The Rescuers Down Under
By Bruce Broughton
Message Montage

Perhaps… scratch that. It IS getting old for me to write about me writing. I have had at least one response to my recent updates decrying (in a well-meaning and lighthearted manner) my tendency to ramble on about my tendency to ramble on in the case of having nothing better to write about. (And no, that last sentence was not a typo, mistake, or other type of brain-slip.)
With this in mind, allow me a short disclaimer saying that there was little extraordinary physical and behavioral activity in my week to write about (at least in detail), and as such, this will be an (increasingly characteristic of my articles) abbreviated update containing little more than a list of highlights from my week and several pictures of interest. I shall not go to great lengths to write about anything of moral or philosophical value this week, nor expound on a personal belief/conviction/opinion as I have begun doing of late. I am in the process of researching and writing my next major article of that kind, and one which is rather in-depth and absorbing to me, as it will have repercussions affecting my life once the research has come to a conclusion. Thus my small amount of attention normally reserved for inserting worthwhile philosophy into these updates has been absorbed to the point of being useless this particular week for this particular update. Until I conclude this study, I hope you do not mind putting up with letters from me which are of a lesser caliber and devotion than they have been heretofore. I hope the wait will be worth it. (Indeed, is it ever, with my writing?)

But allow me also a couple of short notes of significance which encourage me, and I hope they will do the same for you: I am drinking coffee again, and quite often. The cause of my temporary regression into water-totalism will remain unknown to me until a team of psychiatrists and physicians manages to explain how a visit to the dentist made me hate coffee for at least a good half week. In any case, and whatever the reason, I am now back to being a cheerful, moderate addict. Congratulate me! Also, the rapid onset of Spring (accentuated by several recent false alarms of approaching snowstorms which left me disillusioned and heartbroken) has become less and less a matter for personal discouragement. You will be glad to know that I no longer anticipate Spring with loathing and heartache, but with diminishing resignation and growing pleasure. A good, sunny day with a stiff breeze (necessitating only a long-sleeve T-shirt or light jacket for warmth) makes for an excellent long walk and the air is ripe and fresh, which I must admit is a pleasant change from the icy dryness of Deep Winter. I shall welcome Spring when it arrives (as I have indeed begun doing), but I shall not be sorry if God sees fit to provoke us with another six inches of snow. Even the snowy weather in Minnesota consistently performs the Minnesota Goodbye. (See Howard Mohr’s excellent visitor’s resource ‘How to Talk Minnesotan‘ for further information.)

Anyhoo, my week’s highlights:

  • Finding a copy of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ 1997 Special Edition Soundtrack CD for dirt cheap and in great condition (I’ve been wanting this one for a while as I consider it one of the three best films scores ever composed, and this specific edition as it’s the best presentation available.)
  • Watching ‘Chariots of Fire’ (one of my favorite films and one of the best ever created, period.)
  • Spending ALL DAY on Saturday with a bunch of terrific friends having tons of fun. (Literally, 9:00 am to 10:30 pm non-stop)
  • Getting a new sound card for my computer (now I can FINALLY record some audio versions of PG Wodehouse’s hilarious stories. Stand by and keep an eye on for these!)
  • A walk to downtown Crystal on Thursday in the brilliant sunshine.
  • A delicious Wednesday Morning two-mile run with James Galway playing on my iPod.
  • Cleaning and performing routine maintenance + repair work on my Jupiter Carnegie XL trumpet. (It’s nearly playable again! The tuning slide is terribly stuck and I may have to take it into the shop.)
  • A Monday (or was it Tuesday?) walk around nearby Twin Lakes at night while listening to the score for ‘The Pianist’ (which is little more than a compilation of works by Frederic Chopin). I loves piano music.

I notice (as you must have) that most of these things involve music and physical recreation of one sort or another (in other words, things which are pleasant but of secondary importance). I hope to soon add ‘Getting a job’ to this list. I have been increasingly frustrated that while I have a life goal and a definite aim for my existence (which I have faith is the same aim God has for me), I remain motionless, not moving towards those goals at any speed (which, now that I am free to do so, is my fault). Some defining steps need to be taken in the weeks ahead, and I am praying for guidance, wisdom and determination so that when I make these steps, I will be moving in the direction God desires, at the speed He desires, with the focus He desires. I would appreciate it if you would pray for me in these areas, for these things, as well. I thank you.

Love All!


Written by Dave Dueck

March 30, 2008 at 5:23 pm

Posted in journal

LIVE from the ABYSS! (Snowy Easter Edition)

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Currently Listening
The Essential Johnny Mathis
By Johnny Mathis

YES!! It is with glee and abandon that I rejoice over the plethora of snow which has fallen here the past few days. Whoever said Easter was supposed to be green either hadn’t been to Minnesota or smoked a particularly pungent brand of hemp. Anyways, I hope this update finds you all in good health and ready to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ in the fullest, most festive way (while maintaining a healthy level of orthodoxy, of course). Happy Easter!
Last year my Easter celebration involved setting up a sound system in a grassy field for a Sunrise Service (which actually was pretty fun, despite the cold). I was even invited to narrate a portion of Scripture for the service. Afterwards, coffee and donuts were dished out. At church, a section of the messiah was performed by a goodly ensemble comprising sizable choir and copious brass. This year? Good ol’ Easter baskets, church flowers, and my Dad’s side of the family coming over for the day. Good times.
The bulk of the week has been spent doing the mundane things I always do and these shall not receive a detailed description: I eschew the ordinary and will not degrade my letters with such boring stuff. But I will take note of a couple things: for one, I have begun building an effective resume (with Dad’s help) and am searching for a job. Grace’s hockey team has disbanded for the season and Mark doesn’t need driving around anymore, so I shall soon be free to pursue a career. Also, ever since my Dentist appointment, I have been unable to stomach coffee. Strange but true! I can rarely finish a whole mug. I assume it’s merely temporary, because I don’t know if I could stand a life without coffee, but for now I don’t even like the smell. At any rate, it gives me a chance to take a break and lay off it a while (I was pretty addicted until this last week). But enough about this trivial stuff. I had something important to say this week and it begins with a lovely CS Lewis quote.

“Work hard, then, on that disappointment or anticlimax which is sure to come to the patient during his first few weeks as a Christian… it occurs on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.” –CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters


It is high time I explained myself regarding a certain position I hold towards Life as a whole, Winter in general and Snow in Particular. The raised eyebrows from strangers and the exasperated exclamations from family members I get when I voice this opinion have necessitated a fuller explanation than I have yet bothered to give. Like many of my personal opinions, it is at once very simple and pretty complicated.
My position (in specific terms) is this: I love Winter. I love Snow. I never want either to go away. I will never tire of either. I’m sure we all love snow at the beginning of Winter. Everyone, Southerners included, are typically enthusiastic when the first November dusting covers all but the tips of the grass blades. And wherefore not? It’s beautiful, it smacks of Christmas and good cheer, and there’s just something downright magical about snow. Why, then, the widespread and sudden lack of enthusiasm which seems to take place in February and March?
It may even take place earlier than this. I know a fellow who wrote an article in January about how there could be ‘too much of a good thing’ and cited snow as the ultimate example. Bad taste, bad taste. This language was just a poor way of saying that something he initially liked had become inconvenient to him and he therefore saw no reason to continue to put up with it. Hopefully this is an attitude which will confine itself to trivial matters like snow and not important things like marriage and vocation.
Indeed, this is where my own stance comes in. Mind you, I did not always hold this position. Only last year I fell into the trap of desiring Spring and loathing Winter. But this year, I was struck by a thought: I spent all summer of 2007 waiting for Winter to begin. I NEVER spend any time waiting for Summer. Oh, sure, Spring is something to look forward to and enjoy, but it never lasts more than a few weeks and then summer begins, and summer is never (in my experience) something I can enjoy, being as full as it is with heat, humidity, bugs, weeds, etc., whereas Winter is magical, cold, refreshing… I decided (somewhat recently) that to tire so quickly of something so full of virtue, and one to which I had looked forward for so long, would be nothing short of foolish, despite any real shortcomings or disappointments winter might have.
It is at this point that many of you will bring my attention to the fact that snow is slushy, that cold weather is bad for health, and so on. I can only agree: this is all true. But in my mind, all these negative aspects still fail to outweigh the benefits of Winter.
For many (if not most), the initial love of snow is helped by the imminence of Christmas. What could be better for such a magical, charitable time as Christmas than a light blanket of the fluffy white goodness? And after Christmas has come and gone (as it does too quickly), a fresh coat of snow is metaphorical for the fresh beginning the New Year allows. And once this has come and gone, the practical Northerner will be sure to take advantage of the snow for some exciting winter sports like Skiing and Snowboarding and Sledding. But what then?
It is at this point for most people that snow begins to outlive its usefulness. In the mind of the masses, snow has, by mid-February, served its purpose. The fact the greatest amount of snow (and of the wettest, heaviest consistency) falls AFTER this point is what makes most folks sour about the enduring snowy conditions. It’s hard to be rid of it, it’s slushy and muddy, and just when you think it’s gone for good, a fresh six inches plummets to earth. But can I forget the elation I felt when it first fell? Can I so soon forget the beauty and wonder it brings as it transforms the landscape into otherworldly whiteness? Why should I stop feeling this way just because it’s no longer new? Is novelty the governing factor here?
I am not trying to win people over here: if you read this and remain unconvinced and you still can’t wait for greenery and flowers, that’s OK by me. This letter was not meant to convert you. But while I’m not calling everyone else fickle, I find a certain comfort in knowing that, come what may, I shall never be downcast because I got “too much of a good thing.” This is an attitude, moreover, which I should like to apply in every area of my life. One day, it will be nice to know that, even if my wife is being a nag or my job is the pits, I at least HAVE those things at all, those things for which I waited and worked and prayed so long: and if I am not willing to take the bad with the good, and remember that nothing worth having is free, and recognize that the good far, far outweighs the bad as long as my focus is correct, then I really don’t deserve those good things anyways. Nothing is perfect: even snow, which IS physically perfect, has flaws and eventually will get on peoples’ nerves. But if I can learn to remember the blessing it was to me in the first place, and the joy and eager expectation with which I looked forward to receiving it, instead of focusing on the irritations and inconveniences I knew would come with it, then I need never complain about having “too much of a good thing.” Bring it on!!
Love All,
~Dave Dueck

Written by Dave Dueck

March 23, 2008 at 12:45 am

Posted in journal

Live from the Abyss – Recovery!

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Currently Listening
The Real Life of Angel Deverell

The strange illness which caught me off guard last weekend has nearly disappeared, and I have great hopes of being fully recovered in a day or two. (But I’m not getting my hopes up: last time I did that I stayed sick for another month.) I am grateful, though, to be well enough to not only write this (very late) letter, but also to survive TWO dentist appointments in one day.

Last week was not something I shall waste much time writing about: with both Grace and Joel having left for Texas (Joel for two weeks and Grace for a month), things became mundane to the point of being unmemorable. Only on Friday did things get interesting, and even then in not altogether good ways.
Friday I began my descent into illness. It began as a slightly sore throat. Come on! Didn’t I just get over a nasty cold last month? Aren’t I taking enough vitamins? What’s the deal? However, the rapid onset of serious fatigue and the sudden soreness of ALL my joints revealed that this was no common cold. I tried putting a brave face on it, even going to the Northtown Mall area to browse a favorite bookstore, but my will was crumbling fast. That night it was all I could to to remain upright and conscious enough for a private screening of ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.’ Incidentally, it was the first time I’d seen it. Had I seen it before, I would not have watched it again. It was dumb.
Saturday morning dawned bright and I was loathe to get out of bed, despite having been in it for 10 1/2 hours. I managed it though, and upon ascending from the abyss I discovered a pot of coffee, strudel, and some chocolate mini-donuts (which as everyone knows is the perfect treatment for illness). As the day progressed, I realized I was feeling better and better, and I felt well enough by late afternoon to hazard a trip to my pal Rob’s house for some boot hockey and a couple movies (Tim Burton’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ and Roland Emmerich’s ‘The Day After Tomorrow’). That was a very late night. Me and Mark got home around one in the morning and I was very glad to sleep.
Sunday began my observation of St. Patrick’s Day. I wore a green shirt and shamrock tie (Thanks Jamee!!) and my Irish poorboy cap. As soon as I got home from church and had eaten lunch, I decided I was too tired to write just yet, and I went to sleep. I woke up many hours later, still dead tired and much sicker than I’d been on Friday. Realizing the game was up and I couldn’t write an update that day, I had the editors send you all an apologetic notice and I went back to bed. I slept soundly until 8:30 the next morning, but not without waking once or twice during the night to discover my jammies and sheets soaked with cold sweat.
St. Patrick’s Day was cloudy and (joy!) snowy. We got about 2 1/2 inches of fresh snow (it’s mostly gone now). Despite my weakness, I was determined to make a day of it and I dressed in my most outrageous Irish apparel. You can see a video of our festivities here. I’m tempted to think this wasn’t the most well-thought-out or energetic St. Patrick’s Day celebration I’ve ever had, but then again, most years we celebrated by simply wearing green. Last year was the best St. Patrick’s Day I’ve ever had (I was in Chicago for the big parade), but this year, I guess I’m realizing, was nothing to sneeze at. Anyways, I had lots of good things to drink and I wore lots of green and I listened to the Chieftans and De Dannan nonstop. That counts for something, doesn’t it? In the evening Steve Lundstrom and Rob’s family came over and we built a fire in the backyard (no easy task, the wood was sopping wet). We drank more pop and mutilated a famous Christmas Carol, for the purposes of beginning a new tradition. We call it ‘The Twelve Hours of St. Patrick’s Day,’ and we sang it twice with much gusto. Next year our celebration will be supplemented by driving Joel’s truck with the giant Irish flag attached, perhaps making up a jig for our song, and having a full-length NHL XBox tournament. For now, though, we’ve had fun.
Today… well, I was quite the wet blanket today, as you shall see. I got up at 6:45 to (wait for it) brush my teeth. I had an 8:00 dentist appointment. After I brushed and flossed, I realized that I could drink any coffee if I didn’t want to brush again. So I went without coffee. Perhaps I shall never be so rash again. The appointment was very long. Some things about the dentist I will never understand:

  • They poke at your gums with sharp needles and act like it’s not their fault when you start bleeding (“It means you haven’t been brushing enough.”)
  • They keep asking (upon seeing tears in your eyes) if you’re alright or if they should stop, but they never realize it’s just the bright lights shining in your eyes.
  • They talk about meaningless things in order to seem friendly, but because you can’t respond (due to your mouth being full of their hands), they eventually just begin talking about themselves, their YMCA exercises, their children, anything to keep their mouth going.
  • The waiting room is filled with cooking and sports magazines, and always very liberal ones.

After we finally left the place, I was informed that I had been scheduled for another appointment for 1:00 the same day. I was very difficult about this. The appointment was for a filling (I only have one cavity since my last dentist appointment 4 or 5 years ago), and I had been in the dentist’s office long enough already. But I went, and it didn’t take nearly so long as I thought it would. Anyways, after many years of being able to survive without the aid of a dental practitioner (the last time I had my mouth so full of rubber gloves was at Pearson Orthodontics, once upon a time), today I went twice and am none the worse. Perhaps, though, no one could describe a visit to the oral technician as well as this fellow.

I’ve not much else to say this week: but considering almost half this week has gone by already, I shall begin conceptualizing for my next article so as to have a more fully developed presentation come Sunday (at which time I PROMISE I shall publish on time… for once). One cool thing that happened today: because I am a registered member of the Walden Media Discussion Boards, I have been allowed to preview some new children’s fiction and discuss them with the authors and publishers, and I am receiving a pre-publication copy of Walden Media’s new book ‘Savvy’ in the mail later this week, as a complimentary gesture. Score!
Take it easy, and Love All!
~Dave Dueck

Written by Dave Dueck

March 18, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Posted in journal

The Twelve Hours of St. Patrick’s Day

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Currently Listening
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Mischief Managed!

Racking our brains for something crazy and fun to do each St. Patrick’s day, we settled on the singing of this mutilated carol as on of our new Irish traditions. Requirements: sing lustily, and take a deep swig of cream soda (or other glass-bottle pop) between verses. Clinking bottles is optional but encouraged. The best place to do this is around a backyard bonfire.

Sing to the tune of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’

On the first hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
A Pooka in a Pine Tree

On the second hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Two Dr. Peppers
And a Pooka in a Pine Tree

On the third hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Three Cups of Cola

On the fourth hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Four Grape Juice Spritzers

On the fifth hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Five Non-Alcoholic Beverages/Cups of tea (either one)

On the sixth hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Six Ginger Ales

On the seventh hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Seven Cups of Coffee

On the eighth hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Eight Sparkling Sodas

On the ninth hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Nine Sarsaparillas

On the tenth hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Ten Orange Monsters

On the eleventh hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Eleven Lemon Rockstars

On the twelfth hour of Patrick’s Day the Irish gave to me
Twelve Mugs of Root Beer,
Eleven Mugs of Root Beer,
Ten Mugs of Root Beer,
Nine Mugs of Root Beer,
Eight Mugs of Root Beer,
Seven Mugs of Root Beer,
Six Mugs of Root Beer,
Five Mugs of Root Beer!
Four Mugs of Root Beer,
Three Mugs of Root Beer,
Two Mugs of Root Beer,
And a Pooka in a Pine Tree!

Written by Dave Dueck

March 18, 2008 at 12:50 pm

Posted in regular

NOTICE to Mr. Dueck’s readers

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The editorial and publishing agents of “LIVE from the ABYSS” regret to say that that lately esteemed article will once again be postponed a day or two in distribution to its valued readers and enthusiastic audience. The principle writer of the article, Mr. David A. Dueck, is sorely afflicted with Post-Health Illness Syndrome & Headache (PHISH) and is bedridden. He would like to apologize to his readers for the tardy delivery of a once-regular and dependable publication, and craves your indulgence yet again. The illness appears to be sporadically active and seems to come and go without regularity, but Mr. Dueck trusts that he will be quite well enough to author and publish yet another edition of LIVE from the ABYSS on Monday, March 17, or Tuesday, March 18 (in the case of this latter date being selected, we assume of course that Mr. Dueck will survive his scheduled dentist appointment and remain of sufficient mental energy and emotional stability for positive creative stimulation). Until such time as this week’s edition is delivered to your inbox, however, Mr. Dueck would like to express his gratefulness for his continually growing body of readers and offers his condolences to those who, like him, are racked with grief at the onset of Spring and the disappearance of that wonderful season of beauty and hostility known as Winter. He further expresses a fervent and patriotic desire to hear good tidings of St. Patrick’s Day, which he hopes he will be well enough to actively celebrate.
Your cheerful and loyal servants,

Written by Dave Dueck

March 16, 2008 at 9:21 pm

Posted in regular

Runners-Up for the Below List of Musix

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These are also essential, oft-heard parts of my collection, but in my earlier post I wanted to keep the number at something round-sounding and not too large (hence 35), and I didn’t want it to appear that I’m an Elfman enthusiast above all else. But I *am* and Elfman enthusiast above all else, and I couldn’t resist getting these cues in here somehow, so here they are. Humour me. The runners-up are:

I. Introductions – Sleepy Hollow by Danny Elfman
Very low, very large male choir, massive English boys’ choir, pipe organ, and thunderous dark action typify this delicious bit of overkill on Elfman’s part. Ahhh, if only he did things like this more often. That boy soloist sends shivers up my spine!

II. Theme from the Plague – Odyssey: The Definitive Collection by Vangelis
An odd piece, haunting and dirge-like. It moves slowly, and, like any good Vangelis piece, builds until it towers above you in its sonic power. The boy soloist hits the notes spot on, and it’s creepy in an ironic way to hear so innocent a voice singing in such a grieving way. *shudders* Recommended!

III. Castle on the Hill – Edward Scissorhands by Danny Elfman
Edward Scissorhands has been my ultimate favourite soundtrack ever since I first heard the audio samples on ‘Castle on the Hill’ is darkly playful and mysterious, and is one of the more extended musical sequences on the album, giving Elfman a chance to do a bit of musical exploring (mirroring the exploratory nature of the action of the scene, incidentally). It’s not my favourite cue on the CD, but it’s the most interesting and I listen to it quite often, just to try and pick out small nuances and other things I hadn’t noticed before.

IV. The Labyrinth – Pan’s Labyrinth by Javier Navarrete
This score was my first full album purchase on iTunes, and I love it to death. Massively tragic, complex, and utterly unlike anything the American composers are putting out. This album was what started my interest in European scores, which led to such incredible and indispensable purchases as Wiseman’s ‘Arsene Lupin,’ Cornish’s ‘Island of Lost Souls,’ and Rombi’s ‘Angel’ (discussed in the previous post). This particular track begins softly on piano, and builds to a dissonant, chant-led minor-key dirge.

V. Without a Clue Main Title – Without a Clue by Henry Mancini
I looked high and low for a couple of years for this score after I saw the hilarious movie (starring Michael Caine and Sir Ben Kingsley), but it didn’t get an official release until last year, 2007 (and it was a limited edition of 3000 copies). I snagged one without a moment’s hesitation and have enjoyed it immensely. Anyone who’s heard ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ will hear much that resembles it here. British Pride thru and thru.

VI. Gang on the Run – Black Beauty by Danny Elfman
This is surely one of Elfman’s loveliest and most sought-after scores. Prices run insanely high for this beauty ( ) but I got mine for a scant 20$ or so last year. It’s the only score by Elfman which seems to have any kind of Irish ethnic elements in it, but in this case they are simply unbeatable. Rachel Portman would later completely rip off the main theme of this score for a short portion of her score for ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance.’ This particular track is majestic and energetic and swells into an addicting crescendo. It also contains a churning romp rhythm  which is the only part of the whole score which sounds distinctly like Elfman music.

VII. The Plan Begins – Charlotte’s Web by Danny Elfman
This is the best use of chorus by Elfman in recent times, and the closest he’s gotten in years to recreating that fantastically delicious fantasy flavour he became famous for in the late 80s and early 90s. Charlotte’s theme gets a full, unashamed choral treatment which I could listen to all day.

VIII. Adagio In C minor For Glass Armonica by Mozart
I love Glass Armonica, it doesn’t get used nearly enough. That’s all I have to say about that.

Written by Dave Dueck

March 12, 2008 at 9:29 pm

Posted in film music

35 Pieces of Music I Can’t Seem to Ignore

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Currently Listening
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3; The Carnival of the Animals

I have a pretty sizable music collection, but lately I realize I’ve been going back to a few pieces over and over again. I looked at my 25 Most Played list in iTunes, and selected another 10 pieces which I can never go through a day without hearing, and this is what I came up with. This is NOT an exhaustive list of all my very favourite tracks: it’s simply what I find I can’t ignore or live without (I think there’s a difference…). I guess I don’t listen to my favourites all that often because I want them to stay fresh: I don’t want to wear them out through endless repeat playbacks. These, though, are good, strong pieces that I play often but don’t seem to tire of. I dunno, maybe that makes them favourites after all. We’ll see… Anways, I thought people might care to see what kind of stuff I waste my time listening to, so here it is. Take yer time!

1. Danse Macabre – Symphonic Poem No. 40 by Saint-Saens
Before Stephen Sondheim and Tim Burton, before Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi matched wits with Abbot and Costello, before it became common and popular to mix comedy and death, Saint-Saens penned this very fun bit of black musical humour. This nearly seven-minute piece utilizes a drunken, descending motif for violin (and later the full might of the ensemble) that careens from wall to wall, from extreme to extreme, as though whisking us on a fantastic journey through the nether-world, until it reaches a funny (yet somehow still elegiac) anti-climax on solo violin. Evocative and relentless.

2. Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, “Organ” – Maestoso/Allegro (Fourth Movement) by Saint-Saens
People who have seen the excellent feature film ‘Babe’ will recognize this one pretty quickly: the melody was used as the theme for the creative movie about a pig who herds sheep. This piece is full, rich, warm, majestic, powerful, and soaring. Powerful, inspiring, optimistic and triumphant in all the best ways.

3. The Real Life of Angel Deverell – Angel (Original Soundtrack) by Philippe Rombi
In an age where most soundtracks are synthesized compilations of rhythmic textures, chopping techno beats and simplistic anthems, this one stands apart as gloriously old-fashioned. The sweeping romance and passion of this opening piece sets a wonderful ambience and is incredibly refreshing as the theme is treated first with a slightly ominous build-up with swirling strings and choir, then a tender reflection on piano, cello, and woodwinds. Grand and resolute.

4. Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission by Ennio Morricone – Appasionato, performed by Yo-Yo Ma
An already achingly beautiful piece is given VIP treatment and a simply terrific cello accompaniment by Yo-Yo Ma in this compilation album. Morricone’s best soundtrack, The Mission (I think anyways), is a must-have for anybody looking for soft, romantic poignancy in their music.

5. A Song for Jesse – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Nick Cave
A minimalist piece with echoes of melody and pleasant chiming rhythm. Very textural, with xylophone and high piano contributing to the mesmerizing trance effect of the piece. Sombre, perfect for background music while writing.

6. Up the Cathedral – Batman by Danny Elfman
We’re back in full-blown, unashamed romance here, but this is romance in the old-fashioned sense: ‘Up the Cathedral’ is grand and gothic in a way we wouldn’t see again from Elfman until 1999’s ‘Sleepy Hollow.’ This piece sweeps through the room with pulsating strings, crashing piano and deathly serious pipe organ, letting loose near the end in full-blown blasts of the brass section. Dark and menacing, this is old school Elfman suspense at its very best.

7. The Finale – Batman Returns by Danny Elfman
Unlike most Elfman finales (which are regularly lovely and optimistic), this one is laced with tragedy (it underscores Penguin‘s death in the film). I still think this is the saddest piece of music I’ve ever heard. There’s none of the lovely poignancy of ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ none of the heroism of ‘Batman.’ It’s pure, unadulterated tragedy, a requiem for a life misbegotten and ruined beyond hope. The revulsion and disgust we feel for Penguin throughout the film is balanced by this music, which hints at the sorrow of his wasted, persecuted life. He’s, in effect, Frankenstein’s monster, defective by birth instead of artificial creation. I always wondered what it would have been like if Elfman could have scored Ken Branagh’s 1994 version of ‘Frankenstein’ instead of Patrick Doyle: Elfman was in his thematic prime and it would have been splendidly melodramatic and tragic in this style.

8. The Storm – Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Wojciech Kilar
While Philip Glass is a true minimalist, Kilar is more accessible: his melodies are repetitive and contrained like Glass’, but this is balanced by the more massive ensembles Kilar uses for the performance of his scores. This particular piece is built bit by bit, the same motif stated over and over, with layers of orchestra slowly added to create an awesome effect: the chanting adult choir, the punching brass, the distant chimes, the dissonant piano, the tapping of the string player’s bows, it all gets bigger and bigger and better and better until it reaches the limit of its crescendo and exhausts itself in a fit of terror. Orchestral horror scoring at its finest!

9. Chariots of Fire – Chariots of Fire by Vangelis
This is NOT the main titles piece which has become so famous though the decades. Instead, it’s the 20-minute suite at the end of the album, with terrific piano improvisations on the title theme as well as Eric’s theme. Blowing wind effects, pulsing synth strobes and a flawless ambience make this a beautiful, dynamic long-lasting piece suitable for listening to while writing, reading, cleaning, or whatever you happen to be doing. It runs through a considerable range of emotions and always makes me want to look out the window.

10. Part 18 – El Greco (2007 Soundtrack) by Vangelis
This one shares some close similarities with the 2002 FIFA World Cup Anthem by the same composer, but it’s softer, more mature, and has a wonderful piano part which gives me the shivers. One of the best pieces from good ol’ Vangelis, and one of the best of 2007 from any composer. Simply gorgeous.

11. The Park on Piano – Finding Neverland by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
I’ve a soft spot for good piano music, and another for clear melodic themes, and yet another for poignant, understated emotion. This piece, an improvisation on several melodies from the film’s score, hits all these soft spots at once. It’s terrific! I rarely sit and listen to an album straight through (unless I’ve just purchased it) but I always make an exception for this score. And when it comes to this track, I often repeat it a couple times. The performance is expressive and powerful, and obviously played with relish and enthusiasm (not to mention technical near-perfection).

12. In Pace – Hamlet (Original Soundtrack) by Patrick Doyle, performed by Placido Domingo
A requiem for not only Prince Hamlet but also the entire Kingdom of Denmark, this piece is arresting in its obvious drama and passion. It embodies all the power of Shakespeare’s famous play, and is dignified in a remarkably tragic way, though it never loses sight of the majesty and nobility of the play’s themes. The lyrics, sung in Latin and borrowed from ‘The Book of Wisdom,’ are particularly suitable:

Cherish righteousness, o judges of the earth.
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and the torment of death will not touch them.
In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die, and their departure is taken for misery – but they are at peace.
The ungodly ruler has no hope, and even if he lives long, he shall be regarded as nothing.
But the just prince, he is at rest.

13. The Ludlows – Legends of the Fall by James Horner
I think this may be the only Horner piece I include in this list! Not that I don’t like him in general, but this is one of his rare pieces which is undeniably perfect (for Horner, that means lovely, lyrical, melodic, powerful, and not blatantly ‘reminiscent’ of his other works). Bracketing piano and solo violin both do wonders with the terrific ‘Ludlow Theme,’ while an overarching main theme gets an almost (but not quite) heavy-handed performance by the string section in the middle. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

14. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams – Master and Commander

This terrific classical piece has been used in films more than once, if not always legitimately (folks familiar with James Horner’s replacement score for ‘Troy’ will understand what I mean). In ‘Master and Commander,’ this moving string-based piece underscores the storm sequence. There’s a level of emotion here that one rarely experiences in classical music.

15. Adagio from Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 8 in G Minor by Corelli – Master and Commander
A simple chamber piece for strings. Used several times in the film, this piece easily reflects the elegance and nobility of the movie’s two main characters, and it most prominently features in the scene just following Dr. Maturin’s self-performed surgery. The music brings a wonderful, almost indescribable feeling of a release of tension in the scene: it’s as if the music is solely responsible for the audience’s sigh of relief which inevitable occurs at this point in the movie. The same tranquillity carries over to a standalone listening experience.

16. Prelude to the Unaccompanied Cello Suite by J.S. Bach – Master and Commander
Yo-Yo Ma again! He uses a period viol in this recording for authenticity’s sake, but the music sure doesn’t suffer! The fluid chord progressions, the upbeat rhythm, and the impassioned performance make this one a winner and fun to hear at any time.

17. La Boccherini la Musica Notturna Delle Strade Di Madrid No. 6, Op. 30 by Boccherini – Master and Commander

Last of the ‘Master and Commander’ bits, I promise. This one is used at the end of the film when the Captain and the Doctor are strumming away on their instruments as the ship changes course in pursuit of the French frigate. No ambient sea noise, no noise of the marine drums (which are clearly shown being energetically beaten by a soldier), no yelling, no sound at all is to be heard in the entire closing scene of the film, save for this wonderfully upbeat duet for violin and cello. Eminently whistle-able!

18. Sayuri’s Theme and End Credits – Memoirs of a Geisha by John Williams
Soft, ethereal, ethnic, and rich in texture and flavor. This is one soundtrack (with performances by Yo-Yo Ma and Itzak Perlman) that no Williams fan should be without. The musical richness of this album is one which may take some time to absorb, but it’s worth the effort. A masterful, authentic treat in exotic Japanese style.

19. The Flight of Magorium – Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium by Alexandre Desplat & Aaron Zigman
Much of this soundtrack is zany and upbeat – think of ‘PeeWee’s Big Adventure’ with more sophistication. But several sombre pieces balance the wackiness with a suitable sense of tenderness, and never better than in ‘Flight of Magorium.’ Slowly floating strings and gentle piano meander delicately through some remarkably poignant variations of the main themes, creating a hushed sense of reverence.

20. Finale/End Titles – Sommersby by Danny Elfman
Darkly romantic (and set in post-Civil War Tennessee), this soundtrack was a stylistic departure for Elfman back in the early 90s. Known for his kooky, dark Tim Burton soundtracks, this one gained him a whole new set of fans, especially when he expanded and revised it for ‘Black Beauty.’ This album is hard to find, but the unmawkish romance and noble tragedy of this period score by Elfman is worth it (a lengthy suite is available on ‘Music for a Darkened Theatre Vol. II, Elfman‘s second compilation CD). The Finale and End Titles nicely sum up both the emotional spectrum and setting of the entire album.

21. Movement IX and Movement X – Mythodea (Music for the NASA Mars Mission) by Vangelis
Two flawless sopranos and a plaintive (yet massive) orchestra, along with Vangelis’ synthesizers, open Movement IX with a slow, building rendition of a distant theme, which (typical of Vangelis music) is repeated and expanded several times before a counter-theme is introduced for full male choir. The piece has an other-worldly feel, with the deep resonance of the choir and orchestra backed by the flighty, perfect vocals of the sopranos. The piece is mixed with tons of reverb, giving it a fantastic, dream-like religious atmosphere. The piece eventually leads into Movement X, which is effectively a short reprise of Movement I: pounding, militant rhythm with chanting choir. Never has Rome seemed so far away, yet never has it seemed so powerful.

22. Clair de Lune (From Suite Bergamesque) by Claude Debussy
I owned around nine versions of this piece once, but my favourites are the variations for string orchestra and the synth one by Isao Tomita. Anyways, this is a famous classical piece, often used in flashy films (such as Ocean’s 11 and Atonement). It has an elegance and simplicity which makes it quite memorable. Rich and romantic, but never flashy (which makes its use in lavish period films somewhat ironic).

23. O Fortuna – Carmina Burana by Carl Orff
Famous already. No need for much introduction here. Powerful choral chants over a pulsing orchestra backing make this short piece an exhilarating listen, and has inspired similar musical moments in many film scores, from ‘Batman’ to ‘First Knight’ to ‘Lord of the Rings.’

24. Ilia’s Theme – Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith

The concert/overture arrangement of one of Goldsmith’s most enjoyable themes. Echoes of the ‘Enterprise’ Theme are unmistakeable, and this piece is laid back and beautiful in the best old-fashioned manner. Lyrical and lovely, and unexpected for a Trek score (or it was when I first heard it).

25. The Force Field – Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith
A terrifying blast of the awesome ‘Blaster Beam’ instrument begins this suspenseful piece of sci-fi intrigue. Whining strings, intermittent harp plucking, meandering brass, and recurring blasts of the ‘Blaster Beam’ make this an unusual but very effective bit of unsettling underscore.

26. The Battle of Yavin – Star Wars: A New Hope by John Williams
A mammoth action piece from the silver age of Hollywood, this is Williams’ Wagnerian virtuosity at its best and most exciting. He would later explore similar techniques in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (The battle scenes at Hoth are a favourite for many), but this was my first true exposure to Star Wars music, and I find myself coming back very often. Good stuff, and no one questions it when it is hailed as a classic masterpiece.

27. Across the Stars (Love Theme) – Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones by John Williams
Nobody who has heard this piece doubts that this is a lovely theme, and worthy of every praise a music lover can muster. But I may be alone in calling this my very favourite Williams piece of all time (followed closely by the love theme from Superman). It’s tragic and bittersweet and lovely and haunting and soaring and dreamy and any other positive adjective you may wish to suggest. This being the concert arrangement of the score, it contains the fullest and most expressive rendition of the theme in the entire soundtrack. Sharp ears will note a close similarity between this theme and that of ‘Hook’ by the same composer. Indeed, one could have pasted this theme into some of the reflective sequences of that movie and one would have been the wiser. But in any case, this takes the cake for Best Williams Cue Ever, in my book.

28. Remembering Childhood – Hook by John Williams
A long but rewarding piece, this. I mentioned that the Love Theme from SWII was my favourite Williams cue, but ‘Hook’ is my favourite Williams score. This piece begins with a good suspenseful buildup until it unleashes in a triumphant (but somehow empty) fashion, whereupon it quiets down and things get sombre. VERY sombre. The childhood theme receives two or three full performances in the middle section of this track, being passed around by various sections and soloists, until a sudden, sparkling, majestic pronunciation of the main them erupts and never relents until the final few moments of the piece. The scope of the film is neatly summed up (and with great emotion) in this expansive, sweeping suite. Perfecto!

29. Battle of the Arrows – Troy Rejected Score by Gabriel Yared

Yared’s full-blooded, muscular score for ‘Troy’ was inexplicably rejected by studio fools and replaced with an inane and cliché score by James Horner. The story is a famous and well-known one for score collectors, so I won’t go into it here, but I got lucky and snagged a copy of Yared’s promo score. Ahhh!! Now THIS is epic music! Throaty brass, massive choirs, ancient instruments, and terrific themes are in abundance, and they make Horner’s replacement work look like sewage. ‘Battle of the Arrows’ is a lengthy, sword-swinging masterpiece of epic combat. Air-conducting encouraged!

30. Truman Sleeps – The Truman Show by Philip Glass

Much of this score was actually composed by Burhard Dallwitz, but several original Glass pieces found their way into the mix, including this simple nocturne performed on-screen by Glass himself! This is also one of the few piano pieces I’ve taught myself to plunk out on the dying family piano. Peaceful and undemanding, this is a very pleasant piece of keyboard music.

31. The Wind and the Rain – Twelfth Night by Shaun Davey, performed by Sir Ben Kingsley
Knighted since his wonderful role as Feste the Fool in Shakespeare’s famous comedy in 1996, I wonder whether Sir Ben Kingsley looks back on his performance of this insanely catchy song with fondness or with distaste. I myself love it. Original Shakespearean lyrics, along with big-drum and accordion accompaniment, make this finale-type cue satisfying in every way. The unmistakable Irish influence in the song (as well as the entire score) is another plus. Kingsley isn’t the best singer you’ve ever heard, but you can’t help respecting him for it. Mucho fun here.

32. Those We Don’t Speak Of and The Gravel Road – The Village by James Newton Howard, performed by Hillary Hahn
The mysterious violin solo here is obsessively listenable. Beautiful and gorgeous in construct, heartfelt in performance, this is one no one should miss, soundtrack collector or otherwise. The melody is introduced in glorious fashion at the end of the shocking cue “Those We Don’t Speak Of,” while “The Gravel Road” contains the fullest and best performance of this unsettling but irresistible theme. Don’t miss it.

33. Wallace and Gromit – Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit by Julian Nott
Full orchestra does nothing to harm this famous and beloved theme. Bombastic percussion and furious tambourine give wonderful comedic life to this very iconic and very British melody. For many, this track will be the only reason to buy the whole album, but trust me: this piece is worth the price of admission alone.

34. Beautiful Soup – Alice in Wonderland (TV Score) by Richard Hartley, performed by Gene Wilder
As the name implies, this is a beautiful piece, a love song for… soup. Lewis Carrol’s wit and eccentricity were well preserved in just about every aspect of this TV production, even in the music. Gene Wilder really hams it up as the mock turtle here, and this is one of the songs from the film that many people will remember quite well. The melody is sweet and lovely, the lyrics are silly, and the performance is inspired.

35. Conquest of Paradise – 1492: The Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis
Another famous Vangelis melody, this time for a Ridley Scott epic about Christopher Columbus. A driving anthem for synthesizer with a stirring, very memorable tune, aided by deep adult choir singing in a fictional language. Bombastic and expansive and altogether unforgettable. This was #1 single in Europe for years, and it’s not hard to see why.

Written by Dave Dueck

March 12, 2008 at 6:53 pm

Posted in film music