Meditation music has gone mainstream

Prince Harry says he practises meditation every day and the normally abstemious Guardian recently published a healthy breaks supplement featuring a week's 'stillness and alignment retreat' on Ibiza costing £1,331 ($1715). As the usually buttoned-up Telegraph tells us, meditation has gone mainstream, which means YouTube now offers a copious selection of meditation music. A 2017 Overgrown Path post pointed out the yoga market in the US is worth $27 billion annually, which compares with a market for classical albums of less than $200 million. My post went on to suggest that grabbing just a small chunk of that $27 billion would solve a lot of classical music's funding problems.

Increasingly classical music is being sold as an entertainment medium, which inevitably takes it down the dumbing down route. So, although the purists will doubtless cringe, promoting classical music as a well-being tool is not such a bad idea. Because it both avoids the worst excesses of dumbing down and aligns the classical genre with the more legitimate but under-exploited discipline of music therapy. Linking classical music to enlightenment is, of course, not an original idea. Classic FM already lists the best music for mindfulness and yoga, and Spotify has a meditation music zone. But these lists are the usual predictable mixes of Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass interspersed with Satie and Debussy, plus the inevitable Max Richter.

So today I am proposing an alternative list of ten less-familiar works for incorporation into well-being practices. Additions (or dissensions!) are welcome. And before the naysayers let rip, please remember that a lot of people are using music as a well-being tool. If just one of them discovers the music of a composers on my list, that is job done.

John Luther Adams ~~ Become Ocean
Steve Roach ~~ Structures from Silence
Colin McPhee - Balinese Ceremonial Music played by Benjamin Britten and McPhee on two pianos
Arnold Bax ~~ Third Symphony: Epilogue, Poco Lento
Robert Rich ~~ Vestiges
Alan Hovhaness ~~ Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain
Éliane Radigue ~~ L'Île Re-Sonante
Valentin Silvestrov ~~ Requiem for Larissa
Jonathan Harvey ~~ Curve with Plateaux for Cello Solo
Lou Harrison ~~ Piano Concerto: Third movement, Largo

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John Blackburn said…
A few more:

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina ~~ Missa "Papae Marcelli"
Luzzasco Luzzaschi ~~ Madrigals
Girolamo Frescobaldi ~~ Fiori musicali
Jean Sibelius ~~ Symphony No. 2
Gerald Finzi ~~ Eclogue and Grand Fantasia and Toccata
Luciano Berio ~~ Points on a Curve to Find
Igor Stravinsky ~~ Orpheus
Benjamin Britten ~~ Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings
Witold Lutoslawski ~~ Livre, Musique funèbre
Peter Tchaikovsky - Serenade for strings
Pliable said…
One piece of trivia linked to this post is the 2007 Verve CD titled 'Jazz for Meditation'. Despite being a bizarre concept there is some remarkably good music on it from, among others, Alice Coltrane, Yusef Lateff and Tony Scott. But it appears the public did not agree as the disc is deleted -
just clicked over to "On An Overgrown Path" and saw this post at top ... while just happening to be listening to Messaien's "Nine Meditations For Organ"
Pliable said…
CTS, probably not coincidentally Messiaen's Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité was actually on my list right up to the final draft of the post. Then I decided to be more left field and changed it to Colin McPhee's transcription of Balinese Ceremonial Music.

I almost did not run this post as I thought the subject of music for meditation might be just too off the wall. So it is good to find it generating some serious interest. Just goes to prove there is life beyond the dross that preoccupies so many other classical music blogs.
John Blackburn said…
I've long found certain pieces to contribute to a meditative state, sometimes due to an aural calmness but not always. Beethoven's Op. 111, for instance, though not always calm has an uncanny ability to transport, so much so that, once, when a memorable performance by Zita Carno in Los Angeles (1980s?) had concluded, I found that I had leaned steeply into the aisle from my seat seemingly without volition—and marveled at the piece's ability to transport.
MarkAMeldon said…
Perhaps oddly, I find Schoenberg's 5 Pieces for Orchestra Op.16 strangely meditative - but you have to tune into the piece. Levine's BPO recording from the 1980s, being somewhat spacious, works, as can Boulez and the BBC Symphony Orchestra from the 1970s or Barenboim with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from the 1990s can do the trick, too. Same goes for much of Webern!
John Blackburn said…
Having just listened to Steve Roach's "Structures From Silence" for the first time after reading your earlier mention, I must say I see little connection between these atmospheric sounds and what I'd call "classical music", other than a long-form aural experience.

I created a good deal of similar electronic mood music years ago in grad school and appreciate the technical aspects of its creation, but I also appreciate the simplicity with which a few sounds/ideas can be drawn out from seconds to minutes to hours through layered editing—all of which seems antithetical to classical music, in my opinion.

This is not to criticize "Structures From Silence", but simply to express my surprise at finding it in a list intending in any way to link it to classical music. Tomatoes, tomahtoes, perhaps.
Unknown said…
I asked my Buddhist meditation teacher about meditation to music, and she was emphatically against it: meditation is internal (Schumann's Innigkeit?), she said, so anything external is a distraction. Perhaps John Cage's 4' 33" ( should be added to the list, or if you're in a hurry, Malcolm Arnold's Chiroptera from his Carnival of the Animals.
Pliable said…
Unknown, thanks for that. When I wrote the post I suspected that the question of whether music should be used in meditation would be raised, and I know that a lot of authorities - including your teacher - do not recommend it.

However my personal experience is that in Ānāpānasati meditation - mindfulness of breathing - staying with certain types of music can be an effective substitute for staying with the breath. However the music needs to be non-developmental; which is why Eliane Radigue, Robert Rich and Steve roach feature on my list. Some readers will not consider these composer's music is 'classical' and I will return to that observation in a new post.

When writing the piece I was also aware that many readers do not meditate in the true sense of the word. But many find music produces a wider and desirable change of consciousness - "a meditative state" as one reader terms it - and I suspect the considerable interest in this post is prompted in large part by those seeking a beneficial consciousness change without (yet?) adopting a formal meditation practice.

Finally, let me say how pleased I am to find a reader recommending Malcolm Arnold's music for meditation!
Pliable said…
My post seems, unknowingly, to be part of a trend -

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