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Second grader Phushisa from Thailand asks this question: "What is your favourite song?"

Thank you for asking that question, Phushisa! Normally I get asked questions about math, or about poetry, or science, and I don't usually get to talk about myself, so this is a fun question.

Before I begin, I should point out that there is a huge amount of music in this world, and I really love a lot of it, and listen to a lot of it, and it would be almost impossible to pick on single song. In fact, my favorite song varies from day to day and time to time, depending on my circumstances, my mood, etc.

So I'm not going to pick one single favorite. I hope that's okay.

Also, I'm going to stretch the definition of "song," because I'm a big fan of orchestral music - symphonies, concertos, and so forth. And no one calls those things "songs" - they call them "pieces" or "compositions" or (of course) "symphonies" and "concertos".

If I'm doing computer work, or preparing lessons for school, I don't really want my brain actively engaged in the music, so I will rarely listen to music with words. This is when I spend time listening to "classical" music. (I put the word "classical" in quotes because "classical" is an era of musical composition, but outside of the music education and performance community, people use the word "classical" to describe any orchestral or operatic music.)

Speaking of which, I'm not a fan of opera, just to get that settled.

So here are a couple of the pieces of orchestral music that I most love:

Tchaikovsky's Symphony #5
This is the one that I give as my standard answer when someone asks "What's your favorite symphony?" In general, I love anything by Peter Tchaikovsky, but this one tops the list for me. There are some absolutely beautiful, lyrical sections, and some sections that are full of drama and intensity. The last movement (section) keeps building and building, and just when you think it's almost done, it keeps building some more. If you'd like to hear it, there's a recording on YouTube of Leonard Bernstein conducting it. If you don't have time to listen to the whole thing, jump to the last five minutes, and watch how insanely excited Bernstein gets while conducting. It's worth a few minutes of your time.

Khatchaturian's Symphonic Poem #3
This thing is what I listen to when I feel like getting a little more modern. Aram Khatchaturian's music sometimes seems a bit discordant, and off-kilter, but for sheer power and drama, it's pretty amazing. This piece of music has an organ as one of the instruments, and the organist's fingers have to be flying across the console. I think it must be a very challenging piece for the entire orchestra, because I've listened to several recordings of it, and none of them sound at all like the others. My favorite is the Chandros recording, which can be found on YouTube as well. One commenter described the end of the piece as "insane, pure musical carnage," Good description.

If I'm not working, I'm more likely to want music with lyrics (singing), and there's so much music out there that rather than picking a favorite song, can I pick a favorite musician? I promise, it'll be interesting, because he's a musician most people I know haven't even haven't heard of. His name is...

Andrew Peterson
Peterson is what I would consider to be a real wordsmith. His use of language, metaphor, rhythm and rhyme ranges from elegant to almost comical, depending on what he's trying to say, and what he's trying to say is usually very thought provoking (even when he's funny). He's a master of slant rhymes and unexpected rhymes. I remember listening to one of his songs and hearing this line: "We've got Andy on the guitar 'cause I promised him Some Texas barbecue." And every time I heard that line, I felt like it was a pair of lines that rhymed, yet for the life of me I couldn't figure out why, because there are no rhyming words in there. Finally, I realized that the rhyme was the second syllable of "guitar" with the first syllable of "barbecue" ("tar" with "bar"). And I thought, "Who in the world comes up with something as crazy as that, and makes it work?"

And the answer is, obviously, "Andrew Peterson."

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you'll hear a song and really love it right off the bat, but gradually get tired of it? Peterson has the opposite effect on me; it usually takes me a few listens to really appreciate it musically and lyrically, but then it just keeps growing on me, and I don't tire of it easily.

Favorites? My wife says that one of her favorites from Peterson's most recent album is "Be Kind to Yourself," which Peterson wrote for his teenaged daughter (and then sang with her, which you can watch/listen to in the video linked).

From the same album, one of my favorites is "The Rain Keeps Falling," which is about finding both peace and hope for the future in the troubles of life. I'd also add this one, which has a similar theme: "The Sower's Song." If you listen to this one, pay attention to the percussion underlying the words. Usually the drummer gets to show his stuff during the pauses between lyrics (that's why they call them drum fills - because they fill the gaps between lines of words), but toward the end of this song there are some really interesting things happening with percussion that builds in intensity during the line of singing.

I hope you enjoy some of this music as much as I do!

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