I write here about adventure and how our everyday lives are adventures made for us -- even if we don't see it. Because the fact remains: sometimes we don't see it. Sometimes we're so busy tending to the minute details of our lives that we can't see the magnificence in front of our faces -- we can't see the forest for the trees.
This is normal. It happens to everyone. Because there are things we have to get done. We don't always see the adventure for what it is.
That's when I need something that will remind me of the real nature of my life. Remind me of my heart's burning desire for adventurousness. Because I'll tell you the truth -- sometimes I forget that, too.
In an effort to remember the way my soul yearns for lots of abundant life, I reach for my phone, for my music library. I need something to give me the atmosphere of adventure even when my body and my surroundings forget that that's what I'm craving.
Maybe you need this, too. Maybe you need something to remind your heart of what you're really longing for, to remind yourself that you have desires for an epic tale all your own. Maybe you need to remember that this story is taking place all around you.
What follows it a list of my own Adventure Music staples. I tend to favor whole soundtracks rather than individual tracks; entire soundtracks tell a story. I also tend to like music without words; I'm searching for a feeling, not necessarily a message (though a message doesn't hurt). May this list serve you well on your own journey.
1. The Gray Havens
This band is comprised of husband and wife Dave and Licia Radford. Their music is heavily influenced by Lewis and Tolkien (my main men), so they totally speak my language. They write haunting melodies with stunning, profound lyrics. Some of it is acoustic, and some isn't; their newest album, Ghost of a King, has a few more electronic influences. It is also amazing.
Why it's adventurous: Reminds me of my identity and that the life of the redeemed is itself the adventure. They speak the language of Adventure and metaphor and otherworldliness. Their music has an aching air of mystery, Story (with a capital S), and longing for another world.
2. Howard Shore's soundtracks for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
I mean. Y'all. This is my jam.
All the epicness. All of it. And mixed with this epicness is a wistfulness and longing, typical of Tolkien. The music is strong and wild and wide and full of darkness, light, and hope -- all the trappings of adventure. Plus, it's Tolkien music -- need I say more?
Why it's adventurous: Epic. Nostalgic. Hopeful. The music itself tells the story of the battle between light and dark, hope and despair. It is music from another world.
3. The Braveheart soundtrack (James Horner)
I've never actually seen Braveheart (it's on my list!), but I'm enchanted with James Horner's score. I've always wanted to visit Scotland: highland crags, mist, and gorgeous scenery (plus incredibly hot accents. Hello). Listening to this soundtrack makes me feel like I'm really there. I also recently discovered that I like bagpipes. Who knew?
Why it's adventurous: Wistfulness, music that sounds like dancing, bagpipes. Nostalgia and battles and freedom. Amen.
4. "Jupiter" from Gustav Holst's The Planets
Even people who don't know this piece know this piece. It's most famous for its middle section, which is grandiose and sweeping. I knew a pianist once who said that section should have been the music for The Lord of the Rings. The beginning and end of the piece are jovial and sound like tinkling laughter, but it's this middle section that gets me every time, unearthing feelings of pride, longing, and most of all -- adventure.
Why it's adventurous: Big and grand, with sweeping gestures. It rings a little of melancholia and of green -- green landscapes, green hills, and the richness of the earth.
One of the hallmarks of Tolkien is his connection with and love for the land, and you can hear how the wealth of the English landscape influenced this section of Holst. Speaking of the English landscape...
5. "To Chosen Hill" (Herbert Howells)
I spent last summer in England, where I sang and studied the song literature of World War I. The first week of this month was spent in academic study at St. Anne's College in Oxford. One of the staff members, Greg, a collaborative pianist, gave a lecture on the way the music of England is inspired by its rich landscape. Looking at it, I can see why: rolling hills and downs, winding rivers, mist and rain -- all the stuff of adventure. It is this landscape that inspired Tolkien, after all.
Apparently it also inspired many composers of beautiful music, including Herbert Howells. He titled his piano quartet in A minor after a specific hill known by him and his friend, fellow composer Ivor Gurney. The dedication reads, "To Chosen Hill, and to Ivor Gurney, who knows it so well."
Howell's work is in three movements. In the first, the strings rise out of nothingness to paint a landscape of nostalgia. The day I first heard it, cramped in that tiny rehearsal room in Oxford, with twenty-something people who would soon be some of my closest friends, a window at our backs opening on a rainy flower bed and lawn -- the day I first heard it was, in short, the perfect day for such music. The strings seemed to float through the window from another world. I was entranced, and as soon as I had WiFi again, I downloaded it, and I haven't stopped listening since.
Why it's adventurous: Melodies that sound like longing and nostalgia. It reminds me of rain, petrichor, and long journeys over green hills. Incredibly melancholy -- exactly the English sensibility.
6. The first two Mumford and Sons albums
I mean. Am I right? Do I even need to describe them? They're so good. Who doesn't love banjo?
Why it's adventurous: Warm. Always warm, like torches. Their music-making feels communal. It alternates between rollicking, foot-stomping, driving tunes and quiet, introspective ballads. All of it is great road trip music (road trips fall in the category of Adventures).
7. "Cambridge, 1963" from The Theory of Everything soundtrack (Jóhann Jóhannsson)
I first watched The Theory of Everything on the plane to England and fell in love -- not just with Eddie Redmayne (for the umpteenth time), but with the stunning score. If physics (or any other kind of soundtrack) had a soundtrack, this would be it. It's clear and sparse and cool in places, warm and lush in others. The opening track from the movie, "Cambridge, 1963" is my favorite. A single theme in the piano gradually expands to include full orchestra. It rings of discovery and possibility and sheer joy.
Why it's adventurous: It brims with life, discovery, and sheer exuberance. It also makes me want to live in Oxford, which I've wanted since I was knew what Oxford was. It reminds me of a long-held dream that awoke again when I saw this movie. Adventure is about that awakening.
8. The Narnia soundtracks (Harry Gregson-Williams)
When I was younger, I was madly devoted to Andrew Adamson's film adaptations of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia (the movies from 2005 and 2008). I loved every bit of those movies -- the stunning landscapes, the valiant battles, the discovery of new worlds, and the magic of coming to know who you really are -- really. All of this magic is captured in the movie soundtracks by Harry Gregson-Williams. Every time I listen to them it makes me want to go outside and dream. It reminds me of all the dreams I've ever had coming true.
Why it's adventurous: Innocence and wonder and destiny commingle to create magic. Welcome to the you you never knew existed, but has always lived in your heart.