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(#6 in the Laney’s List series — a music prof chooses 36 pieces to introduce his 16-year-old daughter to classical music.)

Five composers especially haunt Laney’s List, coming back 3-4 times each. Four I could have predicted — Chopin, Bach, Mozart, Ravel. But until I started whittling, I didn’t know I’d give minimalist Steve Reich a trifecta as well.

Minimalism is the pendulum swing that followed the mid-20th century throwing-a-chair-while-barking school of it-is-totally-music-yuh-huh-is-so composition. It is mostly triads and conventional harmony, mostly simple patterns slowly changing over time, and represented a major palate cleanser after the avant garde of Varèse et al.

Terry Riley and Philip Glass are the emblematic pioneers of minimalism. But just as it’s Chopin representing the nocturne in this list, not Irish composer and nocturne inventor John “Who?” Field, so Reich is my go-to for minimalism. And in this list, like a good minimalist, he repeats.

Minimalism is not for everyone, so I’m starting in the relative shallows — a short interior movement of Reich’s Sextet for four percussionists and two pianos (1985). No major analysis required — it’s just cool. Things I love:

  • The great contrast between those dense, massive hits of mixed dry and wet sound and that telegraphic vibraphone.
  • The surprisingly chill melodic figure in the vibes at 0:26, like a ring tone interrupting General Patton’s speech.
  • The way those two characters interact for the rest of the short movement.

I think nearly everything Reich does is interesting and cool, but I know it’s not for everyone. That’s why I’ve included three pieces of his in the list, increasing in conceptual difficulty. As Germany can tell you, sometimes it takes three Reichs to know they just aren’t your thing.

REICH, “Slow” from Sextet

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1 Chopin | 2 Scarlatti | 3 Hildegard | 4 Bach | 5 Chopin | 6 Reich  | 7 Delibes | 8 Ravel | 9 Ravel | 10 Boulanger | 11 Debussy | 12 GinasteraFull list YouTube playlist

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.