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Easy Listening For Uneasy Listeners

Tan Kian Khoon

There's a considerable amount of stress and responsibility involved in simply showing up for work. Then, of course, you're required to stay calm and productive once you walk in the door. Even though your coworkers could never match your intellectual rigor, your senior managers would rather stare at their shoes than talk to you in the elevator and your boss can never quite pronounce your last name correctly, you're still required to get through the day without kicking anyone in the shins. So here are five musical tranquilizers, guaranteed to calm frayed nerves and ease the frustration caused by the inadequacy that surrounds you. Ration them — one at a time, please — for when you feel compelled to spew an acid putdown, flame-throw an email to your supervisor or simply walk out the door.

For more entries in NPR Music's Listen While You Work series, click here.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gnossienne No. 5

People like to say that Satie was the original New Age guy, because some of his piano music is soft and gentle. Actually, he was a kook who maintained a closet filled with 12 identical gray velvet suits. He loathed work, got kicked out of the Paris Conservatoire and drank himself to a relatively early grave. So turn this one all the way up, drift away and daydream of the perfect vodka gimlet.


There's something about the gentle plucking of these nylon strings that will force you to forget your next conference call and instead confront -- comfortably -- that vacation to Spain you never took. The tangy spicing of the paella. The quaint, whitewashed villages. The freshness of the unfamiliar customs. It's all right there in Jason Vieaux's exquisite playing. And, if the squeal of fingers sliding over frets can be vexing, fear not: Vieaux's playing is absolutely silent.

Ambient 1: Music for Airports

Brian Eno easily could have called this ambient classic "Music for Workplaces" because, like airports, the office fosters intense feelings of dissatisfaction and alienation. In this beautiful recording, the New York avant-garde outfit Bang on a Can decided to play Brian Eno's electronic soundscape on real instruments. It was the right decision. The music is, like Eno says, as listenable as it is ignorable.

By The River

How the British cornered the market on peaceful, pastoral music remains a mystery, given that there's rarely a moment in their rain-drenched climate when you can actually take off the mackintosh long enough to enjoy a pleasant stroll over the heath. Perhaps that's why Delius, one of the deans of English "country" music, moved to Florida. This music, with its carefree yet delicate dance rhythms, is designed to whisk you far away from dwindling 401Ks and make you wonder why anyone should be required to hold down a job.

Piano and String Quartet

Here's one last piece to take the edge off of your active lifestyle. Feldman was a loud, burly New Yorker whose music is often a bold antidote to the noise pollution reverberating off Manhattan's canyons of steel. This little gem goes on, gently rocking, for nearly 90 minutes. Better than Thorazine, with no pesky side effects, listening doesn't get much easier than this.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.
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