Music for Holy Time and Holy Space

My musical tastes are… eclectic. But on days like Good Friday, when I want music to orient myself towards the sacred, the holy, the divine, the cosmic, the music I like tends to share several imprecise elements. 

  • A sense of awe or significance, as if it leaves you with a Moses-like “Now I know that I am nothing, which thing I never supposed.”
  • A sense of mystery, which invites further seeking and effort
  • A sense of antiquity, ancientness
  • A sense of other-ness, holiness, not-every-day-ness

Some of these overlap with theologian Rudolf Otto’s mysterium tremendum or numinous from his book Das Heilige “The Idea of the Holy.”

Music that hits these things for me often turns out to be choral or liturgical music, ritually sung during various kinds of Orthodox church services. And often it turns out to be in foreign or ancient languages: Russian, Latin, Bulgarian, Greek, Syriac, Aramaic.

First, a concert from Archimandrite Bit Seraphim. This has some of the most transcendent, evocative elements for me.

  1. 6:08- 11:50  Like
  2. 13:29- 22:15 Really like, esp. 16:45 and 18:15 with the duet
  3. 23:30- 28:28 Really great towards the end, builds, echo (27:27), reprise
  4. 28:46-35:41  This one’s a little different, has some group phrases on top of the drone
  5. 36:07-40:30            Also different. Much more discordant.
  6. 40:58- 46:35                 Also different. More harmonies on drone, some f. Solos
  7. 46:47- 52:12                Psalm piece, first one I saw, opens with young f. Soloist.
  8. 52:15-54:50
  9. 55:32-                          Last song

Chorovaya Akademia, their Ancient Echoes album (also on Spotify)

Pavel Chesnokov (I can’t find a higher quality version of this unfinished piece, sung in the same plaintive way, by the Male Choir of St. Petersburg. Also, that’s some deep bass.)


Divna Ljubejević (singer, such a clear voice) She’s on a few different albums.

Glory of Byzantium (album)

Arvo Pärt can be simply devastating. (You’d probably recognize his piano piece Spiegel im Spiegel from several films.)


John Tavener (I love this image.)

Megaloschemos (youtube)

Rachmaninov, Vespers, Op 37- VI

Eric Whitacre

(Also Chanticleer, same album)

Kjartan Sveinsson, Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen

This is actually a four-parter, combined below. Each part has different emotional resonances. My favorites are II (8:00) and IV (23:07), but listen to the whole thing once.

These are my go-to songs, composers, and singers for removing myself from the worldly, and trying to think about heavenly things. Enjoy.

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2 thoughts on “Music for Holy Time and Holy Space

  1. Thank you, Ben! I was trying to figure out this very topic. Being “stuck” at home this year makes me yearn for the uplifting in general, as well feeling a desire to use this unstructured time to more fully understand and immerse myself in Holy Week. I’ve focused on organizing and collecting mostly written material on the subject (something I wish I had done long ago). I’ve recently felt like sacred music should be a part of this, too. There are a few Tabernacle Choir Easter concerts on YouTube, and my go-to, Rob Gardner’s “Lamb of God”, but this REALLY expands my horizon. Thanks again, and for sharing all that you have and do!


  2. Thanks Ben! I was just listening to some Chesnokov and the Rachmaninov Vespers yesterday. I love this type of music and look forward to sampling some of the ones I’m not as familiar with that you recommended.


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