Week 270: “Northern Lights” by Ola Gjeilo


Of all the weird and wonderful phenomena that Mother Nature conjures up, the weirdest and wonderfullest has to be the northern lights.

When you see them, your brain tries to make sense of them by comparing them to other things you’ve seen in nature. But your brain comes up empty.

If it was a tornado, your brain could say, “Oh, I get it, that’s just a wacky cloud.” If it was a waterfall, your brain could say, “Okay, that’s a river flowing directly downwards.” Even the magic of a rainbow can be connected to prior experience, when your brain says, “Oh yeah, we saw that same phenomenon in the spray of the garden hose last summer, remember?”

But the northern lights are unlike anything else. They arrive unannounced, they fill the entire sky, they move unpredictably, and they’re eerily silent. (Or are they?)

If you don’t live in a part of the world where the northern lights are regularly on display (and most of us don’t) then at least you can still lie in bed, listen to this little piece of choral perfection, and imagine.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The sparkling chord that lasts for about 10 seconds, starting at 2:22. Sounds like a big exclamation point.

2. The repeating melodic line as the song fades out, starting at 3:52. Sounds like a big question mark.

3. I think it’s great that Ola Gjeilo made this a choral work, rather than a big orchestral work. The human voice is probably the only instrument that can even begin to do the northern lights justice.

Recommended listening activity:

Watching a candle in the moments before it goes out.

Buy it here.