Why conductor Hamish McKeich says nature offers the best sounds to relax to

Hamish McKeitch

Conductor Hamish McKeich says the sort of music he plays professionally doesn’t help him chill out – instead he sometimes listens to sounds from nature, like recordings of the forest or the sea.

Hamish is principal conductor in residence with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. He started out as a bassoonist and since taking up the baton has worked with orchestras all around the world. He has also conducted more than 100 world premieres of new works.

As a working musician, I don’t use the sort of music I play professionally when I’m trying to relax. It gets my brain fired up too much.

In December, I did 12 touring concerts with the NZSO plus a tour of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty with the Royal New Zealand Ballet – another 18 shows with three hours of music, containing all these tunes that really get stuck in your head. So, I do not go home and listen to symphonies.

I’m more likely to use something completely different – for instance, there is a thing called isochronic brain entrainment, which works on alpha, theta and delta brainwave states, as well as others. This can be sounds from nature, like the forest or the sea. I do meditation as well and listening to this is like the state you get to from mild meditation.

Something else I use is ambient electronica. For the past few years I’ve listened a lot to a series of albums called Dark Side of the Moog by Pete Namlook and Klaus Schulze. It’s relaxing because it is very different from what I have in my head, which is a huge amount of bloody music. There are about 10 volumes of this and one album with a compilation of different ones. Some of it is live.

Ghetto funk from the 1970s is my latest enthusiasm – blaxploitation movie soundtracks and compilations of obscure funk and R ’n’ B artists. I like the Pulp Fusion series of double CDs – Fully Loaded and Bustin’ Loose are two of those. Also an album called Diggin’ Deeper: The Roots of Acid Jazz.

Last year, the insecurity of life, as everyone knows, was pretty high. When you prepare some of these big pieces with the NZSO you really want to perform them. It’s a lot of work and study wasted if it’s called off because people can’t come out.

I was lucky to be working all the way through and always busy. I used the entrainment quite a lot to help relax then. If I hear something I am not familiar with, I will think, “I’ll check that out” and Shazam it. Then I’ll find more similar music around that. That’s how I got into ghetto funk.

I’ve always liked music that’s unusual and pretty energising, which these choices are – apart from the ambient ones. There’s a lot that’s quite rhythmic and epic there. The worst thing about it is there is so much music out there and I do miss out on stuff. I always listen to new works from Kiwi artists to keep up with the play.

Hamish’s favourite sings to relax to

  • Dark Side of the Moog by Pete Namlook and Klaus Schulze
  • Pulp Fusion Volume 4: Fully Loaded by Various
  • Diggin’ Deeper: The Roots of Acid Jazz by Various

6 New Zealand musicians share their favourite songs to relax to

Listen to our relaxing Spotify playlist here.


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