Classical Music 101

By now, my love for music (often nearing obsession) must be apparent.  I spend a bulk of my time and hard-earned money seeing concerts and travelling to music festivals, trying hard to fulfill my inner rock star. You see, if I can’t play the music, then I sure as hell will always be surrounded by it!  Lately I’ve been trying to branch out of my standard rock n roll: I go dancing to DJs, I attend the opera, and most recently, I’ve been revisiting classical music (little known fact: I used to play the viola!).  

Problem: where does one begin in a quest to find and hear the classics and the gems amongst the millions of pieces that have been composed in the past, oh, few hundred years???  Lucky for me (and for you!), I have Jordan Kirkness in my life! Jordan is a classically-trained bass player and has played professionally in symphonies; aside from his day-to-day career as a lawyer, this stuff is his true passion. Serious musicianship and brilliance aside, I’m ever-grateful and excited when Jord has an instrument on-hand to spark group sing-alongs at every opportune time! 

I have looked to Jordan for guidance and an education in classical music and he, in turn, compiled a list of his top 10 pieces with some commentary. I know this was a difficult task for him, so I hope you enjoy this classical music journey as much as I have! Thanks, Jordan!!!


1. Bach Cello Suite # 5 – Mstislav Rostropovich

Bach’s cello suites are standard baroque repertoire because they are beautiful and iconic. The fifth suite is particularly beautiful because of its darkness. It’s very thought provoking.

2. Il Giardano Armonico – Viaggio Musicale (full CD)

To my ears, Il Giardano Armonico is the Metallica of 17th century Italy.  If you’re one of those people who thinks baroque music is boring, you will need to listen to this CD before you can pass judgment.  Sometimes when I listen to this CD, I get totally lost in the excitement.

3. Mozart Symphony # 36

This is a masterpiece that Mozart apparently wrote in four days.  I recommend pairing it with red wine.

4. Beethoven Symphony # 7

Although this is not the most popular Beethoven Symphony, it is his best.  As a double bass player, I get very excited about the fact that, at the premier of this symphony, the bass section was led by the Italian double bass virtuoso, Domenico Dragonetti.  That would have been amazing to watch — I think watching Dragonetti play would have been like watching Tim Commorford play bass for Nate Ruess — intense, passionate, and totally convincing. [Ed note: holy crap – this is my favorite!!!]

5. Chopin – Nocturne No. 2

This piece is so many things.  It’s very Romantic.  It’s very comforting.  It makes you feel a bit sad.

6. Brahms Symphony # 3

I don’t have words.  It’s just really good.

7. Dvorak New World Symphony


8. Rachmaninov Symphony # 2

This one time at band camp, I was dating the trumpet player and we decided this was our “song”.  She was awesome.  She broke it off at the end of the summer.

9. Shostakovich String Quartet # 8

Dark!  Sooo dark.  There’s a part in the third movement where the listener is drawn into a very peaceful (albeit dark) state, and then….BangBangBang….BangBangBang.  Joseph Stalin is at the door.  Do you answer?  This music is straight out of hell.

10.  Mark O’Connor, Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer – Appalachia Waltz

What’s so cool about this music is that it is truly influenced by the sounds and structures of America’s own musical traditions.  The new world reaches a new level in this music.  Really inspiring.


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