Baroque music playlist

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This is an informal post detailing a themed playlist of 10 Baroque pieces that I recommend for someone unfamiliar with Baroque music. There’s nothing particularly educated about my choices; it’s just a personal selection of things I love, although I have tried to diversity it a little. I hope you’ll find something you like.

Brief intro

What people refer to as “classical music” is very broad. Anyhow, Baroque music is a style of classical music composed from 1600 to 1750. It’s one of my favorite genres, although it might be considered an acquired taste because it doesn’t just “make sense” to the “classically untrained”, unlike music from the Classical period (1750-1820).

You may have heard of Baroque style architecture; gold-plated everything, very ostentatious, the more ornaments and fancy decorations the better, even (especially) in churches. Baroque music is very stylistically distinct and has a lot of roles. Despite these rules, it’s usually very playful and dance-like in nature *because* of these rules. Great Baroque compositions are all about conforming to the rules and expectations yet knowing when to stylishly break the rules.

Ornamentation in the musical sense is also a prominent feature of Baroque music and overall there are some similarities between Baroque and Jazz.

1. “Ev’ry valley” from Messiah (Handel)

Handel’s Messiah is one of the most famous Baroque works. A concert performance of Messiah typically lasts two or so hours, but even then many pieces have to be left out because of the sheer number of pieces composed in this work. Here’s one of my favorite performances of one of the pieces. I like this one because the performer nails all those other components, not just sounding good: facial expression, conveying a message, dynamics, etc. Truly exceptional.

2. “Air on the G String” (Bach) – Bobby McFerrin

A very recognizable piece by Bach and one of my favorites, performed a bit differently by Bobby McFerrin, who is very unique and innovative. (Bach is the most famous Baroque composer. Heck, the end of the Baroque period is considered around 1750, which is the year he died. Coincidence?)

3. “Deconstructing Johann” (King’s Singers)

A quirky jazzy a capella (unaccompanied) medley performed by the King’s Singers. The King’s Singers are a very famous British vocal group.

4. Orchestra Suite No. 3 Gavotte (Bach) – Jacques Loussier Trio

I loved this concert (24 Hour Swinging Bach – Bach’s 250th anniversary concert in Leipzig) to pieces, so this is the third performance already in this list from it. I had a CD of this concert, but I’d pay anything to be at such an event these days! Who said classical music can’t be groovy?

5. Improvisation on Bach (Bobby McFerrin)

Bobby McFerrin is completely unique for several reasons; his impossible vocal agility, wide range, beat-boxing-like ability, unique improvisations, and even the ability to produce two notes at the same time!

6. “Rejoice in the Lord alway” (Purcell)

A very playful piece.

7. “As Vesta was from Latmos Hill Descending” (Thomas Weelkes)

Some other noticeable aspects of Baroque music. Tension is a very important aspect; great Baroque music just seems to keep flowing and keep you expecting/wanting what’s coming. Choral pieces often have a formal structure much like an essay that is discussing a topic, with introduction, conclusion, and paragraphs arguing for and against each main point. Counterpoint, i.e., multiple parts playing the same theme (or singing the same text) but starting one after the other is another common feature. Themes often recur. In fact, some pieces are based entirely on the “subject” established in the first eight bars of music.
Here’s a Madrigal, early Baroque, that demonstrates the layering effect throughout the piece.

8. Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 (Bach)

A real badass piece. The tension is maintained masterfully in this composition. Read the other Music Spotlight to learn more about the harpsichord and this piece.

9. “Agnus Dei” from Mass in B minor (Bach)

This is sung by Andreas Scholl, a famous German countertenor. A countertenor is a male who sings in the vocal range of female voice types. Don’t ask me how the physiology works; normal singing pedagogy is controversial and conflicting enough as it stands.

10. “Suscepit Israel” from Magnificat (Bach)

Tracking dreams and nightmares

Does sleep tea work?

As a semi-lucid dreamer, dreaming has always been a bit part of my life. A rather sudden and weird change happened to me in terms of dream activity, so I’ve been recording my occurrences of nightmares for the last two months.

Earlier this year I went overseas for a break off study. In a strange new continent. Alone. Trying to find myself, discover how I really feel and what I truly believe. Meeting strange people, eating strange food, observing and experiencing strange ways of life. English speakers not always being available. I had only 3 nightmares during those 70+ days.

I came home to having nightmares every other night. At first, the most twisted nightmares I’ve ever had; ones that are not safe to share or remember. I was confident and ready to confront my problems instead of trying to hide from them. Were these nightmares just out of stress, adjustment, or was my subconscious trying to tell me something? Perhaps it was just the nine hours of jet lag and my body complaining about it. Actually, I do know of one major influence: that house triggered my tinnitus. (In fact, I could almost reasonably blame my having tinnitus on living in that house.)

My friend recommended I try sleep tea to reduce nightmares. I bought sleep tea with chamomile and peppermint. Sleep tea is not only meant to make you sleep better, it’s meant to calm you and relieve stress in a manner that one might imagine conducive to suppressing possible nightmares. Whether it was effective or I was simply benefiting from the placebo effect (which is not a bad thing either), I felt like it made a big difference. I tended to wake up too early due to jet lag but sleep tea was able to keep me knocked out sometimes. I set out to prove or disprove the effectiveness of sleep tea on suppressing my nightmares: using statistics.

Two months data

  • I had at least 19 nights with nightmares and up to 41 nights without nightmares. I only tested sleep tea on 8 of these nights for various reasons such as not wanting to wake up late and not finding nightmares to be a tangible disturbance to my mental health except with regard to sleep quality.
  • My average recall of nightmares probably lies somewhere between 40% and 99%. The number of recorded nights with nightmares is therefore an underestimate and the nightmare-less nights is an overestimate.
  • It is easier for me to remember whether I had a nightmare than how many distinct nightmares I had on the previous night. In any case, I had more than 40 nightmares over these 60 days.
  • I encountered new forms of nightmares so it sometimes became difficult to distinguish what was a nightmare and what was just an unpleasant dream.
  • A nightmare is also known as a “bad dream,” but I generally don’t consider dreams that are both good and bad or just mediocre to be a nightmare unless the bad part is disturbing enough that it wakes me up.
  • I did not track dreams, but I certainly had dreams (including nightmares) on the majority of nights.

Results

The experiment failed; I’m pulling the plug. Temporal factors were too significant. The assumptions of probability might have been reasonable for an earlier period of the experiment, but are no longer reasonable. I “lost” (overcame?) my reliable “source” of nightmares. I also don’t have enough data for nights where I drink sleep tea, but even if I did, the results would be skewed in favor of the hypothesis that drinking sleep tea makes a huge difference, when in reality it is most likely the result of other interfering factors too.

Discussion

It would have been an interesting experiment, and I’ll admit it: I just wanted to do it cause I find applying statistics fun sometimes. I wanted to compute a 90% confidence interval for the minimum percentage of dreams supposedly being suppressed as a consequence of drinking sleep tea. But my results are now incredibly biased. The frequency of my nightmares has decreased significantly, and I don’t need statistics to confirm this. For one thing, I moved out of the house, started flatting for the first time in my life, and have been constantly challenging myself to face my problems. Unfortunately for my craving of practical applications of statistics…

All manner of manners

I was raised to have relatively good manners. I’ve followed some rules of etiquette for many years without necessarily understanding their significance. This conditioning resulted in some subconscious expectations for me. Good people tend to have better manners, right? People who seem to deliberately ignore the basic rules aren’t all that civil, are they? Everyone is aware of these rules, after all?

I’ve had this funny feeling from my travels that I’ve only just understood now. Good manners are not universal. The rules behind manners are not the same across different cultures, even those that speak the same language. They vary from culture to culture, upbringing to upbringing, person to person. The fact that someone does not ever say ‘thank you’ does not mean that they are an ungrateful person. Sometimes I even get the impression that it’s my good manners that are unwarranted or unwelcome.

Having good manners is not an inherently bad thing, but to expect good manners from others can lead to disappointment or misunderstanding. This realization makes me want to adjust some of my behaviors that seem unnecessarily polite. My personality is polite in some ways and rude in other ways, but I should just express myself naturally. I feel like using good manners is a form of protection against discrimination, and yet it is also a fundamental basis for discrimination. I don’t want to actively take part in that anymore. Intention matters more to me than whether people follow the arbitrary culture-specific rules that I was taught.

Easing back into WaniKani

My main challenge for today was to force myself to sit down and knock out 200 reviews on WaniKani without taking breaks. Since I used to use WaniKani as a form of “productive procrastination,” I think my focus eventually degraded to the point that it had no connection to any specific goals. Furthermore, I’m not sure I currently give much of a damn about that box containing the fantasy called “Japan.” But learning a language is still a long-term investment that I see many subtle benefits of making.

200 reviews took me just 58 minutes. I wasn’t even rushing. But if I hadn’t set a specific time for it with a specific measurable goal in mind, it would have taken much longer. Or more likely, I wouldn’t have gotten very far before quitting. But after this session, there won’t be any more legitimate excuses, because it’s not a serious time commitment as long as I learn to discipline my mind.

An engineering problem

In class four years ago, I heard the story of how Shigeo Shingo (supposed creator of the SMED approach) was able to overcome the limitations implied by Harris’ Economic Order Quantity. The idea he applied was simple, but at the same time, it blew my mind the way the story was told.

You don’t always have to accept your limitations as they are implied (or even defined) by math or science. Sometimes you have the ability to change your limitations, and via that change you can replace your old limitations with new limitations that you’ve consciously defined.

As I read over my summary, I feel like it’s both ridiculously obvious and yet profound at the same time; on a logical level, it boils down to almost nothing.

For most of my life, I’ve been unaware of the concept of emotion. Needless to say, I didn’t understand what my own emotional, social, and other well-being needs were, or that they were important at all. Then, three years ago, I became aware of the world of emotion. I learned that these needs exist, and that emotions have to be acknowledged and processed in some way in order for them to not build up until they become overwhelming. But in part, I overcompensated for my history of emotional repression. I respected some emotions too much, gave them too much free rein, and even glorified them while continuing to deny other emotions that were more uncomfortable but equally important. I must change that, and I believe that I can. What I’m trying to do could well be the hardest thing I will ever do in my life, or it could be my ultimate ruin.

I have all these external psychological needs that are all but tangible and that I struggle to meet. I’ve tried for a long time to change the circumstances and manipulate the external factors in order to meet these demands. But it doesn’t work in the long-term, and the practical costs are exorbitant. It’s never enough. This is an engineering problem, and the solution is to effect a change in my internal workings such that the available external resources are rendered sufficient for my new internal needs.

Congratulate me on accepting my new job?

I won’t mince my words: my brain is messed up, from the higher levels of abstraction down to the chemical level. Coming from a background of lifelong emotional suppression and addiction, I have long suspected it and yet I’m still surprised by the details of this conclusion. There’s an adage that we have to be particularly mindful about what new vice replaces the old one we’re trying to overcome. After reading about how to process emotions, I’ve confirmed one of my least favorite hypotheses about my life:

It’s not enough for me to make smart decisions; I must work hard to embody the things I believe in.

When I was introduced to the world of emotions three years ago, I learned to find out what makes me feel good. But my sources didn’t really discuss balance and the bigger picture, so I’ve now realized that I’ve been unknowingly regulating my emotions in an unhealthy manner on a daily basis for years. It seems I typically either over-regulate my negative emotions or try to manipulate myself into feeling positive emotions and then under-regulate those positive emotions. This is my addiction, and it’s very very bad for discipline, willpower, motivation, or any of the things that drive us to work towards our goals.

In light of this information, I must accept my new full-time role as supervisor of my mind and body. There is no other way. I must find out what makes me feel uncomfortable. I must learn to accept that discomfort and operate towards my goals regardless of it. I must switch off the music to my ears. I must be willing to abandon everything I think I know, once again, and purge aspects of my behavior that I may have mistaken for my personality. I’m scared. I’m terrified. But I must be brave. I know this is what needs to be done.

If this is what I am right now, it’s not like I have anything worth losing in the first place; there is no tragedy in this.

One month into the dark chocolate diet

I’ve been experimentally consuming dark chocolate mainly for its appetite suppression for a month now.

Sources of dark chocolate

I’ve tried every viable dark chocolate block available in the supermarket. I believe Whittaker’s Dark Ghana (250 g chocolate block with 72% cocoa) is the most suitable for my nutritional needs. Its cocoa content is actually on the lower end compared to Lindt Supreme Dark (90%) or Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate (85%), while its sugar content is in the middle of the pack. Price wise, which isn’t a very distinctive attribute on the scale of things, it’s probably the 2nd cheapest option.

The reason Whittaker’s Dark Ghana is my favorite is because it’s the least addictive. In fact, it was the only one that I didn’t find addictive. I think it has the simplest taste, and while some of the higher content chocolates have a more distinctive bitterness, they are also somehow more sweet overall despite generally having less sugar. For example none of the 100 g chocolate blocks survived more than 24 hours because they left me craving more, whereas the sizable chunks of Whittaker’s were more satisfying. Maybe there is some psychological benefit to having distinct pieces (rather than a thin block with grooves too thin to be functional); you know exactly how much you’re intending to break off at a time.

I also tried drinking cocoa powder, just dissolved in boiling water. The taste was a surprise at first and will take getting used to. I’m gradually reducing how much sugar I’m taking with it, and I think it will be eventually possible to enjoy it without sugar. Overall, the drink is satiating in some ways, but because it’s winter I sometimes make a second drink.

Effectiveness of the diet

I’ve concluded that some dark chocolates are not very beneficial for reducing appetite. I’m not saying that dark chocolate should be self-suppressing, but if I was given seven 100 g blocks of Lindt Supreme Dark and I finished that in a week, I’d feel that something wasn’t right even if my overall appetite did indeed decrease. I don’t want to manage my appetite; I want it to be self-managing. So far I feel that Dark Ghana works for me. Sometimes I have two and a half meals a day, sometimes two, and on the rare occasion I don’t feel the need to eat until dinnertime. I’m not saying that this effect is inherently desirable, but my appetite is not so much of a burden anymore and my body won’t complain too much about my unreliable cooking routine.

Weight

I’ve lost 1.5 kg in one month on this diet, while having to refrain from exercise due to a mysterious injury that prevents me from walking too much. Although weight loss isn’t my specific intention, I intend to continue this diet for a while, now that I’ve found the right sources of dark chocolate, and observe what happens.