Note to teachers: Some of the essays in this collection deal with adult themes. Please preview them and choose the ones you think are most appropriate for your students.
Featured Article: “The songs that get us through this”
Each year, The New York Times Magazine publishes an issue all about music that explores the songs, artists, and musical themes that capture our moment. As we head into a third year of the coronavirus pandemic, the title of this year’s collection is “The Songs That Take Us Through”. It includes 22 essays that address topics such as burnout, grief, community, mixed emotions, and letting go.
In this lesson, you will choose an essay from the collection to read. Then you will analyze what you think it says about today’s music. Finally, we’ll invite you to write your own essay, create an annotated playlist, or create an artwork to encapsulate an aspect of the musical landscape that you think deserves recognition.
What are the songs of the past year that helped you “get through”?
Spend a few minutes going through your music library, then create a list of at least three songs. For this exercise, try to choose songs that are current or that have been made in the past year.
Once you have your list, see if you can make any connections between the songs. Here are some questions to consider:
What topics do the lyrics address? Do they look alike in any way?
What themes do these songs have in common? For example, a theme could be love, grief, friendship, angst, or growth.
Are their sounds similar? If so, in what ways? How would you describe this sound?
Putting these songs together, what do you think they say about your life over the past year? What do they say about the world? What do they tell you about the music now or where it might be heading?
If you are in a class, make a list of some topics, themes, and sounds that the students have found. Does your class notice any commonalities? Can you classify them in any group? You will use it as a starting point for one of the Go Further activities.
Writing and Discussion Questions
Scroll through whole article, which includes 22 trials. Each trial focuses on a theme (which you can see in the upper left corner), a song or a set of songs (you can turn the music on or off by clicking the sound icon in the upper right corner).
Choose one of the essays to read in its entirety (click “Read more” to expand the essay). Then answer the following questions:
1. In a few sentences, summarize the essay in your own words. What are some of the author’s key points?
2. The theme for this year’s musical number is “songs that help us get through this.” How does the song (or songs) featured in the essay you are reading relate to this theme?
3. Listen to the song (or songs) that are the focus of the essay. (You can find the song under the title.) What thoughts, ideas or feelings come to mind when you listen? Can you personally identify with the song? Do you agree with what the author writes about what the song says about our world and music today? what you think he says?
4. Which line from the essay stood out to you, and why? How did it move you, resonate with your experience, or challenge your thinking?
5. Why do you think Times Magazine publishes a musical issue every year? What power can music have in our lives and in our world? How can it help us “get through” difficult times?
Here are three ways to use the Times Magazine musical issue as a template for creating your own multimedia piece about music. you listen:
Imagine The Times asked you to write an essay for the magazine’s musical issue. Choose a song, artist or theme that you found in the warm-up activity and write a short essay on how it relates to the subject of “songs that get us through it”. In your essay, you could write about what this music has meant to you over the past year, as Alexandra Kleeman does in her essay on how the music of Dean Blunt and Noname helped her through the pandemic. . Or you could write about how it connects to a larger issue in our world today, like Lindsay Zoladz does in her essay on the relationship between Mitski’s music and TikTok, or like Sam Anderson does. in his essay on what the obsession with “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” says society’s rules about public discourse.
Create an annotated playlist of at least five songs related to a particular theme you’ve noticed in the music. You can draw inspiration from one of the themes explored in the article – burnout, adolescent angst, mixed emotions or community, for example – or go back to the one you proposed during the warm-up activity. For each song on your playlist, write at least one paragraph about how it relates to your chosen theme. You can find more tips for creating an annotated reading list in this lesson plan.
The art that accompanies each essay is another important part of the annual music issue. Each piece tells a story about the state of music today. For example, take a minute to consider how this collage by the group Turnstile illustrates the essay’s theme of “community”, how this portrait of Mary J. Blige depicts “the beauty of vulnerability”, or what this digital illustration tells us said about fame. Again, choose a song, artist, or theme that you brainstormed during the warm-up activity and create an artwork that encapsulates it. Write a short artist statement that explains what your work says about an aspect of music today.
Want more daily lessons? You can find them all here.