A back-to-school playlist for students of all ages

Children at a CSO for Kids concert make a joyful noise. This year's series begins Nov. 19.

As autumn approaches, it’s time for the annual ritual known the world over: heading back to school. Whether you’re a student aged 6 or 60, the process goes more smoothly with a song — or a segment of symphonic music.

To that end, the following playlist consists of selections that aid the act of studying or just mere contemplation. Included are works by artists featured on this season’s CSO for Kids series, such as children’s singer-songwriter Justin Roberts, who performs in the program Exploring the Orchestra: A Universe of Music on Nov. 19; Mead Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery, appearing as a special guest as part of In Pursuit of Dreams on Feb. 11, and conductor Scott Speck, leading musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Downtown Sounds on May 6.

Also represented is composer Mason Bates, whose Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra, a 25-minute concerto set to an animated film, was a big hit on last season's CSO for Kids series. The film, directed by Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom and with animation by Jim Copabianco, will be released in theaters and on a streaming platform later this year. The soundtrack, which features the CSO, was released in April by Sony Classical. 

Rounding out the playlist are selections representing artists on this season's Symphony Center Presents series: Kurt Elling, Pink Martini and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (and with an assist from “Today” co-host Hoda Kotb).

Plus, there’s a nod to perhaps the most “scholastic” work of all time. Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, performed here by the CSO under Sir Georg Solti. Composed as a tribute to the University of Breslau after it awarded him an honorary degree, the Academic Festival Overture is anything but a serious, solemn tribute to education. A century later, echoing that work’s antic spirit, Elmer Bernstein borrowed from Brahms in his opening music to “National Lampoon's Animal House” (1978). The composer most likely would have been pleased.

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