Professors’ Playlist: Here’s what 12 University of Minnesota professors are jamming to lately

From well-known classics to hyper-local favs, these professors have plenty of recommendations to add to your daily listening.

Illustration by Harry Steffenhagen

Harry Steffenhagen

Illustration by Harry Steffenhagen

by Macy Harder

Many students remain in their own worlds while bustling through the streets and sidewalks of a college campus, their gaits matching the tempo of whatever song blares through their earbuds.

Music plays a big role in the lives of college students; it can keep you motivated during a study session, help you get up in the morning or supplement your walk between classes. But have you ever wondered what your professors jam out to after a long day of teaching or what tracks set the mood for their daily commutes?

1. “Dying to Believe” by The Beths – Rand Park, Carlson School of Management

Park said this track by the indie pop band from New Zealand is his current favorite. “This live version is from September 2021 and it’s awesome,” he said. “Great lyrics, fairly complex vocal arrangement, excellent guitar and drum interplay. Honestly, I’m listening to this multiple times per day right now.”

2. “Hurt” by Johnny Cash – Michelle Driessen, Department of Chemistry

STEM students might be familiar with Driessen from taking general chemistry courses. Driessen said she has recently been creating Pandora playlists based on Cash’s cover of this track by Nine Inch Nails. “It’s a bit dark, but really showcases his voice,” she said.

3. “Mercy Now” by Mary Gauthier – Regina McCombs, Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication

McCombs described this song as her “survive-the-pandemic” anthem. “Hard to beat this for relevance,” she said. “It gets to me every single time.”

4. “FaceTime with my Mom (Tonight)” by Bo Burnham – Liza Meredith, Department of Psychology

Whether you’re a psychology major or have explored the department’s electives, chances are you might have had Meredith for an intro psych course. She said this track from Burnham’s comedy special, “Inside,” is her go-to anytime she needs a laugh. “It cracks me up and reminds me how unique the pandemic time period was for all of us in different ways,” she said.

5. “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack – Marvin Marshak, School of Physics and Astronomy

If physics is integral to your field of study, you might have had Marshak for an introductory course. This classic love song is an all-time favorite of his. Marshak said he and his spouse, Anita, included it in their wedding 49 years ago.

6. “El Stupido” by Skirr – Mark Stellmack, Department of Psychology

Stellmack said he’s recently been enjoying this track by the Twin Cities-based band. “It speaks to me with its inspiring tale of the enduring strength and resilience of the human spirit,” he said.

7. “Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac” by Benjamin Britten – John Watkins, Departments of English and History

Watkins’ name might ring a bell for English and History majors from his handful of courses, including Shakespeare, Early Modern Britain and beyond. This 1952 piece composed by Britten is based on the Abraham and Isaac story depicted in the 15th century Chester Mystery Plays. There are many recordings, but Watkins is particularly fond of this early performance by John Hahessy and Peter Pears. “I dare anyone listening to that final bit, with Abraham and the newly spared Isaac singing their prayer of gratitude, not to weep,” Watkins said.

8. “Redemption Song” by Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer – Christopher Terry, Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Terry said he’s really digging the Cash and Strummer cover of this Bob Marley classic. “The track is a mash up of just about all of my favorite music things,” he said.

9. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen – Fahima Aziz, Department of Economics

Carlson students may know Aziz from Principles of Microeconomics, one of the school’s required courses. This infamous 6-minute rock ballad is Aziz’s favorite song of all time. She said she appreciates its varying melodic elements, the lyrics and, of course, Freddie Mercury’s astonishing vocal range. “It’ll always be my favorite because of its uniqueness and boldness even in today’s time,” Aziz said.

10. “Desert on the Moon” by Hiromi – Christopher Kauffman, Department of Computer Science & Engineering

Kauffman said he’s a fan of jazz music and is particularly fond of jazz pianist Hiromi. “I had my first date with my wife at a Hiromi concert, and tracks like this one are close to my heart and full of memories,” he said.

11. “Step” by Vampire Weekend – Emilie Snell-Rood, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior

Snell-Rood said her all-time favorites depend heavily on context, as her daily soundtrack varies whether she’s working out, writing or driving her 3-year-old home. But for when she wants to relax, this Vampire Weekend track is Snell-Rood’s go-to.

12. “Take This Ring” by Toni Braxton – Elliott Powell, Department of American Studies

Despite being released in 2005, Powell said this track is his current favorite as it was finally put on streaming platforms this month. “One reason why I love this song now is because of pure nostalgia — my friends and I used to dance to it all the time,” he said. But more than that, Powell appreciates the song’s interesting lyrical twist; he describes it as an “anthem of infidelity,” offering a perspective that we don’t usually see in women’s pop music.