Traveling Back to the Golden Times

There are so many ways to study the past but what really are the remnants of the past? And which way is the best, most capturing, to learn from? Are history textbooks and holy books all we’ve got to learn from, about the past? What about the enticing colors of the past that get lost in the black and white of these books? The emotions, the love affairs, the struggle, the sorrow, the overcoming, the empowerment, and the joy, of the people of the past? Of course, one can learn everything factual about the past from textbooks and record keeping but is there no way to re-venture these actual emotions, accurately?

I am Nick, back again with yet another article that will take you on a journey back to the World War II. Just kidding! You guys know what I do, I write your favorite column of the New York Times, that gives you all the spice about the cultural context of music, with a twist of mixing the past with the present. Today, we are digging deep into the past, with a piece of music that many of you may be familiar with: it is Harry Styles’ Sign of the Times! Why this piece of music? It’s a pretty interesting piece for this time period, where not much is written about life after death, or anything meaningful, if I’m being honest. Make sure you give it a listen before you proceed!

You will meet multiple personalities from multiple time periods today, with, of course, the help of our modern technology, the time traveling machine! Fare warning, these characters you are about to encounter, are, well, complex, to say the least. Today, I have for you four views on this piece: the Catholic Church during the Counter Reformation, our favorite, Ludwig Van Beethoven, a fine Romanticist, Franz Schubert, and of course, my favorite, John Cage(That guy really knew how to do the least and have the most out of it; would definitely suit my lazy personality)! Jokes aside, let’s delve into this. Oh, I almost forgot, you guys will definitely hear a lot of my opinion as always. and that makes it five!

First off, we have the Protestant Reformation and the Counter Reformation, but we are mostly going to focus on how the Catholic Church would react to this piece of music and why. The way I proceeded with this to get them to react is simply by traveling back to that time period and releasing the music video for them to be able to watch and listen to. I must say, it didn’t help with the feud that was already going on between the church and people like Martin Luther who was taking actions like nailing 95 theses to the church door. The Catholic Church back then was extremely conservative and close minded so the first thing they did as being introduced to this piece of music, was an outrage.

First of all, the Catholic Church only allowed holy music in Latin and Greek so an outburst due to the language difference was inevitable, and that’s exactly why I placed it there! The church immediately released an article banning this piece of music because it was “atrocious.” Although they supported the context of the music, many factors of it were unacceptable. The church majorly believed there should be no instruments distracting the listener from the holy words being sung. Here, have a look at the article yourselves:

Neela 1

Neela 2

Neela 3

That was some serious rage, huh? Anyway, to lighten up the mood a little I decided to go to a calmer environment, so next up, is Franz Schubert. Now, many of you may be familiar with him but here is a little background. He is a musician from the Romantic Era and is known for his creation of music about supernatural things, such as “Der Erlkonig”(1815). Schubert is from a middle class family and lived amongst his friends’ houses in exchange for entertaining them with his music. He was open to the idea of exploring new ideas and much appreciated Styles’ music. When I landed this piece to Schubert’s ears in one of his famous Bilding Circles, or as many people referred to it as, “Schubertiad,” he was immediately drawn to the piece. In the discussion, he commented:

“Nick, my friend, I much appreciate this approach in the music by Styles. It is a complete piece as it comes with this videography, which I must say, I am astounded by! How does one create such a thing? I have spent many of my days trying to portray images in people’s minds about supernatural things but I must say, he has taken a very literal approach to that, Ha ha! I am very fond of the way he slowly introduced the piano, keeping a steady pace to build up his music and then the addition of some more instruments, like drums, built tension while still keeping a steady rhythm to capture the simplicity of the whole piece. I also loved the aesthetics of the video playing a role in this. That is what Romanticism is about! The colourful skies at the end somehow brought peace in my heart and made me feel free.”

            – Franz Schubert

After being a bit light hearted from this great musician’s company, I took myself to none other than Ludwig Van Beethoven. Beethoven grew up in Germany and later moved to Vienna. He is specially known for making a move from Classical to Romantic time period. His pieces of music are quiet long, unique and personal which is why although, he did appreciate the personal touch and uniqueness of Styles’ music, he wasn’t fond of the length of the music. Beethoven was losing his hearing abilities when his music carrier was coming to a peak and was thinking of killing himself however, saved himself for the sake of the world, because it would be a crime to deprive the world of his music. After secretly leaving the piece of music to Beethoven’s site, I stayed for a couple of days to find out how he would react to it. Few days later, I collected his journal(for research purposes of course!) and found that he did, in fact, write in his journal entry about “Sign of the Times.” This is how it went:

Today, I found a piece of music laying around in my room. It was very strange to happen but the piece of music made me feel many things at once. I have been thinking about ending my life and although I have decided that my life was worth living for the music I produce, this piece of music has given me new vision. This piece, by some artist named Harry Styles mentions the afterlife and the fact that everything is going to be okay soon after. Whoever this is, and whatever he may be struggling with, I hope he gets through it because he has a very unique talent and I would tell any musician not to deprive the world of their talent. His soothing words gave me comfort, conveyed that everything will be okay the melody of the music somehow supported the text. It was very calming in nature, following a homo-rhythmic and homo-phonic texture.


I was very pleased with this review and the fact that his past experiences majorly contributed in the way he looked at this piece of music. Now, I was craving some spicy content for this article and took myself to the Minimalist period, to a very special artist, John Cage. John Cage is famous for his amazing and revolutionary take on music and what it means. He was a fond of experimentation. He always seeked new gravities to reach with the way music could be made. I was a fan of him so I decided to directly interview him. I must say, it was an out of life experience! I asked Mr Cage many questions and we had a great conversation but one of the comments he made and always says, stuck with me: “Nick, music is all about experimentation and I will say this, Mr. Styles’ music contains a single voice and I am fond of the way he did not use many instruments. It’s all about creating the most with the least involved. He made sure to keep the rhythm steady and synchronized but he did not limit his musical abilities by doing so. The piano playing in the back kept the simplistic aspect of the piece however, his vocals were varying from time to time, going from high to low pitch. I would have, however, appreciated it a lot more, if he kept his videography to a steady setting to match his music, however, the settings were very simple and soothing.” and he, of course, did not forget his famous line, “Until [one] dies, there will be sounds, and they will continue following [their] death. One need not fear about the future of music.”

                 -John Cage

Now back to you, what do I think about this piece of music? I think it is an ordinary piece considering the musical features such as the steady rhythms, the duple meter, maybe contains a lot more instruments than modern music but everything else is pretty similar to modern music. What stood out to me, however, was the message being conveyed in this. We don’t really get to hear about meaningful things in music that is made these days. I think Harry Styles is doing a great job at trying to change that. He may be diverting our attention to a more religious aspect and I’m not a very religious guy but it is something new and new is always as exciting as the old!

What did you guys think about the way these musicians responded to this particular piece of music? How would you have responded if you were one of them, living in those time periods? Do you think this piece of music would have cause any significant changes in the way people approached music in any of the time periods I have mentioned? Don’t forget to send me your responses and keep musicking!


-Nishat Neela



  1. Nishat, I really like this piece of music and i’ve heard it before from friends. To answer your question what i thought about how the mussicians response to the piece is relatable. Just like Beethoven when he said that Harry’s words are “soothing and comfort,” I felt the same way when listening to him sing. If i were living in the time period of these famous composers, and I heard this piece of music, I’d probably be suprised, only cause during this time period the most people were listening to was classical, or church music, something out of the elements or the piece presented here. I think if this piece was presented way before our time it would have a dramatic change in music, becuase like i said it’s something out of the element of what they use to hear, and if they heard this composers that you mentioned would have studied and create new pieces of music just like Harry styles. A question i have for you is imagine if Harry style was a composer around the time of these composers, what kind of music piece do you think he will creat? Romantic? Classical?


  2. I really like the format that you are using. Using different colors to address the different thoughts by different listeners was my favorite part of the essay. The picture in the middle of the essay looks like a real article that can be used in real life and I like the small details that you made in the article. If I was living in the period when catholic church was dominant in music industry that strictly prohibit music that aren’t related to the religion. I would react like what majority of people would react during that time because I don’t want to go against something that aren’t lawful. One question that I want to ask to keep the conversation going is if you have a chance to travel times what time period do you want to go??


  3. I love how you incorporated all different colors when you were discussing the different thoughts on the listener. Second, I liked the format, it was well organized. The article that you created was unique. To answer your question, I do feel like at the time majority of the people were listening to classical music and or church music, but if it was presented in our time it would be a change. We are all used to listen to certain types of music and this would really be different. I do also have a question for you, if we had an artist at our time go back in time, how would they create music? Do you think they would have a difficult time creating music like that?


  4. I’m blown away while reading this piece, the organization and the first person view of this was outstanding. The way you incorporated yourself into this and “interviewing” these composers was a great way. My question is, if you didn’t show the Catholic Church a videography of Harry Styles piece, do you think their reaction would of been different?


  5. The way you colored coded each composer was a smart strategy. Each composer had a different viewpoint on Harry Styles piece including yourself. Did you choose this piece by Harry Styles to portray how he incorporates the religious aspect in it, and how different his music is than todays artists? Are there any other pieces of Styles work that display religious aspects in them?


  6. An artist who would be a good 6th listener would be The Weeknd. I feel the weekn would listen to this piece and enjoy te high vocals, because they share a similarity using high vocals in their music. The Weeknd would use his voice to hit the higher notes in a song, making the music piece sound different. He would apprciate this piece and how good it sounds in his ears. Another question I have for you is if you thought of another similar piece of music like the one you choose? Do you listen more to music like this or different genres?


  7. I would like to add a 6th listener who will react to the piece of the song “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles. The 6th listener is from Classical period where many notable musicians composed during that period. His name is Peter. Peter really enjoyed listening to the music piece that was composed in 21th century because Peter likes the music piece that is not too complicated and has a simple and clear textures. Peter is also known as great pianist during the history. Peter’s favorite part in the music “Sign of the Times” is in the beginning where there is no vocal text but just piano playing single melody which is monophonic. Peter also liked the various dynamics and the emotional changes throughout the music where it reminded peter of music style of Classical period. Classical period music also consisted of various dynamics and emotional changes as well.


  8. i loved the way you how put this article together, very creative on how you also included an article with in your article very well detailed for a second i was wondering if you copy it and paste it or you made it yourself ( it looked so real) really blown away. to answer your questions i think it was amazing how each different listeners gave their own perspective when listening to your music piece you’ve chosen and also i would of responded in a similar way your five listeners did because of the different time line i would be living in. when it come to changes i believe that 15% of the people living in those time periods would of been intrigued to listening and the other would of disliked it mostly because what was the norm during those times…. when it come to facing something thats not really comfortable with you or with others it would be a scary thing basically change is not comfortable and can cause unease within us.


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