The Power of Musical Memory

So I’m sitting here with my iPod loaded with a plethora of music from all different genres.  On pops Weird Al‘s “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” – I’m instantly taken back in time.

I’m driving south on Interstate 55, down the length of Illinois. I’m on  my way to visit family near St. Louis.  It’s a long drive, usually taking at least seven and a half to eight hours.  I left around midnight to avoid traffic and maximize my time down there.  I’m absolutely geeked to be visiting my relatives but, having been on the road for about six hours already, I’m weary.  The highway is deserted except for me and a handful of trucks.  I’ve got the the CD player on shuffle with six of my favorite discs.  Leaving Illinois, I switch on to another highway.  As I make the turn, the sun is just starting to peak over the horizon.  Not too much farther!  The Biggest Ball of Twine comes on just as I can see the St. Louis Arch silhouetted by the rising sun.  The great tune goes hand in hand with the great view and created a great memory.  The song changes as I sit here in my living room.  Next up, Alphaville with their song Forever Young.

I’m riding in a van, one of those that can hold a good 12-15 people.  A bunch of friends, Mr. Heumann, my science teacher, and I are on our way to Desolation Valley near Lake Tahoe. At the end of the seventh-grade, Mr. Heumann handed out fliers for a adventure camp he ran during the summers.  Mountain climbing, river rafting, backpacking – I HAD to go.  Fortunately, my parents thought it would be an awesome experience, so here I sit in the van, our gear on top, ready for a week long outing in complete wilderness.  Mr. Heumann pops in a CD and tells all of us riding in back that we are going to love this music.  Forever Young starts blaring.  We all sit contently listening, eyes gazing outside at the traffic passing by.  Dang, this IS good music.  Little did I know that I would forever have that memory branded into my mind.  The song fades out slowly and the next one plays.  It is Paul Simon‘s Boy In The Bubble.

The lights are flashing; the music is loud.  I’m at my first concert.  I was there with a couple of my friends, Chris and Jonas, and my parents.  I know, most kids would hate to be at a concert with their parents, but my parents rocked.  The crowd was going crazy, stirring with excitement.  My friends and I were jumping around, loving every minute.  Paul Simon stood on the stage masterfully playing his guitar and singing with his outstanding band, drums and brass blazing sound-waves through the air.  The open air venue, Shoreline Amphitheatre, has a nice grassy slope we are camped out on with thousands of people.  Video screens show a live-feed of all the action on stage making me feel like I’m five feet from the stage.  I look over to my mom.  She was totally into the concert as well.  It was probably the happiest I’d ever seen her.  His music had been a part of her life for decades already, and it has now been apart of my life for the decades since that concert.

Am I alone in my belief that music can play a vital role in our lives – and our memories?  Absolutely not.  Discover and Scientific magazines have written several articles on the subject.  Having read up a bit, I don’t feel so bad about being able to remember millions of things about several musical – every word sung by every character, every note of every instrument, every melody and harmony note for note and beat for beat – but only being able to remember enough history or mathematics to get only a satisfactory grade in school.

Music seems to naturally be present during milestones in our lives.  Weddings, graduations, funerals, newborn babies – each of these memories can be captured with photographs and sound and video recordings, but music is often the glue that allows memories to stick in our minds, without those external recording  and playback devices.  The science and art of music don’t require a common spoken or deep understanding of scales or harmonies.  Anyone can enjoy music… and remember it and associated life memories vividly.  Music is indeed powerful!


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