Does Music Really Have an Effect on Our Memories?

Does Music Really Have an Effect on Our Memories?

Anyone who has spent more than 30 minutes with me knows how much I love music. From the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, I have music playing as a sort-of soundtrack to my life. I write album reviews on my blog. I read peer-reviewed journal articles about the effect of country music on white suicide rates (or another good one: pop music’s affect on our memories) just for fun.

Music has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of music include listening to ’90s Celine Dion and Mariah Carey with my mom, as well as singing “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel with my dad on our way to his construction job sites.

As a kid and angsty teenager, I spent many long car rides listening to my iPod nano and staring longingly out the window of my family minivan, pretending I was in some sort of nostalgic music video. When I had a bad day in middle school, I’d come home and blast “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter or “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. At one point in my life, I strongly believed “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban was a worship song. (It’s not.)

The point is, I’ve always been intrigued by the way music influences our memories and shapes our experiences. I found some interesting information from my brief researching on JSTOR. Essentially, music is like time travel. A perfectly crafted playlist can whisk you back in time to a memory you may have buried in the depths of your mind. However, it isn’t quite the same as reading your old diary entries or seeing old photos of yourself. Music attached to memories allows you to feel “a renewed sense of how it was to be that person or self at that time,” said Bas Jansen in his journal article “Tape Cassettes and Former Selves: How Mix Tapes Mediate Memories.

I then decided to ask people what songs were most dear to their heart. And what memories accompanied those songs. Here’s what they told me. (I may or may not have integrated my own memories into the mix of anonymous voices.)

“Fall for You by Secondhand Serenade. When I was in high school, I dated this guy for a long time. He texted me to look out of my window and he serenaded that song to me. It was pretty romantic.”

“Jasmine by Jai Paul. I heard it in the weeks before I started college. It made me feel like I was coming into my own, prepared for the world ahead.”

“Homecoming by Kanye West. It sounds like such a silly thing for a Kanye song to be sentimental, but when I got into high school my big brother started driving me to and from school every day. He was a senior when I was a freshman. I was bullied and struggled with self harm, and the time I spent with him in the car was my safe place.”

“ILYSB by LANY. It’s the song [my boyfriend] played when we were just friends, and it became our song when we started dating. It honestly just takes me back to when we were falling in love.”

“Touching Heaven by Johnnyswim. It was my little sister’s first dance at her wedding, and I have never felt more love and joy than in that moment.”

“Best I Ever Had by Vertical Horizon. It was put on a mix CD by my high school boyfriend. He had the best taste in music and made the best CDs. I felt like he really meant that song… He broke up with me a few weeks after giving me the CD because his dad made him. Honestly, I was so heartbroken over it. So now when I hear that song, I think of simpler times. When relationships hinged on how good the mix tape was. And riding down the mountain on a date, watching the sunset and listening to that song, with no care in the world.”

“Unforgettable by Nat King Cole. It was my 17th birthday, and my boyfriend and I had just gotten back to my house after dinner. We wanted some privacy, so we slow danced on my porch as the sun set. It’s a great slow dance song.”

“The Night We Met by Lord Huron started playing in a little restaurant in Glacier Park while I was there with my family right after we’d finished a 13 mile hike. Now whenever I hear the song, I wish I was back in Montana with my family, experiencing the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen.”

“Are You In by Incubus. Driving along the cliffs of Highway 1 in California. Serenity.”

“My Wish by Rascal Flatts. It was the first time I had even gone to a summer camp. For a whole week, I was spending time with strangers from all over. I grew so much by being vulnerable. I had people who so genuinely cared about me and wanted me to grow. At the end of the week, this was the song that was blasted throughout the auditorium as we loaded cars and headed separate ways. Now when I hear this song, I think of endings. Although they come with sadness, it’s a period of realization.”

“Human by The Killers. It was 1 a.m., and my friends and I were driving back home from a concert. We were blasting this song in an effort to stay awake. Even though I was exhausted, it was so blissful. I can feel that same feeling every time I listen to this song.”

“Me and You by Kenny Chesney always makes me think of my dad because he sang that to me on the way to school as a child. Some of the best memories I’ve ever had.”

“If Ever I Would Leave You from Camelot. My dad used to belt it out, and it reminds me of when my parents were still married. I used to think he was singing about my mom, but I guess not.”

“Coldplay got me through my high school depression. The song Yellow and the meaning behind it is fortifying to me.”

“Back Pocket by Vulfpeck. This song means a lot to me because during the summer of 2017, I would be editing late at night and the photographers would be editing with me. And we would turn on this song and just danced a ton.”


I was so overjoyed by the responses I received that I decided to create a Spotify playlist dedicated to all these special memories. Check it out! Want me to add your song to the list? Just leave a comment below explaining a song that you have a deeply connected to a cherished memory.

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5 Things I Learned About Waiting That Are Probably Common Knowledge But I Feel Smart For Realizing Them

5 Things I Learned About Waiting That Are Probably Common Knowledge But I Feel Smart For Realizing Them

“All human wisdom is contained in these words: Wait and Hope!”

Alexandre Dumas, Le Comte de Monte Cristo

I’m an indecisive person. Which, in theory, makes waiting seem not all that bad. No decisions to make, right?

The worst part comes when I finally decide something.

That’s it.

Game over.

When I set my heart on something, I want it. And I want it right then.

Recently I’ve set my heart on too many plans, life paths, and fantasies that have yet to become realities, and I have been very humbled in the past few months.

I cognitively knew there would be stretches of my life in which I was forced to sit and wait. But I expected it in the form of waiting in line at the grocery store while a lady pulls out a bag of 274 coupons she cut out of the newspaper. Not waiting for months as I glide into the unknown of my future. Which is still unknown, by the way.

However, if we don’t recognize the expansiveness of the unknown, we cannot recognize the boundlessness of the opportunities before us. So here are five things I’ve had the privilege of learning in my time of waiting. 

The Beauty of Unpredictability

As much as my heart loves spontaneity, my mind yearns for structure. My fun, sporadic side always comes home at the end of the day, exhausted and ready to cuddle up next to the somewhat bland personality of my evening routine. It’s kind of cute actually. They sit and watch Jeopardy together and then are in bed by 10pm.

Not knowing what’s coming next has seriously threatened my boring side (she’s very offended), but it has also calmed my control freak mind and allowed her to understand that the beauty of life lies in its unpredictability.

The “Grand Narrative”

I like to think of my life as a story that is still being written each day upon waking. And though things haven’t gone exactly the way I want them, I know there is a grand narrative that will allow me to look back on my life with a series of ooohs and aaahs as I realize why I couldn’t have exactly what I wanted in the moment I wanted it. And I continue to see that all the previous experiences I’ve had–both good and bad–made me who I am today. I am so immensely thankful for every single person who has been in my life, even those who have deeply wounded me, because they have afforded me the opportunity to grow. To love deeper. To analyze more thoroughly. To pursue knowledge and wisdom more wholeheartedly.

The Things I Can Control

Pretty much all I can control right now is me, my thoughts, and my actions. Which I guess is true of most humans for the majority of their lives. But in my panic (and realization that my life was so often out of my control), I took my hair and stripped it of the rich, deep brown hues it once had. I not-so-patiently waited for graduation, as I had promised myself, and then I chopped it all off. And when people asked what caused this sudden external change, I tell them the truth. I just did it because it was one of the only things I could actually control in my life, and I wanted to remind myself of that. And though it sounds silly, finding control in the little things is actually a big thing.

The Work

Waiting is work. Lots of work.

And there is always something new to work on. Which is both exciting and exhausting. But while seemingly stuck in my waiting, I’ve learned that God is working way more than I am. He is working with me, “guiding me in his truth” (Psalm 25:5). He draws near to my heart, comforts me, and reassures me that “I need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).

For the longest time, I felt like a little child wrestling in the arms of my loving Father as He tried to hold me tight and show me His unending love. But after trying time and time again to force my way into a situation with a stubborn heart and mind, after being disappointed countless times, after feeling hopeless and lost, I finally just gave up. I stopped pushing away and kicking. I sat and cried and allowed God to hold me and love me. And I’m still learning to embrace and hold tight.

The Reason

The anxious nights filled with praying and crying will be worth it. I know without a doubt in my mind that I will look back and realize the beauty of this period of my life. My future self will not be able to exist without first experiencing these formative moments.