Recently I heard a folk singer being interviewed on the radio.
"I sing the songs so that they may have the memories."
Songs do inspire memories.
When I hear the Christmas carol "O, Come All Ye Faithful," in my mind and even though I have heard the tune every single Christmas season, I am transported back to my earliest elementary school in southern Illinois where I attended kindergarten through second grade. You see, this was the carol that all children sang while they entered the annual Christmas program. When I have the memories I am back in a gym full of resounding children's voices singing with great enthusiasm.
While in college I watched as as friend raced out of a concert crying. I followed her to the restroom and, in comforting her, I learned that the song being performed was "their" song - hers and her ex-boyfriend's. Hearing it again...alone...caused her to have the memories which had become painful. Hence the tears.
Fast forward a few years to when I would take students to sing at the local nursing home. Our selection of songs was chosen purposefully so as to touch on the memories of those who would be listening. As a result, my 12-year-old sixth grade girls chorus was learning songs that had been popular nearly 60-70 years prior just so the audience members would have the memories. I recall great satisfaction as I watched the audience sing along with my young singers; their participation encouraged my singers and created a memory for them.
A favorite experience is when I took a choral group to the nursing home to go Christmas caroling. We sang in the main recreation room then walked down the hallways singing to those still in their rooms.
Upon encountering a blocked hallway the nurse accompanying us pushed a buzzer and the doors clicked and swung open. We were entering the ward for Alzheimer patients. I had tried to prepare my young singers for this part of the visit - that even though they might be singing those in the audience may not appear to be listening and, that despite this, they should sing out with great enthusiasm for these patients would enjoy the music in their own way.
My students stood, lined up in a straight line, singing with great joy. I watched and saw them looking at these patients who were not responding to their music in any way and admired them for singing with a lot of energy anyway.
After a few songs one patient began to sing along with the students. My students acknowledged this to each other and to me through smiles and continued singing.
I noticed the nurses and attendants whispering among themselves and saw a few wipe their eyes. Soon I heard the locked doors click and swing open and a person, I shall assume was a doctor due to the white lab coat, entered, scanned the room, and attentively watch the patient who was singing along.
My students finished their songs and were wandering the room greeting patients as we often did, smiling, patting hands, and occasionally hugging their audience members.
I spoke to a nurse and asked what had been going on while my students were singing. She informed me that the one patient who was singing along with such gusto had not spoken a word or responded to anyone during his stay at the nursing home. They were thrilled to have finally found something - music - that reached him.
For you see, the music allowed him to have the memories that connected him with reality.
So my friends, as you sing or listen to your music, be attentive.
Does that piece of music cause you to have the memories of another time or place?
I imagine sometimes you will find that it does.
And, I also imagine it always will.