FEATURE: Waxing Lyrical: Music as a Way of Keeping the Past Alive



Waxing Lyrical


IMAGE CREDIT: Dan Bingham 

Music as a Way of Keeping the Past Alive


THE headline and title of this feature…

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may sound like a pure nostalgia-fest – and I realise I have talked about my childhood and musical education quite a bit. I have also explored memory, dementia and how music can keep memories safe. I am not sure whether it is a general ageing or whether I am getting more fearful about the inevitable results of time passing. I am always fascinated by music’s power to take us back; to mark a point in time and provide these clear visions. I think modern music is soundtracking good memories for us all and we will look back in years from now and recall how various songs and artists defined a certain moment. It may be a personal thing, but I am finding myself forget things. I know for a fact that, fairly recently, I had memories of a school and times with friends. Now, those memories are either gone or very hazy. I guess we all go through, and there is not a lot we can do to avoid the march of time. One of my greatest fears is losing everything from my childhood – or at least to the age of eighteen. To get to a day when you only have memories of adulthood is a very daunting thing. Of course, you can remember the people who were there and, somehow, gain some form of recollection. My parents have photos of me when I was young; there are images of me and friends and, somewhere, there is the odd tape – I recall a particular birthday was filmed and I am not even sure whether that has survived.

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Things that were once colourful and alive are sepia-toned or faded. I think my happiest days are when I was a child and, whist that might suggest a desire to stay there, I think it is important to keep the past alive to an extent. Where we came from and how we started life informs where we are today. Today, if you are a child, you can preserve a lot of memories because we have Smartphones; we can log our thoughts on social memory but, years ago, they were not options. Not only is it important to preserve the past to see how we have come; being able to recall friendships and pivotal times can influence us in the present time. For those with good memories or a lot of home videos, it might not be that hard revisiting those young years and keeping the past intact. For those with a different reality, music is an absolute godsend. I have discussed this before, but all of us have attachments to various songs because they scored something important. For me, I can name a particular song and it will bring back a certain memory. Maybe it will be a family holiday, but that will open up more recollections and memories. A lot of my school years are a bit murky, and yet I can remember faces, sounds and conversations because of a single song.

For instance, I listen to Informer by Snow and can revisit gym and P.E. lessons at high-school; I opened my G.C.S.E. results to Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5. (A Little Bit of…). From there, I can remember the days before opening my results and the feelings I experienced. I admit that these particular songs are not terrific, but they stuck in my head and, when I hear them now, it is like a home video or min-film. That may sound silly, although it isn’t for me. I think we can all find strength and clarity if we see how far we have come and how we started out. The idea of there being this blank canvas and only being able to hold on to memories from a few years back is unsettling. Whilst many of us have lost photo, friends and those direct ties to the past, the fact we can play these sense and mind-opening songs and be transported back is wonderful. More and more, I am listening to some old favourites because I can evoke fond remembrance and keep something very special close to me. I know there will be a day when these songs will only dimly light memories and they will not have the same potency. Think about your own lives and I know you will have your own mixtape and soundtrack that you could compile that scores various years and occasions.

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Every year, new studies are being carried out to truly understand music’s power when it comes to memory. From those with degenerative illnesses or memory impairments, through to those who have suffered trauma…we know music is a wonderful aid. Even if people come and go from our lives, those songs that we fell in love with and hold dear will always be there. This BBC article explains how music helps us unlock memories:

The hippocampus and the frontal cortex are two large areas in the brain associated with memory and they take in a great deal of information every minute. Retrieving it is not always easy. It doesn’t simply come when you ask it to. Music helps because it provides a rhythm and rhyme and sometimes alliteration which helps to unlock that information with cues. It is the structure of the song that helps us to remember it, as well as the melody and the images the words provoke”.

I can look at old vinyl records at my family’s home and they will take me back to childhood; where those records first came into my life. If it were not for music, I do not think I would remember as much and be able to retain so much from my past. Being able to reflect and draw from the past can be useful when we face problems today. I can think about music I was listening to as a child and it will bring to mind times when I was struggling or less happy. Although life is more complex in adulthood, I can remember how I dealt with those black moments and the fact I got through it okay. Similarly, I can remember a lot of the happy times and get comfort from that – I can give my brain little bursts when I am feeling low or confused today. Every one of has special attachments and, when we want to feel aligned and involved with our past – for various reasons -, music provides answers, fond memories and lessons. For me and so many others, that is…

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SUCH an important thing.