Music and Memory: The Soundtrack of Our Lives

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Do you remember what you we wearing when you had your first kiss? Do you remember what the other person said to you as they pushed back your hair, what color their eyes were, what day of the week it was? Most likely, no. But if music was playing, you would probably remember the song. Music and memory are strongly linked emotionally. When we hear a song, even years after the fact, something is triggered in our brain and gives us an instant replay. We often identify with music because it always seems to be in the background, playing during essential milestones in our lives. You don't even have to think about it; the second you hear a song, your brain automatically registers that song with good or bad "vibes". Such is the incredible power of music.







Music is universal; it encompasses the entire realm of humankind. Our autobiographical associations with certain songs, however, make music a personal experience. Everyone likes a catchy chorus and a beat they can dance to, but to feel on a higher emotional plane, we must have some sort of attachment to the song. The pre-frontal cortex in the brain, which lies directly behind the forehead, is responsible for the connection between music and memory. Music that is farmilliar to your memory triggers a "mental movie" in your mind, according to a study conducted by neuroscience professors at UC Davis. Songs directly correlated to memory led to the most emotional responses among study subjects. When they heard a song that had some signifigance to their lives, the cortex showed immediate signs of activity as it tried to recall the memory behind the song.




The pre-frontal cortex is often one of the last parts of the brain to be affected by dementia. This is why many Alzheimer's patients can still remember songs from their pasts. This incredible phenomenon really proves the force of music; even when people have seemingly lost their identity, they still find solace in the music they enjoyed before. Many nursing homes use music therapy to slow the effects of dementia. The musical memories are almost immune to the crippling effects of the disease.




The sound of my fathers voice, singing sweetly to James Taylor on the radio. It's summertime, and we're piled into the hot car, seatbelts stretched tight across our white bellies, leaving red welts. We're making the familiar trip to Emerald Isle, the home of my grandparents. It's been the same ten hour trip for the past fifeteen years.




"Warm summer night, on the copperline,

Slip away past suppertime

Warm smoke and moonshine

Down on copperline."




The song itself is beautiful, and it was written as an ode to my favorite place in the world, North Carolina. To others, it is a pretty tune, but to me, it is my childhood. I can feel this childhood, this innocence, slipping away. Next year, my brother will be in college. Everyone gets older, everything changes, and I want to just capture everything and pin it down. But I can't prevent age, or the merciless passage of time. I can't keep my dad in this car forever, singing his songs as I drift to sleep in the backseat. But I can listen to this music ten years from now and feel the same. And that is the beauty of music and memory.





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