Thursday, January 20, 2011

Music for the Soul

(Photo - A well-known Spiral staircase in Paris, France.  By D.G. Hudson)

On author Nathan Bransford’s blog, (Wed. Jan. 19/11), the question of the day was “What is your favourite song of all time?” Most of the readers had difficulty naming just one, perhaps because we attach significance to different songs at different times in our lives. A song is generally accepted as music with lyrics, intended to be vocalized.

Is it the lyrics, the music itself or the mental association which imprints certain songs upon our memories? Each of us has an appreciation for certain types of music, something which is very subjective and unique. Music can bring comfort, it can set the mood of a visual experience, or it can remind us of times past. Live performances reveal some of the power of music, as we are hit by a wall of sound at the rock venues or we watch the intricate playing of the saxophonist at the intimate club.

The theme music that accompanies a great movie, or a live play can imprint our memory much more strongly. Certain musicals used this method to introduce new songs, and set up a ready audience for the subsequent distribution of the same music in a packaged form (published music sheets, early recordings). Laura’s Theme in Dr. Zhivago, or the whistling tune (aka the Colonel Bogey March) from  Bridge Over the River Kwai illustrate how the song can live outside its original purpose.

Driving songs, based on my research, must be played uber-loud so as to get the adrenaline rolling in the listener’s veins. It goes along with the roaring engines, and the smell of exhaust. The male gender seem especially attracted to these types of songs, in many cases linking them to memories of a previously owned vehicle. Think Radar Love by Golden Earring, or Midnight Rider by the Allman Brothers Band, or Autobahn by Kwaftwerk. Remember: using the music as an excuse to speed, or to keep up with the beat is not generally accepted by law, and won’t get you an exemption from receiving a fine or traffic ticket.

Give it some thought. Those favourite songs are usually connected to some favourite time in your past or a major life event. You may have met the band members backstage, or the lyrics meshed with your view of life. Just as photographs remind us of the event in a visual sense, songs bring back memories in an auditory sense.

The next music event where I’ll have a chance to forge some more memories will be at a local club listening to live jazz. Just music. Not songs this time.


  1. I have 4,255 songs on my iPod across a very wide, highly eclectic range of genres. I started with cassette tapes as a kid (New Kids on the Block, Disney's The Lion King soundtrack, etc.), eventually went to CD's as a teen (Ace of Base, Real McCoy, Jewel, etc.), and now my husband and I have merged our CD collections onto the iPod. New purchases are probably a good 99% made on iTunes. We still utilize radio to find new sounds we like enough to buy, as well as drawing from the movies we see and hear and love.

    You hit several nails on their heads in this post. I do not have one favorite song of all time. I have songs I strongly associate with different times of my life. In fact, I recently thought about writing an autobiography consisting of a list of song titles going through my life.

    I have songs or groups of songs that I listen to at specific times: driving, playing with my toddler, reading, writing, exercising and so on. I even sit back and "imagine" to some songs or, when I was younger, I would creatively play with certain songs on. So now, when I hear certain songs, those stories or imaginary worlds come back to mind. Whenever I try to write some of these creations of the past down, I plug the ear buds into my ears and turn on that song or those songs just for the vivid memory jog.

    I usually do not listen to music while reading or writing, but it can help. There were books in middle and high school I had trouble making it through, but had to for book reports or projects. I would put on instrumental music. Now, when I hear those songs, the stories, settings and/or characters may just pop into my mind's eye.

    I have even studied for tests in high school and college listening to certain songs, so that if I kept the song humming in the back of my mind, it would help me remember the material while testing.

    If I need the sound to cancel out my husband and son playing in the next room, I may put on music while writing. I try to keep it without lyrics, because words are distracting, and I certainly don't want the line of a song ending up in the middle of something I'm writing. The one exception is that I can sometimes write devotionals with praise or contemporary Christian music, but I keep it turned down low.

    Music is, without a doubt from me, a powerful part of our universe.

    My next music event? At this point in my life, probably a Wiggles live-in-concert type experience or something at Walt Disney World.

  2. I'm a lyrics type of guy. Melody comes second.

  3. I remember that post of Nathan's. It made for an interesting conversation.

  4. Matt, I think that post of Nathan's sparked a few spin-offs on music.

    For bluesy, 'low country blues', check out Gregg Allman's latest, it's getting good reviews. T Bone Burnett did some of the arranging.


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