Have you ever noticed how a familiar tune can spark an instant memory of something that occurred decades ago? Scientists claim that our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory.
Several years ago a researcher at the University of California, Davis, mapped the brain activity of a group of subjects while they listened to music. He found that the region of the brain where memories of our past are supported and retrieved also serves as a hub that links familiar music, memories and emotion.
While I didn’t understand the how and why, I have long been convinced that there is a connection between music and memory.
As the oldest brother I laid on the floor next to my mother’s rocking chair while she rocked and sang lullabies to my little brothers. Mom’s repertoire included hymns and gospel songs. Sixty-five years later when I hear “On the Jericho Road” I instantly think of my mother and brothers in a 1953 setting. The mood is one of warmth and security.
My family moved from a farm into a nearby small town and for several months we lived in a downtown second-story apartment. The family’s RCA console radio was in the living room and I was allowed to tune in stations and listen all by myself.
One of the big radio hits at that time was Patti Page’s “Doggie in the Window.” Today when I hear that recording I am instantly taken back to that apartment, the views from the living room windows and even the aroma of the long hallway outside the apartment.
Several years before I was born Jimmy Davis recorded “You are My Sunshine.” Though my father was not a big fan of popular music, he loved this song and sang it frequently when I was a kid, often in Low German. A few years after Dad passed away, I was watching a television program on which Jimmy Davis, a past governor of Louisiana, was a guest. When Gov. Davis began singing his big hit the music went from my ears to my memory bank and then to my heart and within seconds tears were flowing. The simple tune generated a flood of precious memories.
My family did not get a television until early 1957. However, when Elvis Presley made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show I was 8-years-old and we were visiting an uncle and aunt who did have a TV. While my father and my uncle expressed disgust for Elvis’ performances I was secretly thinking the guy was cool!
So it was that my slide into the “decadence” of rock and roll music began before I was a teenager. The popular songs of the late ’50s to the mid ’60s bring back floods of memories of school days, cars, parties, dances and dates.
Life moves on and the time I spend listening to music on the radio has diminished. Different music genres bring back memories now.
As my father grew older he developed a special affection for “Amazing Grace.” Dad has been gone for more than 25 years but just the first few measures of that classic hymn fill my heart. Early on after Dad passed hearing “Amazing Grace” on the car radio forced me to get off the road to regain my composure. Now the song generates warm feelings and often a lump in my throat.
More than a decade ago I met Father Jim Kiernan, a retired Catholic priest, who became a dear friend. In the months after my first wife died, Father Jim cared for me like one of his own parishioners. In our many visits I learned that his favorite hymn was “Be Thou My Vision.” Father Jim passed away unexpectedly less than two years ago. When I heard “Be Thou My Vision” on television recently I thought of this witty and kind Irishman and how much I miss him.
Many couples have a special song. Julie’s and mine is the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” After losing our mates and going through times of profound sorrow, God brought the two of us together and restored joy in our lives. The strains of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” evoke tender memories and remind me of God’s love and care.
I love it when a beloved song sparks a precious memory.