Music Geek #15: Music as Emotional Memory

In dealings with my friends and colleagues, I have noticed, as have many, many others, an undeniable commonality. Of course, this is not to say this does not apply to all people, but I’ll qualify my statement, as I haven’t really done further research on the matter.

It seems the large majority of people with which I have regular conversation are inclined to form connections to music as a method of reliving emotion. I suppose I sympathise with the notion: Music, I’d argue, is a much more powerful creation than simple words. It resonates (quite literally) through us in ways undeniable, whether they are cultural, personal, or innately human. I’m inclined to think it may be the latter, but this is another topic for another day.In long discussions with friends, it seems most of them invest time into the music they are interested in so as to fulfill an emotional bond. Certainly, I have emotional bonds with music myself, though I’m of the opinion that it’s not so forward as most others. I could be wrong about that, of course, and I don’t mean to slight the notion of emotional connection.

But I’ve strayed off track a bit. I’d like to describe how I see individuals forming emotional bonds with music, and I don’t imagine it’s an easy task.

I’ve read and heard much about people forming memories associated with smells, tastes, sounds, and the like — sensory perceptions, if you will. Of course, music can be regarded as an extension of sound, but I think there’s something more at work with emotional memory and music. How often is it that you hear someone speak of loving or hating a song because of whom it reminds them? It seems quite a common occurrence, though it may only mean that my circle of friends is more emotionally bound than others — I don’t think they are, though. Is forming connections with music something more profound than forming connections with a loud bang?

Take, for instance, the notion of a war veteran reacting to the sound of unseen fireworks in a state of readiness. The sound these fireworks create is not dissimilar to the sound of, say, mortar fire, a sound to which they’ve been trained to react in a specific manner. This, I’d say, is like most psychological training and essentially Pavlovian in nature (correct me if I’m wrong, though. I’d like to know.) I think this is markedly similar — though different in some very key aspects — to the forming of emotional connections to music.

Take, for instance, then, a man whose wife has died. The couple’s favorite song may have been “And Your Bird Can Sing” by, of course, The Beatles. Would it be so unusual for him to have formed an emotional tie to the song in association with the memory of happier times? I don’t imagine it’s a jump for most to imagine, and I think it’s something most people have experienced to one degree or another.

Rather than attempting to truly assess the nature of music as a form of emotional memory, I’ll merely leave it at this and continue to ponder the idea.

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