Sound Memories

The music we listen to often provides signposts for the events of our lives. A song or other piece of music can be a sensory trigger catapulting us back to moments we think we’ve forgotten.

Marcel Proust believed, and demonstrated in his monumental novel, La Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past) that olfactory stimuli (primarily taste and smell) were indelible sources of recollection. The mere taste of a madeleine (type of French lemon cookie) dipped into a cup of hot mint tea resurrected with great intensity a moment from his childhood thirty years before. Our sensory experiences are often stronger than our intellectual ones in terms of their ability to remain dormant but powerful.

The same sensory principle applies, I think, to audio stimuli, particularly ones involving music and human voices. I have a cassette tape my sister Connie Lynn and I made in 1978 of our grandparents. The recording is ninety minutes of conversation with Grandma and Grandpa along with their verbally animated stories of times gone by. Whenever I play it, those voices from all those years ago transport me back to my childhood and youth, despite the deaths of both grandparents before 1995 and the death of my sister in 2011. The timbre of those voices in some chilling, powerful, but unexplainable way, makes me young again just for a moment.

The song, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” takes me back to the fourth grade in the rickety, old portable buildings of Harding School in the early 1950’s. Even just the tune to “Happy Birthday” summons scenes of my family gathered ‘round cakes with candles to be blown out while making wishes. “Silent Night” and other carols take me back to the Christmas seasons throughout my life and those cold winter nights when the songs had such profound meaning. The Beatles, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, The Doobie Brothers, Tony Bennett, The Supremes, Judy Collins, and The Temptations carry me back, as if in a time machine, to the dorms of my college days. Whenever I hear “The Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber, I experience again with perfect clarity the aftermath and television news coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963.

The ear recalls so much joy and sadness through music we’ve loved and the voices of those people who influenced us most, especially those from childhood. It’s possible for most of us to unearth strong memories tied to associations between music and vivid times in our lives that the music represents. Each of us can create his or her own list of music and voices from the past through sensory and emotional association. 

What pieces of music have the most power to take you back to another time in your life?   JB

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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