03 February 2014

The Challenge of Music

"Music is the soundtrack of our lives." ~Dick Clark

There are certain songs that when I hear them I am transported to a different time and place. These songs bring back memories of specific events or people that I have loved and lost. Hearing a specific song can transport me back to a different decade in a matter of seconds. The songs of your life define a summer or a particular rough spot. They move you and are a part of the fabric of your very being. Psychologists call this the 'reminiscence bump' when you relive your earlier years through the music you hear.

I might have trouble remembering my most recent user name and password combinations, but I have no trouble remembering a song I heard on the radio 25 years ago. I am always amazed at how quickly the words come back to me! Music becomes a part of who we are, it tells us where we have been and shows us how our sense of self is developed. Certain songs, specific pieces of music are associated with times, places and people in our lives. Music is such a powerful sensory experience that activates both long-term personal memory and deep emotions to which no other art form can compare. Songs in our memories become a sort of autobiographical mix tape of our lives. And every single one of us has a different playlist.

Music has been shown to deeply affect those that have suffered traumatic brain injuries, elderly dementia patients, and even the young to remember rote facts. One of my favorites was learning the planets from watching Blue's Clues with my son. I can still hum that song when I need to know the exact order!

I was particularly intrigued by the notion of music helping Alzheimer's patients. You see, my mother has early onset Alzheimer's at the age of 67. She is not who she was just a few short years ago. The sad fact is she never will be what she was. I know that music has always been something important to her. She sang in the chorus of musicals. I can hear her picking out harmonies of folk songs. She had a collection of Beatles albums that I used to play. And my parents were part of a committee that started a very successful music scholarship program at the UW-SP with an annual event called the Soiree Musicale celebrating music scholars while enjoying Big Band and Jazz standards. So maybe this is something that we can still share.

I had to know more about this connection of music and memory. In my own state there is a Wisconsin Music & Memory Initiative. I have since discovered that my state has funded 100 nursing homes for the certification for this program, the most comprehensive effort of all states. I wanted to know more. That lead me to the parent organization called MusicandMemory.org. They train elder care professionals in how to set up personalized playlists through iPods for those in their care. That is just such an elegantly simple idea! Often these playlists can bring a patient out of the fog and back to a toe-tapping connected existence, allowing for increased socialization, conversation and normalcy. This is something that I think I have to look more into for my personal situation.

Music And Memory has produced a documentary called Alive Inside that is an official selection of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. I very much want to see this film. Here is an excerpt showing one of the patients named Henry and his connection to music. Truly remarkable!

Before the music, Henry couldn't even answer a question, or look up into the eyes of his caregiver. After listening to his favorite Cab Calloway songs, he was alert, responsive and eloquent in his answers. But through the music he loves, his eyes are open, his heart is soaring and he is alive again. Such is the miraculous power of music!

The Challenge of Music

For this, the third annual Challenge of Music, I want to take walk down a musical memory lane with you. I want to relive the songs of my past, the ones that connect me to my history and that hold a special place in my heart. For this year's Challenge of Music, I want to focus on our own personal playlists.

1::Pick a year that is significant to your life story.

Some suggestions... the year you graduated from high school... the year you said, 'I do'... the year you took that trip abroad... the year your got your driver's license... the year you welcomed your child... Or perhaps the year that you lost a loved one... you got in a car accident... you got dumped... Or why not even the year you were born... or the year your parents got married.

I know you might not remember all of those events (the year your parents were married?), but they are significant to your personal history and each year has a specific soundtrack.

I argue that at each stop on your unique journey, there is a corresponding song to go along with it. The Challenge will be to pick just one significant year. And one corresponding song.

2::Find a song that was on the top charts for that significant year.

Here are some lists that will help guide you.

Billboard Number One Singles
Top 40 Charts

You will need to find some way to share a bit about that music, and hopefully a snippet of some sort, so that we can all enjoy it and be taken on a magical journey with you and be moved by the music, too. Embedding it into your blog post or even just posting a link to it on the web will be great. Because we all come from a different musical autobiography and often from different regions of the world, hearing the music that inspires your artistic expression is very important!

3:: Create!
Use your musical inspiration to create something. I invite you to create whatever you want inspired by the piece of music that you choose. My choice is usually jewelry, but why not painting or drawing or sculpting or writing poetry or any creative way to channel the music. Or why not combining your creative outlets?

4::Mark your calendar: Blog Hop on Saturday, March 1st.
I will be using the InLinkz system for the hop. Of course, the best time to add your blog link will on the opening day of the hop, but I will leave the InLinkz code open for one week. So there won't be complicated lists of blog hoppers, with people who might go MIA. I will find a way for you to add the code directly to your blog under the HTML tab so that these links can show up on your blog as well, if you choose. And of course, plan to spend a little time over that week hopping around to take a musical journey and see what it inspires. Be a good blog citizen and leave meaningful comments wherever you visit.

5::Sign up to play!
Hop over to the tab above that says 'take the challenge' and enter your information in the form. Please note that this is not holding you to anything. If you sign up and then life throws you a curve ball, go catch it and don't think you have to apologize. This sign up process simply allows me to have a record of those who are interested and help me to send out email communications about the Challenge. You can expect 2-3 emails over the course of the month just to keep you on track and I won't use your email for anything else.

Consider Getting Involved
Stay tuned for more information to come about the Music And Memory drive for donations of iPods and iTunes cards. I am planning to find a way to do a donation drive for this worthy and awesome program while we use music as our inspiration for this Challenge. I hope you might consider joining me.



Anonymous said...

Miss Erin, I love your challenges/blog hops, you put so much thought into making them different each year! I'm looking forward to this one a lot!!

Niky Sayers said...

A cause very close to my heart having worked in a care home for many years, and such a fantastic idea, I look forward to joining!

Maneki said...

What powers music and scents can have on our brain and memory. May we never forget or neglect those powers in the care of people with e.g. dementia or brain damage. As for scents, I recently read about a home for people with dementia where they started cooking and baking together with the residents as the scents, reminding them of old times, made them more active.

Whether we notice it or not, music is ever present in our life in one form or another. Documentaries like this really shows just how present they are and how much of ourselves are intertwined with it.

Some songs I forget and only remember -- and associate them with something special that happened in my life -- when hearing them again. It's only then you realised you've always remembered it. When reading about the challenge theme, one song popped into my head. One I hadn't thought about in years, though I did hear it once last year I think. Not the favourite song of my life, but one that was a recurring soundtrack at a time in my life when a new chapter was just starting to be written. I was meaning to say it's not very old, but then I began counting the years and realised that it's 14 years old by now...

Not sure if I'll go with that song or dig a little long, trying to go down memory lane a bit further. Back to the 80's? I love 80's music because it's the soundtrack of my childhood and the same goes for the old children's tv show themes. But I rarely associate them with a special event. Early 90's music means returning to the years when I discovered pop music in a different way, starting to buy music and follow the music programme on telly rather than just hearing what was on the radio at the moment. Hearing 90's music evoke a different kind of memories than hearing 80's music.

Silver Parrot said...

What a great idea, Erin! I know music made a tremendous impact on my dad after his stroke. One of the first things we did was put a CD player in his room at the nursing home and keep it stocked with CDs by his favorite artists. Although he had lost the ability to speak, he could still comprehend what was going on around him and he would raise the one arm he could still use and "conduct" along with the music. This let us know that our dad was still in there as he was famous for "conducting" all around the house our whole lives whenever music was on. Without verbal communication, this was one of the few ways he could still "connect" with us.

Anonymous said...

Erin, this is going to be such an exciting challenge! I've been around musicians all my life. That old Henry fellow who was always singing to his kids..........he and I are kin I am sure. Our day is not complete without songs and my kids are always amazed at the goofy things I can come up with. My only problem will be choosing a song! I'm IN for sure!

Lori Bowring Michaud said...

Erin, I am so very sorry to read this. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. It is not an easy road you are all now walking down. I understand, just a tiny bit, what you're going through - with both my grandmother and my husband's. Your mom is so young. What a wonderful way to connect and pay tribute. Peace.

Sarajo Wentling said...

I'm intrigued by trying to translate music into a design. I think the problem I'm having is that songs that take me back to a time and place in my life aren't necessarily from that time if that makes sense... and that those songs weren't necessarily popular.

How strict are the rules? If we explain how a song ties to our personal timeline can that still count?

Liz said...

Thanks for sharing this inspirational story about the power of music:)

PyxeeStyx said...

Oh, darn! I've missed the sign ups again. 3rd year in a row. I love music, and I've been wanting to do your hop since I first heard about it almost 3 years ago. My artwork is already deeply influenced by music. You always take it just a step further, and make it so intriguing. I'm forwarding this video to my mother in hopes that we can use this in some way to help my father in remembering his medications. I'll definitely be here for the hop next weekend.


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