Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | November 9, 2012

Music as Trigger of Memories

    Theme from The Onedin Line/From the Ballet Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian

Note: I have tried for more than an hour to fix the formatting.  I stopped in order to preserve some of my hair. My apologies!

My parents listened to classical music when I was little.  With such a background, I easily found a job in a classical radio station when I was in graduate school. I did have a minor problem, which I never shared with the station, because although I knew hundreds of classical pieces, I had never learned the titles or composers. I found myself seeing a list of upcoming titles, which meant nothing to me, but being awash with memories when I heard them.  Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake all broke into hidden, locked rooms, transforming me into a four-year-old. At times, I was so moved that I had to leave the booth.  Once I knew how to find these sounds from my memories, I became obsessed with having the best orchestral copies I could find. I still have many that provide solace, calm acceptance, and quiet joy.  A few pieces, like the video at the top of the post, are tied to television shows or movies.

About a year ago, a friend of mine mentioned the theme music to The Onedin Line; much like my radio station experience, I couldn’t recognize it by title, but once I heard it, I was thrown back to the days of snuggling under a quilt in the overstuffed chair to watch the show. The music retains the power to give me goosebumps and bring tears to my eyes.

When I was young, we only had one television.  While my parents ceded control on Saturday mornings, overcome by four children, my father was the sole arbiter of what we watched in the evenings. Therefore, I grew up watching the evening news and a handful of shows that met my father’s rather high standards, one of which was The Onedin Line.  A BBC production, shown on PBS in the Atlanta area, the show follows the rise of a shipping line and the founding family from 1860 to the mid-1880’s.

Television has often ruined some favorite songs for me by using excerpts, or worse, new words to the original music, to hawk everything imaginable. So far, my favorite older themes have escaped, perhaps since they are based on, or use, classical music. 

Marcel Proust wrote that the scent of a madeleine brought memories, but I  have the strongest memories with music.  Have you found music that you had forgotten, entwined in your memory?

Have you had a favorite song or television theme used for the dark side, forever tarnishing your enjoyment of it?

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Responses

  1. Memory for me is a tricky B@#*! Some memories are connected to music but others have visual or tactile triggers. Other memories are hidden in a fog of half remembered. I’m glad you found music that sings to your soul and blossoms memories.

    • LOL, Lynette. I can relate to the half-remembered fog. I have a handful of tactile or visual memories, but the proponderance are musical. I’m sure it explains something about my brain, although I’m afraid what that might be! Thanks for coming by.

  2. If I’ve loved a movie, I find I can listen to the soundtrack and remember some of the scenes that I liked. My favorites are the tracks for Princess Bride and Notting Hill.

    • Karla, I fo the same thing for movies. I own a lot of soundtracks, and depending on my mood, will play them, sometimes incessantly (according to my family). Thanks for coming by!

  3. Music is definitely a trigger for me. I have some songs I listened to as a teenager that still remind me of specific times and places, both good and bad. I definitely create “soundtracks” for what I’m writing.

    • Your experience sounds so much like mine, Marcy. I haven’t created “soundtracks,” but that sounds like a very good way for me to access my characters and theme. Thank you for commenting!

  4. I’ve definitely found that music is major conduit to memory. Listening to my iPod is basically a walk down memory lane, one that is sometimes bittersweet, especially when songs remind me of people who are no longer in my life. Like Marcy, I’m big on soundtracks for writing–always good for inspiration!


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