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The Power of Music and Memory: My Case for Monthly Playlists

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CUA chapter.

A couple weeks ago, I was getting ready to start the day with my roommate, and we were trying to decide what to put on the speaker. Music is a crucial part of our conjoined morning routine, but we just couldn’t figure out what to play. As we were sitting there thinking, she said, “Sometimes, I like to go back and listen to my playlists from a year ago just to see what I was listening to then and how it’s changed.” I was taken aback for a moment because I hadn’t thought to do this, despite the fact that I organize my music by month for that exact reason. Naturally, the next course of action was to listen to my “october 2022” playlist on my walk to class. In doing so, I was flooded with so much nostalgia that I literally had to sit down on a bench and just take a minute. In a matter of seconds, I was a freshman walking through campus again, self conscious and worried if my outfit was too “try hard” or wondering if I would find an open table in the dining hall. 

That moment made me remember why, aside from a natural inclination towards organization, I chose to organize my music in the way that I do. I can go all the way back to fall of my sophomore year of high school or even just last month by simply playing a playlist, bringing with it every emotion I was feeling during those times in full force. The effect that music has on our mind is so incredible, and not just by way of memorization or recognition. When I listened to “Don’t Take The Money” by Bleachers or “Private Presley” by Peach Pit, who I had seen for the first time at a music festival in October, I remembered how it felt to go to my first concert alone and the independence and freedom that accompanied those songs. When I heard “All My Love” by Noah Kahan, I remember writing the lyrics in class over and over because I didn’t know how to take good notes but I was too scared to look as though I wasn’t paying attention.The fact that these specific songs are totally individual, yet because of emotional connections, are capable of triggering such a unique response is so remarkable. 

While I had heard about “music therapy” as a practice before, I didn’t realize the full extent of the success attributed to it nor the sheer capacity music had. I found that music has been used, extremely successfully, in practice as a sort of therapy for older citizens with memory issues such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Dr. Anne Fabiny, editor in chief of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, explains in an article that the film Alive Inside, which details the first major public breakthrough with music therapy, is a striking window into the power of music. “Some people, who had seemed unable to speak, proceed to sing and dance to the music, and others are able to recount when and where they had listened to that music,” commented Dr. Fabiny. She also pointed to the fact that “The music seems to open doors to the residents’ memory vaults.” Not only does music have the power to connect us with our past selves on a simple, nostalgic level, but it is actually powerful enough to break the much more constricting chains of severe memory illness. 

Fabiny writes that “There is a growing body of evidence to explain why people in the movie come back to life and begin to feel like their former selves when they listen to their playlists.” While the cases of these residents are obviously very extreme examples of the power of music, we can all experience a slice of that feeling, just as I did on my walk to class. So whether you make your monthly playlists to give yourself an option to return to your former self or just simply for organization, I hope you enjoy the walk down memory lane regardless!

Hey! I'm Sharon Sabini, but I also go by Cherie. I'm a sophmore English major with a minor in Italian Studies and Peace and Justice Studies at the Catholic University of America. I adore reading, listening to music, doing nothing with my friends, and going for walks outside:) I am extremely passionate about self-expression and discovery through writing!