Music and Memory
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
1 Corinthians 15:2
By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
Like most people I have a connection to music. I am not gifted in music but it punctuates my life in many ways. I hear a song and it evokes deep memories and associations of times past, whether it be Bach, the band Chicago, or country. In “Old Songs” recorded in 1981 by Barry Manilow the lyric says: And maybe the old songs Will bring back the old times…
Like a movie, there’s a soundtrack to our lives, underscoring everything, helping us to remember.
But what is the essence of music? What lies beyond the components of melody, harmony and rhythm? What is it about the memory of a song that evokes such deep felt emotions in us?
Neuroscience can help explain the mechanical process that listening to music engages like broad neural networks in the brain, including brain regions responsible for motor actions, emotions, and creativity yet it cannot explain what lies at the heart of our affinity for music. Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous quip: “I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.” gives us a hint.
Music is a gift from God and one of the most influential art forms on earth. Over 1150 verses in the Bible reference the recitation of words related to music: These include: vocal praise, instrumental praise, merriment and bereavement, trumpets, exaltation and many others. The Bible contains over four hundred references to singing and fifty direct commands to sing. In the New Testament we’re commanded not once, but twice, to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another when we meet (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19). The longest book in the bible is the song book Psalms followed by the Song of Solomon and others. The church is commanded to communicate with each other “with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).
Jesus sang in Matthew 26:30, And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Music in the bible is always positive, expressing love, joy, celebration, victory, thanksgiving, awe, praise, worship and honor.
Music is more than sound making its way out of a speaker and into our hearts. Music cultivates the happiness and wholeness of our human soul helping us celebrate our greatest joys and console us in our deepest sorrows. These memories become indelibly linked to times and events as we move through life.
Music is a spotlight illuminating what is hard, sad, surreal, amazing and average in our ongoing story. When a song triggers a memory, I’m reminded of who and where I was. I am reminded that the God of mercy and grace sustained me then and continues in the present. God’s love has always been there to providentially help me and guide me forward. God’s love is a love easily heard with the help of music.