Monday, October 4, 2010

The Power of Music

As some of you may know, before I started my career in advertising, my dream job was to be a flautist with the National Ballet of Canada. I had always dreamed of being a ballerina as a little girl. I took ballet for several years and as a child I idolized Karen Kain and Frank Augustine. But honestly... I wasn't that good a dancer! So when I started playing the flute and then went on to study flute at university, I thought what better way to fulfill my childhood dream than to play my favourite instrument in my favourite setting. Of course, this dream was cut short by a car accident after my first year of university. I continued to study flute for second year, but then my neck and shoulder just couldn't sustain me for the number of hours of practicing that were required to really perfect my craft.

I continued my music degree, but instead of focussing on performance, I switched my major to music history. I went on to do my coursework for my master's degree in Musicology at McGill. After 2 years of coursework, I moved back to Ontario to work and to complete my thesis. I got my first job in advertising and sadly, my thesis remains unfinished to this day!

I guess the reason for me explaining this background is so you understand that I know a lot about music. I know the history of music. I know the technical aspects of music composition. I know all 9 Beethoven symphonies. I can tell you that in the movie Die Hard, Beethoven's 9th symphony is used to increase tension and make the viewer more agitated at certain points of the movie. But what I can't explain to you is why music has such a powerful emotional effect on people. I Googled this when I was thinking about writing this post. Here's what I found:

"As for music's emotional impact, there is some indication that music can affect levels of various hormones, including cortisol (involved in arousal and stress), testosterone (aggression and arousal) and oxytocin (nurturing behavior) as well as trigger release of the natural opiates known as endorphins." (This is extracted from an article by Michael D. Lemonick for Time Magazine).

I'm sure everyone would agree that there are certain songs that evoke strong emotional reactions. Music also has the ability to transport you to another time and place. Music has the power to bring memories flooding back to you so you are re-living incidents of years ago. I'm going to give you a few examples of songs that do this for me! Maybe you'll chuckle when you read some of these. Maybe you'll have memories of your own that get stirred up by some of the same songs! Or maybe it'll get you thinking of some special pieces of music you have in your own life!

Here's a good one! I clearly remember walking with my best friend Kristen to our first high school dance in Grade 9. We had a single can of tonic water which was 1/2 tonic and 1/2 gin. We shared this cocktail on our way to the school. We also had 1 Sony Walkman that we shared. Kristen had one headphone, I had the other. On the cassette tape side A was the Psychedelic Furs "The Ghost in You" album. On side B was an album by Ultravox. Whenever I hear this song, I am reminded of that walk and how much fun we had that night and how excited we both were to be going to our very first dance!

Fast forward a year or so... I had a boyfriend in high school named Mark Champagne. He sang in a band and looked like Jack Wagner from General Hospital!! He was dreamy! One night Kristen and I snuck out of the house to meet up with Mark and his less dreamy brother (sorry Kristen!!). We walked down to the canal and sat on a bench talking till the wee hours of the morning. At one point that night, Mark the dream boat, started singing this song to me. I'm reminded of that night every time I hear it!!!

And finally, whenever I hear anything by Erika Badu, I'm reminded of my second date with my Ronnio. He picked me up at work one night and we drove to Toronto for an amazing dinner. I brought my Erika Badu CD to listen to in the car. I think he thought I was trying to seduce him. I think he may have been right!!!! 2 years later, we were engaged. 8 months after that, we were married! Guess the EB worked!

So, today I'm having a hard time shaking a couple of songs. Both are stuck in my brain and are reminding me of my fabulous Vegas getaway. They're songs we heard in the clubs and danced to until dawn. They're reminding me of the amazing group of women I bonded with over those 4 days. And they're making me realize that just because I'm turning 40 doesn't mean that I don't still have the ability to have fun and let loose sometimes! After all, as my friend Kristen says, 40 is the new 20!!!! Enjoy these 2!

So, I'm curious to know about what songs spark memories for you. Surely there are some good stories out there. Don't be afraid to share them here!


  1. Okay Karmeee, you asked for it. This one will remind you of every high school dance you ever went to.

    Or this one for all those Wellanders out there, anyone up for a night at the "Rose Villa"??

  2. OMG Karma, Psychedelic Furs brings back so many Grade 9 memories for me too! Different ones of course: like the Breakfast Club and wearing braces, and my friend Robin. I think my entire high school existence can be summed-up by Depeche Mode, The Cure, Alphaville, OMD...and I had a bad 80's haircut to prove it! Whenever I hear these songs I am a teenager again.

    When I lived in England it was Everything But the Girl and Talk Talk: when I hear those now I feel nostalgic but happy those times are behind me.

    In College and University it was The Pixies and Nirvana. As soon as I hear those I am immediately back with my group of friends in my journalism class....amazing how powerfully music makes us associate our past with our present. It's part of what makes us identify with important parts of our lives.

    When Gabriella was born, Norah Jones was playing on our CD player in the hospital, and I ALWAYS think of her as a baby in my arms when I hear Norah.

    When Roan was a baby I listened to a lot of Enya to soothe him, and now of course that's his "baby music" in my mind. I have already put it in his baby book.

    You are so right about what music does to us: it associates emotions with actions because it makes us feel happy or sad, serious or contemplative, or like dancing and being crazy! The most important thing it does for me is that it adds a layer of meaning to the things we do. Imagine a dinner party with no music, or a backyard BBQ without it. It's just not the same. I always think that listening to music is like reading a book - without actually reading a book. It does the same: it takes me to places in my imagination I wouldn't go without its third dimension.

    At Christmas, when I sit at our piano and take out my favourite carols, all the holidays before are relived in my mind... and I feel like I've turned into my mom! How many Christamases did she sit there playing every song for us, and we'd yell out our request list " Winter Wonderland!"

    Imagine a 7 hour drive without music... That would be downright awful. In fact, I'd cancel my trip.

    Loving your blog,

  3. Oh Michou... thanks for your comments. Brought back some good memories for me as well.