Music as a thread of Life

Hello on a cloud, humid, almost-summer morning,

I have been working in my office and it is almost noon, so I am going to be out an about doing other work for a bit. As I meander about my daily routine, seldom does it occur that there is not some music in the background. I mentioned that aspect of my existence in a recent blog, and perhaps what most amazes me about music is a combination of the lyrics and actual sounds, sound, sounds that succeed in creating an experience and emotional connection. Those connections can transport us back to the time of our life when the song was popular, and by extension open a cornucopia of memories, people, or places. I can see faces, hear the voices, and even re-create (to some degree) the feelings that I had at that time, or remember so clearly that it emotionally connects over the years. I am not sure if that is non-sense, but I hope so.

Some of those songs are periodic, corresponding to times in my life. As importantly, the moods of the song create some sense of parallelism to what occurred in my life. I remember a song by the Guess Who titles “Share the Land.” It might be my first remembrance of a sort of social justice, which a central component of who I am now. I am not sure how that resonated with me at that time. A second song (for which I had the 45) was Edwin Starr and was titled “War,” which might be ironic for a future 17 year old who would enlist in the Marine Corps. I remember sneaking out of house to Grandview Park to see the Five Man Electrical Band and listening to the song “Signs.” What do these songs have in common? They were against the status quo, and the only way this undersized, insecure little guy could find his voice. Indeed music become my voice, and, of course, the higher the volume, the more emphatic I became. The first two albums I purchased were Jethro Tull Aqualung (which was a biting assessment of the Roman Catholic Church) and Black Sabbath Paranoid, and of course Ozzy was fearless in pushing the envelope.

The other musicians influential as I went through high school were because of my older brother, an amazing trombonist, whose band made quite a name for themselves in the early 1970s. The first Chicago album (and particularly “Beginnings” and “Questions 67 and 68”) the album by Chase or BS&T and their music have me sitting on the basement steps of my parent’s house listening to the band practice, the drums and Dennis Brunssen’s bass rattling my mother’s cans out of the cupboard. Listening to my best friend singing “Let it Be” for homecoming or being exposed to the incredible music of Tommy Bolin, the profoundly talented hometown guitarist who would play with both the James Gang and Deep Purple, was central to my growing up. Music was central to my feeling positive in the years I grew up. It was one of the places I found both a sense of accomplishment and a place I could find words that made sense of my life. Growing up, my involvement in high school choir, an All-City Children’s Choir, an All-City Orchestra, church choirs, singing in both The Messiah or Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem were times I felt music did more to sustain me than most anything in my life. Learning to play the guitar during the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team and working with Campus Ministry Teams while a student at Dana were important because of the music as much as the development of the teams.

There are two specific times I felt transported back into even another century by the music I listened to. The first time was when I was in college and I sat in a cathedral in Lubeck Germany. I listened to an organist play the music of Dietrich Buxtehude, the Danish/German composer. I could have sat there for days. Some years later I was back in Germany, Leipzig to be exact. We were in the Thomas Kirche, where Bach is buried. My seminary group was treated to an incredible recital of sorts by the German organist Holm Vogel. He played excerpts from Bach’s Organ Concertos. It was stunning, not only because of the setting, the music, or the incredible instrument. Mr. Vogel was one of the most accomplished organists I have ever heard or witnessed, but that is only the beginning of the story. He was so accomplished he was commissioned by the East German Government to record these concertos. Yet, even that was not the most amazing thing about being able to hear Mr. Vogel, it was that he was blind from birth. They led him to the organ, helped him get situated, and away he went. It was perhaps the most incredible musical moment of my life. It seems that whenever I consider some part of my life, the music of that period is barely below the surface and sometimes it is front and center.

As noted, music often offered the words to the emotions, the struggles, the hopes, or the concerns that characterized my life at that point. Even now, yes, it is possible for me to hear a song and remember amazing things that seem incongruent or impossible to connect to that music, but songs like “Song for America” by Kansas, “Dreamweaver” by Gary Wright, or the album Night at the Opera by Queen remind me of a 1971 Chevelle and my times out of the service and two friendships that shaped much of my life at that time. They were brother and sister, and I am blessed by their presence in my life yet today. The early music of Heart will push me to remember the incredible love I felt for one, which I was so unprepared to feel or manage (if I can use that word). I love her to this day. Songs my KC and the Sunshine Band, Art Garfunkel’s solo album (and his song “I Believe”) were more consequential than I could have ever understood. In spite of my struggles to understand who I was as a 22 year old, what I know now is I grew more in that time than I also realized; in fact, I think I am still realizing the importance of that. As write this and reflect on that time in my life, I remember music being one of the things that gave me a sense of being grounded. That was so important because I was floundering in so many ways.

Sometimes it is through the writing and reflecting about the music that I am allowed to connect and rediscover what the music meant to me then, and even now. Often when I am working in my office, where I have three monitors on my desk, it is not uncommon for me to YouTube so many of those songs and listen again, feeling, and yes, reconnecting. Nostalgia is an interesting thing. I have studied the idea of nostalgia academically, but it is a much different thing when I consider it personally. One of the things I am guilty of, and it is not uncommon, is remembering things with a sort of rose-colored glasses, not to sound too cliché. It is easy to fool one’s self believing the ideas of it was a simpler time, a kinder time. Nostalgia is emotional and perhaps that is why it connects so seamlessly to music because music evokes emotion. And if music creates a thread, as I argue in a title, there is an intrinsic connection to what was. Ralph Harper, the person credited with developing existentialism noted that nostalgia has a rather dichotomous aspect, taking both the good and the bad, the positive experience when reconsidered allows for a sort of loveliness because of our enchantment with it (“Nostalgia: and Existential Exploration . . . “). Perhaps that is what music does for me. It returns to me to those times in my life when I wish something different might have happened. It allows me to ponder the possibility that never happened, but then again it provides a happier reminiscing. The fair question is it helpful or less than? I am not sure there is an easy answer. As I researched this idea of memory of nostalgia, it caught be off guard a bit that another term used consistently was melancholy. If you have read my blog for sometime, that is a word I have often used to describe more of my life and a sort of basic emotional element of who I am. It is something I wonder about from time to time.

What I realize more and more is there is a certain introspective propensity I possess. It is consistent with my wondering the why of things. It is, for me, the practical side of reality. It is also how I allow the identity that is constantly evolving to find the real person I was, I am, or perhaps the person I still aspire to be. Aspiration . . . what is it I aspire to be? Have I made it? How might I know? I think what I aspire to be is a difference maker in other people’s lives; not always in some profound earth-shattering, life-altering manner, but rather in a way that makes their life better. And to return to where the blog began, that is what music does for me that is perhaps so important. It connects me to the past, but it inspires me to move forward, holding on the important memories that are significant to my life, but also containing the thread that is still developing a new fabric, a new garment. The video below is another song that connects be to the time that where was profound change in our world, but one that connects us to what is currently occurring in Ukraine and because of the Russian invasion. It is a reminder that the world in which we live is dependent on each other. I hope music can create a new wind of change for all. The initial picture is also an important memory for me. It is three years ago I had the opportunity to visit Moscow and Ana, my Russian adopted daughter of sorts. It was an incredible experience and ironically connects to the video below. Again, the threads are apparent.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

20 thoughts on “Music as a thread of Life

  1. hello Dr.Martin,
    I found this piece very relatable, and it made me think about how often I associate a person, memory, or object with certain songs. For instance, anytime I hear ‘carry on my wayward son’ I think of the tv series supernatural. This makes me think of the people who have Synesthesia, which is a condition that allows these people to hear colors. Every song or word is a different color to them. I find this fascinating as the human mind can do so many strange things.

  2. HI Dr. Martin!
    I found this blog post to be highly relatable. I definitely agree that hearing a song from the past can take you back to that point in your life. When I hear a song from the past, most of the time I can envision exactly what was going on in my life at that point and time and how my emotions felt as well. The audience of this post would be people who also appreciate how music can impact their feelings. The purpose of this piece would be to open the eyes of individuals that music is more than just a certain rhythm and lyrics. It can be a way to express feelings, thoughts, and emotions.

  3. This blog entry was quite relevant to me. I believe that hearing a music from the past might transport you to a different time in your life. When I hear a music from the past, I can usually see precisely what was going on in my life at the time, as well as how my emotions felt. This post’s target audience is persons who are interested in how music affects their emotions. The goal of this composition is to show people that music is more than simply a beat and some lyrics. It is a means of expressing one’s sentiments, ideas, and emotions. For instance, if I need to clear my head I would listen to a simple song “Cradles” by Sub Urban. This is almost something that can truly make me stop whatever I am doing whether in gleaming joy or pissed off anger I will just freeze there and hardly move or think. It is a song that truly rocks me to me core.

  4. It just goes to show the power behind music and the importance of our emotions. Remembering past experiences is a special kind of empowerment, but it takes strength to look back on the past. Strength to look back, strength to move forward, and you are always rewarded for both. Music can help us cope with those melancholic feelings when we look back on our past, and invoking these emotions purposefully to deal and address them can in turn give us more strength to move on.

  5. Music is just something that transcends time and emotions. I know that when I listen to a song, it often takes me back to a memorable time I listened to it, or more likely the first time. Just yesterday I was listening to my music and “Dance the Night Away” by Cream came on, and it took me back to a time when I was at my sisters’ cheer practice and was first diving into “Disraeli Gears”. This phenomenon also reminds me of the song “Springsteen” by Eric Church where he talks about how it’s “funny how a melody sounds like a memory,” and that listening to several different Bruce Springsteen songs remind him of a time he was 17 and with a certain girl. Music can really take us places, new and old.

  6. Music has entwined itself into my life. My first memories of its effects are when I was in elementary school listening to my phonograph, ok I’m not that old, my portable record player. I listened for hours to Peter Pan, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and the Sound of Music. There were others but I loved the stories and songs engaging my imagination. This is where I learned to sing. There was a brief period of piano lessons, but I found my talents lay with the vocal end of music rather than the instrumental side. As I grew older, I joined the Children’s Christmas Choir at church and in high school was a member of the chorus. I even audition for the Seasonal Singers and made the cut and was recorded singing in the city courthouse for a radio program. To this day I still love singing Christmas carols from October to January but now I do it with my daughter.
    Music and how it is appreciated varies from person to person. I made this discovery when I met my husband who does not sing but loves to listen to musical tones with as much clarity as possible. He adjusts treble and bass adds preamplifiers, amplifiers, equalizers, and other components to produce the clearest unmuffled sound possible. While I listen to the words of the song the instruments present but in the background, he does the opposite. Not that I do not appreciate the instruments or clarity of the sound, but my viewpoint is from a singer’s perspective while my husband’s viewpoint is from the producer’s perspective.
    My son makes original guitar recordings and posts them on You Tube. I asked him what he is thinking about when creating his music and he said that to him when he is creating a song “it is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together”. I thought this was very interesting how we, myself my husband and my son all appreciate music but from different approaches.
    Music is for everyone. Even people who say they hate rap, or they hate classical music only know this because they were exposed to different types of music. My granddaughter who is twenty-three months old loves music. She knows how to turn on the stereo in her home where her music track is stored. She listens and dances with joy. Which reminds me of a video I have watch for my leadership class of a man who had Parkinson’s and could hardly walk who listened to a song that he liked and while that song played danced with his physical therapist. Amazing, music is amazing and a gift that all from the young to old can appreciate.
    Ann Lockavich

  7. What is music? At the end of the day, I guess music is just an organized sound. However, this simple definition fails to encapsulate a complete understanding of music. As you said, music has the power to resurface our long and forgotten memories. For example, I remember the Spanish lullaby my father would sing to me as a child; simply thinking about the song allows me to relive my childhood memories. I can even remember what my favorite song was when I was about 9 years old. Looking back now, my then’ favorite song’ is such an inappropriate song… I can’t believe my parents ever let me listen to it. Regardless, even just remembering the song floods memories into my head of listening to them in a long car ride with my family. Personally, music has always been a gateway to a different time in my life.

    However, I can’t say I’ve ever been transported to another time period outside my own life. I love oldies, and I even love to listen to classical music. However, the times I listen to this music have never transported me to a different time. Instead, I’m enjoying the gift from the past in the present time. I do hope I can experience this sensation one day.

  8. Music is a very powerful thing in many events. It can make you sad, happy or any emotion. It respresnts life and events through its words and meaning. To me there has always been a song to represent my life. Every year my genre of music changes. For example, while living in bloom anf being in a sorority, I listened to a lot of party music for eveything. Dont get me wrong I still do and love party music and going to the bar but its greatly changed after my life in college. I started to really enjoy country music because of the meaning behind the songs. The words and meaning were very positive and encouraging during hard times. And I know the more in my life the more changes to music will come.
    This is the same for events in the world. Especially today with the many issues in our world such as shootings, russian war on Ukraine amung others. Music yes unites all together in the song but also motivates us as a people. We are so moved by music that we are called to be strong, stand up and develop our own opinions on what we think is right. Music inspires rallies, movies, and strikes. What I hope to see is that music helps us solve issues. It will take time and energybut hopefully music helps us be open to the thought.
    Lastly, the most interesting this to me is that the way music works is, it is unique to every person and situation. Siblings growing up together dont even have the exact same taste. I think music factors into our ways to be unique individuals. With it we are so much the same and yet beautifully different.

  9. Hello Professor,
    I believe music in some way, shape, or form has made its way into everyone’s lives. We can all remember a time, or place a particular song might bring us back to. We might remember a quote or even try live by a quote. I personally listen to a lot of different genres of music and feel every song is valuable. That does not mean I like every song however there are plenty of songs I do not like. I listen to music a lot, I listen to it while playing video games, driving, and doing school work. I am sure some of us can relate that when we listen to music while typing we have to be careful not to get lost and start typing lyrics. It is truly amazing how music affects our brains and can change emotions based on the mood of the song.

  10. Good evening professor!
    I do not believe that songs can become your voice. They seem too focused on an individual idea to reflect the complexity of a mind. No matter how many songs you base your dogma on, I fail to believe they could cover all introspections and opinions in your mind. However, songs can help you find your ideology by finding what concepts make sense to your intellect. Idolizing musicians can help individuals find peers. Often they have an inspirational story that helps motivate you to push yourself to ‘impossible’ feats and, therefore, are beneficial to learn about. I think it is admirable that you use the music you love to question viewpoints and to never stop widening the span of your thoughts on everything.

  11. Dr. Martin,
    Having known you for the past 4 plus years, I can honestly say that the theme of music has been a favorite of yours to incorporate into class every chance you get. It amazes me that a subject as broad and normal as music weighs on your mind so heavily. I myself, while I have enjoyed songs and music, have never seen music in the light that you describe in this post. The deep “strings or threads” that connect you to the past or call back vivid feelings you felt decades ago, I have experiences on rare occasions. I wish I had the sensitivity you seem to possess when it comes to this subject.
    On the other hand, the times in which music or a song does elicit a deep feeling from me, it has coincided with the feeling of sadness. I cannot honestly remember a time when a song has hearkened me back to a sweet memory or a happy moment. My default is to read when I am happy and to listen to music when I am sad or angry. Perhaps this is because happiness for me has been tied to the peace, solitude, and quiet found in books. When sadness or anger creeps in, my mind is already noisy, hence why I listen to music.
    After reading your blog post, I see that we are deeply different in the way we process experiences. However, music provides us with a way to express the feelings that arise out of those circumstances, and that is a wonderful thing.

  12. Dear Dr. Martin,

    The topic of music and the use of music to help me remember a fond memory or time in my life is something that I can relate to very personally. Growing up, music was something I always had a strong affinity for and would play all the time. Even when I went out with my family to the store or dinner, I would always be fixated on my iPod listening to Akon’s Freedom album. Music became an escape for me to ignore what was happening in my life so I could enjoy the uplifting and upbeat music of someone like Flo Rida. Nowadays, I use music to look back to better times and experiences I had in the past. In that way, I agree and can relate to the topic of your post. As well, the post really made me think about my appreciation for music and how that has progressed throughout the years. I feel as I have grown older my taste in music has broadened to other genres. This has allowed me to have different experiences and interactions that I can relate to these new genres. So music has had a profound effect on my life because it has allowed me to do new things and meet new people that I never would have given other circumstances. The one part of your post that I think I would disagree with is, the idea of identity and trying to still find the reason person you are. Even at my age of twenty three, I feel I have a pretty good grip and idea of my life. I know what I want to do and who I am as a person. As a result, I have many plans to act on the beliefs I feel currently to achieve the goals I want and reach the future I desire. Overall, I thought it was a great post I can really relate to, made me think, and I’m thankful to you for writing it.

  13. Dear Dr. Martin,

    I know exactly what you mean by connections that transport us back in time when we listen to the songs of our past. I have used this technique ubiquitously throughout my whole life.
    Just recently, I was driving my children home from their sports practices when I decided to introduce them to one of my favorite songs. To my surprise, they all knew this song, even my five-year-old. They knew every word of it and the next song and the one after that. When I questioned them about it, they said they had heard it many times. They told me that I used to listen to these calm songs, all the time. They were right.
    I believe that music is why I overcame some of the most challenging periods of my life. Back in those lonely days, I would wake up sad and exhausted and immediately put on my favorite music. Then the magic happened. Through the sound of my favorite songs, I could transport myself in thoughts to the calm periods of my life. That focused my mind and allowed my body to keep going.
    I also use music to let my emotions flow when no one is around. I put on a very sad song, and I cry. I feel better after. It`s like lifting the top of a pressure cooker and releasing the pressure.
    We all have ways of dealing with emotions, and I use music to help me manage mine.


  14. Dear Dr. Martin,

    I was intrigued with this blog post since music [lays a big role of how our brain works. Some may view a song to have a heavy based scripture lyrics where another person may not have taken those lyrics the same way in their head. Knowing different perspectives makes you look at how others mind work when we are all listening to the same thing. Music can help chose your mood while also making you feel like you and the artist are connected in some way.


  15. I have experienced the nostalgia and melancholy you describe, from the vantage point of both the writer of music and as a listener. It feels as though sonic vibrations are, in fact, a type of mechanism for time travel, or a sort of conduit into the recesses of one’s memories, fond and otherwise. The songs and albums and discographies from our pasts present themselves as a type of landmark, calling us back to times in our lives when perhaps our perceptions weren’t as evolved as they are currently. Music is something of a sonic journal, keeping track of the successes and failures of our lives, only remembered when we sink back into that old track that once meant so much to our personal journey.

    Sometimes I find that art presents to us the things in ourselves yet to be uncovered. We are moved and without awareness, a part of our spirit enlivens, feels seen by the very sounds or sights we are embraced by. I’ve always wondered why some of us are drawn to one genre, while others are directed to another. It’s as though we have predetermined resonances and inclinations in regards to the arts that will find a way to correspond to our endeavors, trials, and achievements.

    I think there is something to be said of the flow state music cultivates. In my own experience, creating music and immersing myself in soundscapes mimics a state of timelessness. The world around me slows, the chaos quells…or maybe it speeds up. I cannot distinguish because I am fully present, in a blanket of sound. It feels like a safe place to reside, an expanse of safety and openness. I think of your recent blog post, which also spoke to me deeply, and can’t help but feel that your musings around vulnerability and music feel connected. In my experience, singing to a crowd or playing music with my partner can feel exposing, it can feel liberating yet terrifying. There is a nakedness and a baring of the soul when we share our inner creative with those around us. Similarly, when we share with others the things that evoke inspiration, there is a vulnerability.

    To my point, I can recall being a child and often feeling a sense of discomfort or embarrassment when my parents put on music they enjoyed on long car rides. It was not because of the tunes themselves, but instead it was the feeling of peering into one’s true self. It was the unease of seeing a new layer of my parents. One that exposed their humanness to me in a new way. Hearing them recite lyrics to songs that were meaningful to them provided me with a glimpse into their hearts – a glimpse into their emotional landscapes. I now understand that they were likely being transported to a time in their lives that held great sentiments. Old perceptions and versions of themselves were rooted in those songs, versions of themselves that allowed growth and transformation.

    Music serves as a potent reminder of our pasts, personally and of course as a culture, too. It is crucial we share our experiences and ideas and preserve them through the arts, to leave a lasting imprint and to remember what we may easily forget as time persists in its fleeting nature.

  16. There’s this reoccurring joke amongst my family that every single time Mainstreet by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band plays on the radio, my dad tells us the same story from his childhood. It’s times like this when music is most interesting to me, because something as simple as a song can put my father into a happy mood no matter how many times he hears it, similar to how you described. I find myself experiencing the same sensation whenever I hear certain songs or artists from my past. I think that this link, or thread as you mentioned, is important because no matter where we are or how old we are, these songs remind us of something we may have otherwise forgot.

    My musical tastes throughout the years also almost seem to outline various stages of my life, like one large discography or calendar. I find it interesting that you can get this nostalgia as you mentioned, but yet be able to almost certainly pinpoint when it was that you were listening to these specific songs and artists. One phrase that an past teacher of mine always said was, people may forget what you said and how you looked, but they will never forget how you made them feel. The emotional aspect of both writing and listening to music is the most amazing part because you can not only remember that past experience, but you can feel how you once felt. For instance, every time I hear Good Times Roll by the Cars, it not only brings me back to my eight year old self, but I get a rush of happiness because my dad used to play their album in the car and we all would sing along.

    I think that the link to the past that music presents us with is both needed and helpful because we are able to remember happy moments from our past, when the world may not be working in our favor. I gives us a glimmer of hope for more times like the ones we once had, and allows us to remain positive when our future may not appear to be.

  17. I remember when music became to me what it seems to be for many. I think it was sometime in middle school when I started to find songs I resonated with. Though, maybe there were more things to become emotionally attached to at that time in my life. Music turned from background noise to my voice and my calming interest. As I began this path of discovery I started to see elements of myself I couldn’t when the world was silent, express emotions that I couldn’t in my noiseless, static room. The more I listened, the more I learned, music became just as much a part of me as the stories I tell.

    To me music has always told me of my awareness, of the world and of myself. It’s lets me tell myself I’m not crazy and lets me believe it. I listen to it to feel calm and to re-center myself. To me music has always been an amazing and useful tool to get to know others and myself. It always helps me open up a conversation, stimulate myself, express how I feel, and making it was always a treat when I had the patience for it. For me, it always makes me feel profoundly human.

    I think music is central to our humanity and central to good communication. The way my brain feels when listening to music feels so natural and perfect, the emotions feel so real. I guess it’s hard to describe the feeling in words.

  18. I believe that your post describes what many artists try do so when they make art, especially music. They share their experiences and emotions and allow us to relate our own and add on to the experience. Hearing an amazing song can allow you to think back to the exact moment you originally experienced it. Music is so interpretive and has such a large range that no matter what you aspire for there is someone that can guide you along the way. This says that the world loves to look for inspiration and someone to give them a voice that they can resonate with. I believe that you display very clearly that music can be very inspirational and powerful.

  19. Dr. Martin,

    You hit the nail on the head with this post. I often listen to music from the early to mid-2000’s whilst longing for those days to return. Much like you had Jethro Tull and Black Sabbath, (Aqualung and Paranoid are two of the best albums of all time, by the way. I may actually have them on vinyl.) we had Blink-182, Green Day, and My Chemical Romance throwing punches at the “status quo” as you put it.

    I have experienced what it is like to travel to another period of my life, but not another century. I threw on some music just recently by Oasis, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana which caused me to forget that I was in 2023. I felt like a child again back in 2008 listening to my parents’ cd’s that they have since gotten rid of. I wish they did not.

    As per guitar, it is extremely good for the soul. If I am feeling stressed, I pull out my guitar and play a tune for myself. Usually, I will pull out the acoustic on the moody days.

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