Memories and music

Torbay Weekly

“Sometimes you will  never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory”.  So said Theodor Seuss Giesel, better known as 20th century American children’s author Dr Seuss.
Making memories is one of the significant things we do in life, especially family life. This thought came to my mind as I was listening to a mum, Victoria, speaking to Nihal Arthanayake on his BBC Radio 5 Live radio show, reflecting on how much enjoyment she, her husband and their two boys, aged 5 and 8, had experienced, following England’s progress in Euro 2020.
“I’m so disappointed we lost the final”, Victoria said, “but I won’t forget the family memories we’ve made over the past few weeks”.
Recently, a seven second video clip I came across on YouTube triggered a forty-year-old sporting memory of my own. It was of Aston Villa centre forward Peter Withe scoring a last-minute winner against West Brom in April 1981.
Villa went on to win the league that season, and I was at a packed Villa Park that night, along with my dad and my brother. What I remember most about that moment is that it was the one time I recall ever seeing my dad really celebrating a goal. It was a wonderful, shared experience and, to me, a precious family memory.
Have you ever wondered what it must be like to lose such memories? That’s the reality Thomas Leeds is confronted with, every day. Back in 2003, aged 19, Thomas was involved in a terrible accident near to Green Park tube station in London.
Hit by a car & thrown over the roof of a taxi, he landed on his head.  Early indications suggested that Thomas had miraculously avoided serious injury. However, an initially undetected blood clot in the brain meant that, according to his father Anthony, Thomas was “24 hours away from death”.
Following successful surgery to remove the clot, Thomas awoke to see what seemed vaguely familiar faces around his bed whom he didn’t recognise; they were his parents and five siblings. The reality that slowly dawned was that he had lost all nineteen years of his pre-crash memories.
In time, Thomas was also diagnosed with prosopagnosia, aka face blindness, meaning that he was unable to recognise and remember anyone out of context. The accident had damaged a small area at the back of the brain that’s responsible for vision, co-ordination and recognition.
However, a decade later, as Thomas was putting together a playlist of 80’s hits to help celebrate his 30th birthday, something astonishing happened as he pressed play on The Waterboys’ song “The Whole of the Moon”.
The song triggered something in his brain, sparking a handful of memories of his family which he thought he’d lost. It seems that for all of us, specific music and songs have the capacity to unlock memories in our brain, even ones we may think are forever forgotten.
Writer and broadcaster Sally Magnusson discovered the immense value of memory music, whilst caring for her mum Mamie, who lived with dementia for many years, until she died in 2012.  Mamie once described the experience of dementia as like “being on a long road, getting further & further away from myself”.
But through familiar songs and hymns, says Sally, “my mother was able to be brought back to a sense of herself and crucially, to us as well. Words, which otherwise were deserting her in droves and making conversation so difficult, returned to her tongue, as if by magic, when she was singing.”
In the Old Testament, there’s a section of Psalms, (from 120 to 134) that collectively are known as the “Songs of Ascent”.
These were sung by God’s people as they travelled together up to Jerusalem, at festival time. So, when the people sang together the words of Psalm 125 – Those who trust in the Lord are as secure as Mount Zion; they will not be defeated but will endure forever.
Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forever – they would be reminded of their own personal experiences of God’s provision & protection. Songs of worship can trigger similar memories for you & me today.
As, we’re hopefully able to enjoy singing together again at our church services in the coming weeks, songs such as “10,000 Reasons” & “In Christ Alone” can prompt you and me to joyfully remember and give thanks for all that Jesus has done for us.