Music as a way of remembering

People listen to music for three distinct purposes: To escape from their thoughts, change their mindset, or use as a narrative medium—something that can speak to one’s physical and mental situation first-hand. There is a time and place for each of these ways of listening to music: I will put on a certain album when I want to take my mind off something, but there are playlists made up of my friends’ favourite songs that are perfect before a Friday night out. Most of the time, though, music is just something that follows me around in my ears while I ride the Metro or wait for my clothes to dry at the laundromat. 

The past four years of my undergraduate degree were some of the most eventful in my life. I like to think that I have learned more about myself through the adventures that come with moving out of my childhood home to start a new chapter of my life in a different city. And during all the changes and growing pains, I found solace in the music in my library, my collection providing a soundtrack to help me through my day-to-day life. 

My spring 2018 playlist is marked by tunes that accompanied me through my first heartbreak, while my summer 2020 playlist consists of what I listened to on my solitary nighttime walks and socially-distanced park hangouts. My playlists are my life experiences catalogued by music and organized into months or seasons. Music amplifies how I am feeling at any time and reflects weeks or months of my personal narrative. To me, music functions as both a way of narrating and remembering. In the moment, it comforts me; but after the fact, it serves as an encrypted diary entry. Each playlist is a time capsule containing artifacts that only I can understand. 

With the advent of social media, the way we listen to music has also become increasingly socialized. Services like Spotify allow users to follow each other, see what other users are listening to, and collaborate on building playlists. Now, listening to music as a way to draw meaning from our experiences is something we can do together, the process helping to create shared life narratives. 

Amid the barrage of electronic communication I receive in the form of promotional emails, social media notifications, and spam calls, I always look forward to a friend sending me a playlist. In my relationships, sharing music is a show of love and inclusion in the life we are building together. It is a way of inviting each other into our lives and keeping each other in our minds. Songs on my playlists often find their way onto my friends’ playlists and vice-versa. Our bonds are strengthened by the music we share.

I am currently building the last playlist of my undergrad, which is both exciting and unsettling. I am looking forward to the adventures that lie beyond McGill, but I am also scared of saying goodbye to the student life I am familiar with. In the face of a rapidly changing world filled with uncertainty, I find myself latching onto the songs that guided me through the past four years. Just by putting on my headphones and clicking the play button, I can relive my frosh week, meet my best friend again at a pre-game for a Kacey Musgraves concert, and remember what it was like to warm up with other members of my dance company. I am sure I will revisit this music occasionally, the same way I sometimes listen to my now private high school playlists, but for now, it’s time to focus on the future and find music to narrate a new chapter. 

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