Soundtrack to my life: the irreplaceable meaning of music

I remember the first time I ever associated a song with a relationship: “For Good” from “Wicked.” My younger brother sung it for his elementary school performance and he walked around the house, belting the tune every day.

One line reminded me of a friend that always seemed to be pushing and pulling away from me: “who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” 

Before that point, I had never thought of music to explain a feeling I’d never been able to put words to. Truth is, music has a way of speaking into the lives of people and finding a better way to express feelings unspoken. And at that time, for me, my feelings were described best by the Broadway lyric.

The older I got, the more the soundtrack to my life was revealed. It seemed like there was a song for every moment, be it because of the lyrics or tune. “G.O.M.D” by J Cole during the middle school Washington D.C. trip, “How to Save a Life” by The Fray when I started watching “Grey’s Anatomy,” “A Million Dreams” from “The Greatest Showman” in Dubai, “Love Someone” by Lukas Graham in the car ride home that night a month ago.

Even when I started running this summer, it was music that got me out of the house. 

Perhaps this is just a reflection of the undeniable purpose music has in my life, but I also believe that music is a refuge that people can take advantage of. A bigger meaning is the reason an artist creates a song; there is always a message they want to be heard, left open to interpretation by the listener.

And those messages are the ones I wish the people in my life could listen to and understand. An encouraging song for the classmate I know has been struggling, a calming song for the friend who never seems to sit still, a new song for the coworker who only listens to classical music and a song that expresses my spinning thoughts for my best friend.

At the end of the day, that’s what music is for me. It’s a glimpse into the things I don’t have words for, the things I don’t know how to say and the things I don’t want to say out loud.  

Surely, this is a reminder and a message to those who feel discouraged by a lack of structure in their lives: music may be the constant people are searching for. Whether music inspires through lyrics or tune, I know it will be the one thing that has never fallen short, and will continue to never do so.

We all have that one song: the one we played on the car ride home from the beach with best friends, the one we listened to when the world felt like it was crashing down, the one we moshed to at prom.

For me, I have more than just one song: the one that I listened to when I couldn’t stay in town for Christmas, the one I heard in the restaurant in Barcelona, the one that reminds me of my best friend. Each song triggers a memory in me — a feeling that at one point in time, I had been someone different. Scientifically, music is powerful to our brains and can bring linked emotions to the surface.

A study by Petr Jantra, a neuroscientist at University of California, Davis, showed that tunes associated with strong self-reported memories produced vivid spikes in mental activity, responding strongly compared to just the sound of music. The research may help understand why patients with Alzheimer’s can still recall songs from their past and improve the comfort of living through them.