Oracle After Hours: How music filled the void of 2020 and creates hope for 2021


Connor Fondrevay-Bedell, columnist

With 2020 crawling to an end, we are finishing a year that has left us no shortage of memories. From the relatively few highs to the litany of lows, these moments will be with us for a very long time. 

As I look back on this year, I find myself looking at it through a new perspective: music. 

This year has given me a front row seat to the power of music and its connection to memory and emotion. While the world around me started to unravel as the pandemic unfolded, I was dealt a tragedy of my own. In the final days of March, my grandmother passed away. With lockdowns having just started, my family spent our time grieving and reminiscing. 

As we reminisced; the topic of music came up. My mom shared a memory of when she was younger spending days at home listening to “May You Dance” by Pousette Dart and I saw the healing power of using music to remember the past. It was a way to hold onto a connection and conjure up a happier time, 

When all you are left with is memories, music can be the comforting force to guide you. 

With something as significant as the death of a family member, there is a lot to process and figure out. Music was a way for me and my family to move ourselves through the stages of grief.

Other family members mentioned memories of singing songs with my grandmother and spending time together. Music was the memory they held onto, not just the perspective they viewed it through. 

It is no coincidence that music has such a powerful effect on memory; instead, it is by design. A 2009 study titled “The Neural Architecture of Music-Evoked Autobiographical Memoriesdone by the University of California, Davis found that the regions of the brain associated with emotion and memory are activated when listening to familiar music. Petr Janata, the author of the study, writes “The region of the brain where memories of our past are supported and retrieved also serves as a hub that links familiar music, memories and emotion.”  

Our connection to music and memory is part of who we are as people.

Music activates our memories in a way that is intertwined with emotion. It is why Pixar is so good at making us cry in the opening scene of Up or when Bing Bong dies in Inside Out

In Australia, the University of Newcastle conducted a study led by Amee Baird and Séverine Samson in 2013 to research music and memories. It found patients suffering from severe memory loss were still able to remember music throughout their life, especially if the memory was positive,  “Songs that evoked a memory were noted as being more familiar and more well-liked than songs that did not trigger a music-evoked autobiographical memories.”

 In addition, those with brain damage were able to remember more memories of songs than those who had not been injured. 

This year has shown me that music can be helpful for the artist too. In the last week of July, Taylor Swift surprised her fans by announcing the release of her eighth album Folklore, that had been inspired by and written during quarantine. In a July 23 post on her social media, Swift talked about how writing these songs was a way to process the emotions she was experiencing. 

 “In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory.” 

The album itself was the product of Swift’s strong emotions of quarantine and reminiscences. In her second surprise album of 2020, Evermore, she included a song titled “Majorie” that was about her late grandmother. In it Swift sings about holding onto the memories of her grandmother and how she stays alive in her memories. It was through music that Swift could connect memories and emotions and process how she feels. Clearly both sides of the equation benefit from music and its ability to convey emotions. 

As we began to turn our attention to 2021, I am choosing to view the new year through music. 

The emotion I will be associating music with is hope — hope that maybe we will finally get that long awaited SZA, Lorde or Frank Ocean album. 

A hope that maybe, 2021 will be a better year.