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Warmest regards: The power of music

Published September 14. 2019 06:45AM

By Pattie Mihalik

While driving on a recent trip, I may have looked like a senior citizen but I was really a teenager.

Through the magic of music, I was a teenager caught up in the music of the ’50s and ’60s, singing along to songs that transformed me back in time.

That’s the power of music. It can uplift our mood, fill us with energy and transform us, whisking us away to another era.

A local DJ gave me an incredible gift when he gave me a flash drive containing a huge collection of songs from every era. There are thousands of songs on that one little gadget.

“You can start playing it while you leave Florida and drive to Pennsylvania, but you won’t hear the same song twice,” he said.

It was fun listening to the old standards of the ’40s that we seldom hear today, along with the big band songs and the best of jazz.

But for me, the real fun came when I heard songs of the ’50s and ’60s that stirred my heart.

What is it about the songs of our youth that get embedded in our brain forever?

At the end of the day I have a hard time remembering what all I did that morning.

But there I was, singing all the words to songs I heard a half century ago.

Today, I can’t seem to memorize new information. I learn it, but a few weeks later it’s gone from my memory.

I have to think a little bit before I can recall who was president before Eisenhower or before I can remember a favorite Bible verse.

I even struggle to recall all my favorite classical recordings that once thrilled me as I played them over and over.

I remember the first thing I did when my mother left the house and I could finally blast the stereo as loud as I wanted — I played “Wellington’s Victory” loud enough to make the floorboards shake.

Half a century later, I could barely remember it was Beethoven who composed the orchestra piece in 1813.

While I might forget the origins of some of the classical music I once played repeatedly, I have retained forever all the words to the songs I danced to as a teenager.

Even songs with silly words are embedded forever in my mind.

There was a big smile on my face as I sang along to “Purple People Eater” and “What’s Behind the Green Door.”

What is it about those songs that stay in our minds forever?

The wonderful DJ who made that flash drive for me volunteers his time to play music in nursing homes and memory units.

He told me about the times when patients with advanced Alzheimer’s are slumped in wheelchairs, unaware of their surroundings.

“Some don’t even remember how to eat,” he said, “but the real miracle sometimes happens when I play the music of their childhood. They become more alert and often smile.

He told the story of a woman slumped in her wheelchair, unresponsive to her surroundings — until he played a song from her past. “Her face changed and I could see her lips move as she remembered the words,” he said.

While we all know listening to music activates your brain, researchers expound on that by concluding specific brain regions linked to memories and emotions are activated by familiar music.

It’s not just the words from the songs of my teenage years that come back to me. I also remember the feelings these songs invoked in me.

When I hear “Unchained Melody,” I am once again a teenager lying on the floor of our rental unit in Atlantic City, thinking about my boyfriend at home while the soulful singer crooned, “Are you still mine?”

When I dance to my favorite songs of the ’50s, I am gloriously energized, unmindful of any physical limitations while I dance like a teenager.

Every now and then my husband and I take a dance lesson to learn some new steps. A day after the lesson, neither of us can accurately recall the steps we just learned.

But I still recall all the steps I did to my teenage music of so long ago — the cha-cha, the jitterbug, the stroll, even the Charleston dance we choreographed to one of the songs.

Every generation had its music and its special songs.

My father grew up listening and dancing to the great ballads where every word was distinct and meaningful.

When he heard me play the ’50s song, “Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom,” he questioned what it meant.

“What kind of song is “Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom”? he asked.

The kind that will stay with you forever.

If you’re over 50, chances are good you remember every word, including the nonsensical lyrics, “Hey nonny ding dong, alang, alang, alang. Boom ba-doh, ba doo, ba-doodle-ay.”

Singer and songwriter Rita Beach says music can lift us up faster than anything else can.

“Through music and lyrics we speak to the heart,” she says. Scientists tell us it’s not our imagination. Music relaxes us, improves our mood, and gives us more energy. It can even help us sleep better.

The psychological effects of music can be powerful and wide-ranging.

It can even make us feel like a kid again.

This kid looks forward to dancing once again to “my music.”

Contact Pattie Mihalik at newsgirl@comcast.net.

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