To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking , ‘I am listening to this music,’ you are not listening.

Alan W. Watts

Music And Old Memory

Yesterday I was on the phone with my almost 82-years old mother. Thanks to the modern communication technology we are talking together often, and she can even see her grandchildren once in a while on the tablet screen, even if we are continents apart. And it is painful to witness how she is slowly deteriorating, not only physically, but also mentally. Her once fantastic memory is failing her and she is fully aware of the fact, that she is not anymore able to remember her favorite recipes she used to prepare for us for years, her once bottomless source of family stories has become very thin and repetitive, and more often than not she has even hard time to remember what she had eaten for lunch that day.
During our recent phone call with my mom, somehow I mentioned a few words we used to say in our family, which as it happens to be, are the first line from one of the famous communist youth songs from the years ago. And she just got immediately ignited and started to sing the song – and went all the way through to the finish. Without one mistake!
I was flabbergasted. Although I have been studying benefits music can have on elderly people and their wellbeing and memory, this was the first time I got to experience it right in front of my eyes / ears. And my visibly excited and happy mother realized the situation and explained her personal story of this song, that is not happy at all.
The song she was singing and that she remembered that well, was the one, she was forced to sing every day for years, when she was studying at the high-school. These were early fifties, the most oppressive times of the communist regime in former Czechoslovakia, and my mother was the daughter of a locomotive engineer – a member of a railways workers union, or so called the ‘blue aristocracy’ thanks to their blue uniforms. Because of her father, she was considered to be potentially dangerous enemy of the communist regime and her high-school teachers followed her every step and made sure that she wouldn’t bring any ‘inappropriate’ ideas that could have impacted other classmates. As still a young teenager, she was a great target to brainwash her and to mold her into the ‘correct’ communist format. Mom didn’t have any other choice if she wanted to graduate, just to play the game and show her loyalty, among many other things, by standing in the first line and singing communist proletariat anthems. And although she has never become member of the communist party, their propaganda songs managed to survive in my mother’s old memory to these days almost untouched. Such is the power of music, even if it is more negative, like in this case of my mother.