Music and the brain

If I could do something entirely else -- restart my entire education -- I think I would focus on psychology and how the brain reacts in regards to music. I'm fascinated with this topic, which I first discovered when I began playing music (circa third grade piano lessons). I remember being in high school, playing the clarinet in our annual band show and feeling so incredibly happy. Those moments that are both in body and out of body moments. The music physically surrounding you while you think, "This moment and everyone in it is enough." 

As a junior in high school, I took a college prep writing class where I wrote a 15 page paper on how the brain reacts and works with music. While my thesis was weak, it allowed me to read all sorts of great articles as well as have an excuse to read works like Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks (a reading list to come at some point). I loved learning about how our cerebellums actively work to figure out the pattern of the music and anticipate what will happen next. Combining music, emotions, and psychology was (and still is fascinating) to me. 

As I headed back to Illinois after Spring Break, I popped in a mixed CD I hadn't listened to in a while. It was a mix I had created for my final May Term trip last year -- myself, seven other students, and one professor went on a west coast road trip watching MLB games. It. Was. Awesome. And if you want to see what happened, I'll shamelessly promote the blog I helped managed

The first song came on and I was hit with a rush of emotions. I remembered hearing the song for the first time, the reasons I put it first on this mix CD, and the May Term all came back. The long days in the vans, the baseball we watched, and the friendships I strengthened. The rest of the CD rushed by and I once again patted myself on the back for the solid song order. And I had some good songs on that CD. Such as the classic Barenaked Ladies song...

Or, what about this classic One Direction song (before Zayn left). This song had the uncanny ability to make all nine of us (professor included) do some car dancing. Their music video is also on point. 

The track list is such a clear reflection of who I was and what I was feeling when I created it. I would have just graduated from undergrad and this trip was the triumphant and celebratory start of summer. And for someone who is usually uneasy (or nervous) about sharing her favorite music selections, this CD was accepted by the group of my very unique and interesting peers.

I know the CD is over when I hear my very intentional track... 

And as I heard this final track, I thought about pulling back into Cedar Rapids after a month on the road. We turned the car off (and the trip symbolically ended) as the final notes of this song played. Here's the whole track list (because now I'm sure you're curious about the other songs):

  1. Under Control -- Parachute
  2. Trojans -- Atlas Genius
  3. One Week -- Barenaked Ladies
  4. Float On -- Modest Mouse
  5. Kiss You -- One Direction
  6. All You Need is Love -- Timeflies
  7. Chasing the Sun -- Sara Bareilles 
  8. Something I Need -- One Republic
  9. Every Night -- Imagine Dragons
  10. You Make My Dreams -- Daryl Hall and John Oates
  11. Slide -- Goo Goo Dolls 
  12. Put Your Hands Up -- Matchbox Twenty
  13. The Kill -- Ben Rector
  14. Pony (It's Okay) -- Erin McCarley
  15. Cue -- Kurt Scobie
  16. The City -- The 1975
  17. Follow Your Feet -- Unlikely Candidates
  18. Bad Blood -- Bastille
  19. Howlin' for You -- The Black Keys
  20. Closing Time -- Semisonic 

I'll never stop being in awe over how music and our brains work together so well. The way certain songs bring back both wonderful and painful memories. How the present moment slips away when a song comes on and our setting is transformed. We become younger, remember our old mindset and the people in our lives at that time. It's an incredibly powerful moment and I want to keep learning about those moments and remembering to catalog those moments. Because this mix CD is perfection to me -- a 70 minute flashback to fly balls, homeruns, and driving through the state of Texas.