As they head home for spring break, the classic storyline begins. I’m in the passenger seat of my dad’s Honda on my way to a boring store to buy boring things. As we drive into town for dog food, toothpaste, and a random engine part at Lowe’s, my dad grabs the auxiliary cord and turns our run into a concert. Everything from rock to jazz plays stereo.
“Don’t you like it?” he asks, turning the volume knob.
Driving around town, I see glimpses of my father’s life through the songs he plays. When my friend seamlessly riffs on entire Taylor Swift albums from a decade ago, I see glimpses of the person she was before words like college and adult filled her brain. Glimpses of our lives are shared through songs.
It’s rare that someone sits down with you and says, “Let me tell you about my life.” But they will play you their favorite song.
Music is a way to tell stories. It preserves history and connects people. It creates deep connections and influences – often deeper than we realize.
“When I was a kid, I’d like to sit by my CD player and listen to everything [my dad’s] old as rock CDs,” music theory major Lucas Brogdon said as I sat down with him to find out exactly why he was so passionate about music.
He began telling stories of a house filled with music and family members who were thrilled with it. He described Switchfoot as one of the most influential bands on his musical journey.
“I was like, high on them [Switchfoot] as far as I remember. Every time they released a new album, it was in our van playing non-stop, and we went to see them whenever they were in town. He smiled, recalling the importance of his parents’ musical tastes. “It’s like some of my favorite childhood memories.”
But Switchfoot influenced Brogdon beyond a few happy childhood memories. The band’s music made him the artist he is today.
“The kind of Switchfoot, alt-rock sound is what I was really marinated in as a kid by my dad,” Brogdon said. “The older I get, the more it seems to me that’s still what’s at the center of my musical personality.”
From Switchfoot concerts to Led Zeppelin CDs, musical influences from Brogdon’s past remain prominent as he pursues a musical career in the present. The music he consumes today will always be reminiscent of the music he consumed as a child.
Listening to the music playing through broken speakers in your family’s minivan can send a wave of nostalgia, but the music that shapes us does more than push us back in time.
Not only does our brain recall auditory elements, but it also stores the sensory information we receive while listening to music.
Music has the ability to make us laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously. Our brain registers these feelings and retains the emotions we feel while listening to a particular song or album. Familiar music triggers emotions from previous listening experiences.
“It’s more than just auditory cues,” said Union University psychology professor Jenni Blalack. “No matter how good that emotional experience, [music] triggers these responses.
Beyond understanding the psychology of music, Blalack has experienced the phenomenon herself. She described 70s rock artist Bob Seger’s music as a reminder of memories with her late husband.
“My husband and I dated when we were teenagers,” Blalack said. “Our songs ‘riding around in his truck’ were always by Bob Seger.”
Along with fond memories of listening to music with her husband, Blalack shared how music created a special bond between her and her son. From rock songs to pop concerts, music has enhanced their relationship and strengthened their bond.
“Now I’m just as likely to text my son as he is to text me with an update on a tour,” Blalack said.
Whether it’s records marked by Bob Seger’s latest hit or enthusiastic lyrics on album tours, music unites people.
“This is how we tell the stories of our lives,” Blalack said.
Music is the score of our lives. It creates unlikely bonds between unlikely people. The music we listen to shapes the people we become. It shapes our understanding of humanity and the world around us.
From Switchfoot to Bob Seger and everything in between, one thing remains true: music shapes us.