By Patricia Baer
This summer while I was road tripping between Marshfield and Chicago, the Indigo Girls song “Galileo” came on the radio. After registering surprise at hearing it played, since I hadn’t heard it on the air in ages, a Pavlovian response kicked in. I began to sing along not because I was especially excited to hear it, although it did bring back some fond memories, but because the words automatically started to tumble out of me. I was actually surprised I remembered as many words as I did.
This isn’t the first time a song has taken possession of me, if you will. There are many songs that are more embarrassing to admit I know the lyrics to that will forever be a part of my memory. It’s a realization that has amused me when imagining what my future as an elderly person could look like.
I see my family, dutifully visiting me in some assisted living situation on a tranquil Sunday afternoon. Then I see me, too senile to recognize their faces but still being able to serenade them with a few lines from Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City.”
It’s this ability of music to deeply root itself into our memory that makes it a successful tool for learning. It’s why the alphabet is taught to children in song. “Schoolhouse Rock” understood this. The Saturday morning short animations from the 1970s aired between cartoons and taught quick lessons on grammar, mathematics, history, and science.
If my peers and I are any proof, those animations worked and stuck with us. I recall during the U.S. Constitution portion of eighth grade history more than a few of us sang “The Preamble” in our heads to help us remember how to complete that portion of our exam.
It surprises me that this tool is not used more often in school curriculums. With cuts in music and art classes, it seems like the perfect solution for getting music back into classrooms. When information is put into rhyme and rhythm, memory retention and recall is increased. With the current obsession with testing, you would think this would appeal to those who mandate our curriculums.
Maybe I should take my own advice. I may not always be able to remember where I left my keys, but rest assured I’ll be able to perform Hall and Oates’ “Kiss on My List” whenever the need arises. So maybe I need to create little songs to help jog my memory. I will call the first one “Keys on My Desk.”