January 14, 2016

It should come as no surprise, as the research on the subject has been exhaustive, as to the power that our five senses can have on memory creation and recollection.

Personally, smell has always been a strong trigger of memories leading to near instantaneous recollection of not just the moment, but all the facets including the facts of where, when I was, who I was with, but also the emotions, and even tastes. It usually hits me like a two by four and can last for a few seconds, or can linger for hours throughout the remainder of the day.

However, last year introduced for me a new, nearly as strong memory recollection, through sound. I had dubbed 2015 as, “the year of music,” as I was able to see many great artists perform live, sometimes multiple times (Andy Grammer, A Great Big World, Simplified, to name a few). Each concert was its own, obviously, but created fond memories with my friends and those around me. I created a playlist of the major tracks from each of the artists I enjoyed, which resulted in more than 50 songs totaling a year’s worth of fun.

When several of these songs play organically on my Pandora stations, or on the car radio, I’m transported back to the moment I either first recognized the song or artist, or more often than not, the moment I was able to sing along and capture the live song personally.

However, there’s an oddity in my, “year of music.”

In 2014, I went back to school to pursue my master’s degree. I’m in my final semester now, but that first summer and fall semesters I spent many evenings working on design projects and assignments. Most of the time, I had Pandora playing in the background and one of my favorite stations, Mumford & Sons. The station included many of their tracks, but also a fantastic assortment of similar artists, where I found several artists and bands I would see in 2015.

One band, and one song in particular, started to catch my attention while I worked, as it was more Blue Grass than I typically own or listen, but I’ve always enjoyed the genre. The band is Old Crow Medicine Show, and the song, which in and of itself is an adaptation, is, “Wagon Wheel.” I shared in my Year in Review that this song really started to follow me in far too many ways to be coincidental. Each time I hear it now, even if it’s in one of my intentional playlists, I know it connects me to the where and when I need to be at that moment in my life.

At first, I thought this song might be a, “one and done,” for me in that I’ve connected to music my entire life; feeling the emotion and sensations the artist is conveying. However, after an amazing vacation last fall, a song I had enjoyed for years became a background anthem to the trip and all the joy it brought.

So to my surprise, while driving around completing Christmas shopping last month, I was listening to SiriusXM’s Coffee House station and the song, Snow Patrol’s, “Chasing Cars,” came on as an acoustic version. I was so immediately hit with memories and feelings of happiness, I’ve never cranked a song so loud, sung along so poorly, while also trying to maintain driving at 70 mph on I-4, in my life. It was shortly after this moment that I began to wonder if songs, music, or other sounds could be equally as powerful or provocative as smell in both memory retention, but indeed recollection.

While both songs don’t necessarily elicit the same sense of emotion now as they once did (which I attribute to an increase in playing on my part when I want to feel the memory), they still hold a special place for me.

It’s even crazy when the two triggers collide, which happened to me in Chicago as I was walking past Wrigley Field. “Wagon Wheel,” started by a live, single acoustic guitar player just as I was taking in all the new experiences of the stadium, the ruckus crowd, the city and ball field smells, and a huge smile came across my face. I knew in that exact moment the big city smells, combined with my personal song of destiny, were falling upon me all at once. It was an incredible feeling and one I’ve only had a handful of times in my life. So awesome.

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5 senses, memorable, memory recollection,