Wednesday, October 04, 2006

waxing lyrical

back in my shiftwork days, we used to listen to the radio during night and weekend shifts. one of the girls on my team had an uncanny ability to sing along to just about every song that came on. she said she just listens to a lot of music, and remembers the words (and tune).

me? i usually get about as far as humming bits of the tune and maybe recalling some of the lines from the chorus parts. that's why i don't go for karaoke, cos i can never remember how to sing the whole song, even if the words are flashed up in front of me and in time with the music.

amazing thing this the human mind. great capacity to remember lots of information - other people i know are variously good at quoting quotes and reciting lines from movies, plays, and episodes of the simpsons!

the other day a quiz got circulated at work - the 90's lyrics music quiz, with the aim of identifying song name at artist from a given line from a song. my two immediate colleagues started naming answers, while i struggled to convert the feelings of familiarity to actual titles and names. i could vaguely hear some of the tunes in my head, recall the context in which i heard the song (eg. this was featured in the soundtrack of an animated movie), or half-picture what the artist looked like. i think i got about two artists and one complete boyz II men song right before i gave up. the next day one colleague came in with answers found online, and as i scanned the list there were a number of lightbulb moments as the memories of songs from yesteryear came flooding back... well, those few that i knew anyway... quite a few were UK ones which i had never heard of.

anyways, the whole thing got me thinking about how powerful songs can be. even when you don't necessarily mean or intend to commit a song to memory, if it comes wrapped in a catchy tune, into your memory it goes. and sometimes, you can't get it out of your head! often, you may not even really think about what the lyrics are saying, yet you sing along regardless. i remember a time in high school when we looked at pop songs and lyrics during english class, and i was quite surprised to find that the lines i had been repeating from a certain prince song was actually quite sexually charged - and really not the sort of thing a young teenager ought to be taking any pride in saying/singing.

it's been some years since i regularly listened to commercial pop radio -- partly because my tastes have changed as i grew older, and partly because of the power of music/song to ingrain lyrics in my head. often i have the radio on not so much to actively listen as for background music. and these hours spent (perhaps subconsciously) absorbing all those lyrics have quite probably contributed to a warped view of the world. at the very least, they're not doing anything positive for my mind. which is not to say that all pop is bad, but if you're not actively filtering and selecting the stuff that's going into your mind (ie choosing what you listen to), and just freely taking everything in... well, that's a recipe for easy corruption.

since those younger years, i've spent a lot more time listening to christian music - whether christian pop or the songs used for church/congregational singing. they often (though not always!) have much more meaningful lyrics, and especially good are those which remind us about God - his character, his deeds, his promises etc. one thing i've tried to do on occasion is to memorise the lyrics of a whole song, so that i can sing it from memory. i find this helps me to focus on the words, and to think about what i'm singing (what words are coming next?). it's too easy, when the words are in front of you on a page or a screen, to engage the autopilot of the mind and read/sing the words as they come, and not think about what those words are.

i'm not very good at memorising whole songs, and mostly i rely on the fact that i've sung the songs hundreds of times before, so there's more of an osmosis effect than active memorising. but when i can, i like to not look at the lyrics as i sing.

if you ever see me singing with eyes closed, you'll know why.