Memories are made of this
John Woods offers us a taste of sonic madeleine cake this week.
Recently on the radio I heard a report on how our musical memories last a lifetime.
The piece was based on research on 80 guests on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.
On the programme guests choose eight pieces of music to take with them if they were ever marooned on a desert island. The music we listen to between the ages of 10 and 30 tends to define our musical tastes for the rest of our lives.
There were three reasons why the guests chose the music.
First, the pieces are often chosen because of their associations with special people.
Second, they were reminded of key memories in their lives.
Third, the pieces of music are connected to specific memories that shaped their identity through life changing moments.
Recently I was given the challenge of posting on Facebook the album covers of ten records that had most shaped my musical taste. Over those ten days it was like walking down Memory Lane. Hearing a song placed me exactly where I was when I first heard it.
Novelist Nick Hornby writes, “Sometimes, very occasionally, songs and books and films and pictures express who you are, perfectly …” He adds, “I try not to believe in God, but sometimes things happen in music, in songs, that bring me up short, make me do a double-take. I’m not sure what difference it makes to me, this occasional vision of the divine in the music I love … I’m not going to listen to stuff like this too often though, just in case.” (Nick Hornby 31 Songs)
Music plays an important role in our lives. It is worth preachers asking what forms the soundtrack of the people in their congregation. What people, memories and moments shape their identities?
I have been fascinated to hear echoes of biblical truth in contemporary singers, like the flickering notes of grace in Stormzy, or the overt confessional lyrics of Kayne West. Perhaps almost every singer is searching for salvation of some kind.
Over the forty years plus that I have been preaching I have often pondered the words of Ecclesiastes chapter 4. It begins with the wonderful poetic musicality of the changing scenes of time that are lived between birth and death. Then there is the line that gives me hope as a preacher:
“He has also set eternity in the human heart …” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Preachers need to learn how to travel down Memory Lane, try to mine the evocative echo chamber of the human heart, and connect with the rhythms of the traces of the eternal that sound in the soul of everyone.
C S Lewis put it like this,
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.
These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past — are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Perhaps that is what is behind all of the people who have been eavesdropping on our digital services? Maybe it’s the scent, echo and news of which C S Lewis speaks which has stimulated interest. The crucial thing is for the preacher to connect this up to the true flower, tune and country for which we all long.
Christianity is all about getting our desires moving in the right direction.