I've been singing all my life. Both of my parents have lovely singing voices; all of my siblings and I have sung casually or professionally pretty much our entire lives. We were likened to the Von Trapp Family in our parish growing up (that's still a little embarrassing for some reason) and there was always music in our house. And sing-alongs in the car on any trip longer than 20 minutes, especially at Christmastime. We listened to the Singing Nun, crooner John Gary, Herb Alpert, PDQ Bach, Linda Ronstadt, the Gatlin Brothers - we were all over the map in terms of musical taste. We all still remember many of those songs we sang together 40 years ago, like "The Hearth Song". And I know for sure that my Mom and Dad remember lyrics and melodies that are even older, but it wouldn't be polite for me to say how old!
This longevity of musical memory brings to mind the idea of music as mnemonic device. I've often thought, when trying to recall a name or place or even the outline of a presentation, that if it was set to music I'd have an easier time remembering. According to Think Quest "A Mnemonic device is a method for enhancing memory. When using the term mnemonic device, most people are referring to a trick that one uses to help memorize something." You probably use mnemonic devices without even thinking about them. Here's one I use regularly: "thirty days hath September, April, June and November ...etc." It's not a song, but the meter is reminiscent of music or poetry until you reach this part: "February, which has 28 or sometimes 29". That's a bit awkward, but it works every time.
About.com: Secondary Education has a list of mnemonic devices for students (aren't we all students?) that you may find helpful if, for instance, you cannot recall the names of the five great lakes or the order of operations in math. Or you can create your own memory devices, which you may find easier.
I could take the names of the planets or the recipe for "Madeline's Brownies" and set them to a familiar melody like "Running on Empty" from Jackson Browne or "As Time Goes By" (yes, the song from "Casablanca") or anything from Jesus Christ Superstar, and I'd remember them readily. It's an interesting idea, but I guess I find it easier still to use Google, a cookbook or phone a knowledgeable friend to get my facts straight, rather than attempt to re-lyricize a song.
The picture above is the band I've been fortunate to be a part of for the past ten years (and still going strong), The Tom LaMark Orchestra. Great musicians and true gentlemen, who must have a catalog of a million songs if you tally up all they know collectively.
Photo credit: Susan Wilson.