The art of experiencing memories through music

My use of playlists as time capsules memorialize bits of my life.

Meghan Holt, DN Illustration
Meghan Holt, DN Illustration

Trinity Rea is a second-year journalism major and writes “Bury the Hatchet” for the Daily News. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

They introduced themselves sliding into the backseat of my car, shooting me a single glance. “Cool With You” by Hers was blasting on my car's speakers. They were quiet the whole time we were at dinner but loud in our first text messages after I dropped them back off at their dorm. 

One of the first times I saw them again was outside the dining hall. They came out from behind a corner and smiled. In my earbuds “Nadja” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra was just ending.

I remember watching them send me off as I drove away from their house last summer and their face after I showed back up 15 minutes later because I forgot something. “Blades” by Arlo Parks was on when I got back into my car after they laughed at me on their front steps. 

A conversation from this past November lives on in my memory with “Soft Sounds from Another Planet” by Japanese Breakfast echoing around us as they cried in my passenger seat. 

There was a call across state lines right before Christmas where they fell asleep on the phone right after telling me they weren't tired. “Wading In Waist-High Water - Solstice Version” by Fleet Foxes accompanied me as I listened for a “goodnight” in between the sounds of steady breathing through my phone’s speaker.

And when I last saw them three weeks ago, I somehow managed to get out one more “I love you” before having to walk away. It felt like “Coming Clean” by Searows. 

Whenever I think of someone important to me, and all the time we spent together, I’m able to shuffle through a supercut of music that makes up that person. 

All of our car rides with their favorite songs blasting in the stereo, sparking debate over the best music to listen to while studying together in their bed or a link to a song they said I would like that remains in my notes — every moment and feeling is a part of a playlist existing in my mind.

Entirely encapsulating a person or a relationship is impossible, yet I’ve learned some things are so fleeting that I at least have to try. I hand-curate playlists so that I can continue to feel every moment that my mind may one day desire to relive.

Categorizing music indicative of a time, person, relationship or feeling gives me a chance to relive those emotions — a time I once existed in. During moments when I want to reminisce about someone, I’m able to hit play on the album or song that brought us together. 

In a sense, they’re here with me, reliving what we once had.

Everyone in my life has a playlist dedicated to them — no exceptions. The gravity and amount of songs in a person's playlist do vary, but almost everything in my life is tied to songs.

According to Durham University, capturing moments in time with music is a common and often involuntary human action. The university's research has also shown that music has the ability to reconnect us with emotional moments from our past and evoke memories.

Having some control of this phenomenon helps me remind myself of what I’ve lived through — how I got to where I am today. 

The library of my 8-year-old Spotify account holds personal time capsules. I’ve created more than 200 playlists with half of them being personalized collections. Many of the playlists I’ve made are dedicated to friends, lovers, experiences and everything in between.

Some of the playlists are made over the course of a handful of days while others are never done being made. They’re updated with every new moment shared, every change in a relationship — they grow as my relationships do.

As my relationships and moments spent with others grow or fade — the ebb and flow of life — a playlist matches that fact.

As I ride the emotion through all of their ups and downs, I want to make sure I really explore every avenue of what I am feeling. It becomes more authentic, raw and real for me.

This long-time habit has led me to become more present in my life. Whenever I meet someone, I become aware of how they make me feel, which I connect back to music. 

By making that connection, I’m able to better understand the feeling I’m experiencing which allows me to express myself in ways I felt unable. 

Music trickled into my life slowly, and I first found its importance by acknowledging my frequent referencing of song lyrics in between stanzas of poetry or in my habit of journaling. 

Everything in my life is amplified and better understood due to how I’m able to see the world through music. And I think this practice of memorializing and processing through music is something that could — and in my opinion, should — be adopted by anyone.

According to Psychology Today, music can bring individuals together, promote trust and empathy, and alleviate stress. Creating a connection through music turns into a mutual endeavor with each party. 

That’s something that has really resonated with me in my own life.

In a world where it’s easy to lack the ability to effectively communicate, we can all rely on music to help us better understand one another. 

While my playlists are personal and paint the subject matter in a specific light, I hope those who listen to them can better understand me through the songs. I’ve done my best to capture all the things that make the people in my life special through music: their smile, the unique shade of their eyes and, most importantly, the way they’ve made me feel.

While some of the most important people to me may no longer be in my life, parts of them will always remain within the music that encapsulates them. 

I encourage you all to take time to sit with your emotions and make sure you can express and recognize them fully. And if you feel unable, turn to music. 

Contact Trinity Rea with comments or on X @thetrinityrea.


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