Pause, rewind, play: Music and its meaning in my life

I’m not one for cliches, but after much, much reflection I’ve come to the somewhat overrated conclusion that music for millennials can be defined by one thing: headphones in, world out. No, I didn’t come up with this expression, and yes, you’ve probably heard it before. But there is still truth to be gained from it.

Walking through the halls of the high school, one can’t pass more than two people without seeing someone with one earbud in and the other swaying gently as he or she pushes through the hallway. When teachers give time in class to work independently, students answer with a chorus of book bags unzipping as headphones are pulled out. So what explains this seemingly addictive activity? And what meaning does it carry in our lives?

For me, music is an escape, and a reminder that my problems, worries or sorrows are not just my own. That someone else has gone through the same thing or something similar. And when I’m alone in my car and the “perfect” song comes on, the belting out of the lyrics that follows is not just my rehearsal for “The Voice”, but an exhalation of feelings.

According to National Geographic, there is a scientific explanation that backs up this craving for music. In one study, participants “listened to music that gave them chills,” and scientists found their brain had an intense increase in dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter linked with pleasure.

NPR also reported on the topic in its coverage of Elena Manne’s book, “The Power of Music.” In it, she relates that music is not only a source of pleasure, but can help someone who has had a stroke regain speech, or “coax portions of the brain into taking over for those that are damaged.”

So, it is indisputable that music is a part of not just today’s culture, but our very minds, and one encounter I’ve had with music speaks directly to this.

It was a balmy fall day, and my tennis doubles partner and I had—for lack of a better word— been destroyed by our opponents. With hopes of taking a victory over the entire tournament, this was a disappointment to say the least.

Despite this loss, we still had another match to play, but we definitely were not in a positive mindset.

Cue the music.

We escaped from the courts and into my car, where we drove off to an empty parking lot. For the next 10 minutes, my car shook with music the likes of which my grandmother would not approve of. But for those 10 minutes, I felt my anger and nerves melt away: one with the lyrics, one with the pounding bass.

Illustration by Jacob Fulton

As I stepped out of the car and onto the courts again, I was focused, calm and ready. But I couldn’t ignore the hum of music, echoing in my mind


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