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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Music: Try to Remember

A few weeks ago when my niece celebrated her 22d birthday, I wanted to find a way to give her a special gift that would be something she would remember. I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes and then it came to me. A musical playlist would be a great gift. I could think back on my favorite songs of all time and make a list of 22 to gift to Lexi.

Creating a playlist presented all sorts of questions. Most importantly, should it include the Beatles? If it includes the Beatles, I could hit 22 very quickly. I allowed myself a few Beatles numbers, but tried to go past the Beatles to other songs. I had to do it quickly and try not to overthink things, because overthinking would only cause confusion. So, in about twenty minutes I had a playlist to share with my niece. Lexi, who represents kindness, joy and generosity of spirit to me, now had some record of my past and perhaps could understand her old auntie a little better. We've talked about it and what greater gift is there on a birthday than shared conversation?

Fast forward a month and my youngest child is turning thirty and for his birthday I've asked his uncles, aunts, siblings, and cousins to share their top thirty playlist with him as his birthday approaches. I hope that everyone will participate. Aunts and cousins from Colombia will certainly have a different playlists from a brother and sister-in-law that have spent their lives in Massachusetts. My husband's playlist will differ from mine as he immigrated to the United States in 1969 so his musical history is slightly more recent. And of course the younger generation's lists will be very different from the older generations. I hope these playlists will give my son enjoyment but also reveal a different side of his family reflected through that music. When we get together as an extended family, it is usually as a large and noisy group. The playlists that Orry receives will give him insight into the pasts of family members. It might promote questions and discussion. It is a gift that keeps giving.

Our memories of people, places and past experiences can be opened by the strangest things. The scent of a certain flower can transport us back to events, hopefully good events, from years ago. Music is another way to bring back memories of the past. I remember a year ago sitting with my mother at sabbath services at The Falls. Most of the people who sat around the table had significant memory issues. Some participants were no longer verbal, but when the rabbi began to sing the sabbath melodies, these non-verbal participants opened their mouths and sang. Music opened up a channel to a long ago past and enabled that person a moment of connection and joy.

Here is my playlist for Orry. I share it with you now, not because my playlist is exceptional in any way, but because I think it was a fabulous exercise. I know now that as with anything in our lives that we pay attention to, we can make this exercise more and more complex. This particular list seems to focus in on my earliest years in such a way that I can introduce my son in a concrete way to memories my own childhood. I realize now that we all probably have our own playlists for any given decade, for any given year, even for any given day. The music we choose reflects our mood, our energy level, our outlook on life for a particular day. My top music list today is not necessarily my list of yesterday or tomorrow. I have not endeavored to add in the rest of my playlist, which encompasses other years, but maybe at some point I will share that as well!

I have been writing recently about things we should hold in common and I believe that music can be a unifier among people. I wouldn't be surprised if the songs that are on my list might be on yours as well. If you read this blog, I would love to see your top twenty songs. How did you reflect upon your songs? What period of your life to do they reflect? I hope you will take a moment to add your top tens to the comment section on this page or just send me an email with your playlist!

A little time traveling with the first ten chronological songs on my list and a few reflections.

1. You'll Never Know How Much I Love You (1943)- Why? My bubby used to sing it to me when I was a little girl.

2. Goodnight Irene (1950) Why? My dad once sang it to me as a lullaby.

3. Somewhere Over the Rainbow 1939- Why? First time seeing colored television and the song is magical. I clearly remember where I was when I watched it (Jaynie!) and the excitement of seeing Oz in living color.

4. Camelot (1967) Why? It somehow reminds me of when I was a child and the Kennedy era.

5. Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955) It reminds me somehow of my estranged sister along with a few other songs.

6. The Impossible Dream (1965)From the play Man of La Mancha, I can hear it playing while my mom ironed. It also brings clear memories of the Boston Red Sox in 1967, my brothers, and sports radio.

7. Love That Dirty Water (1965) Clearly connects me with a city, with a culture and a period of time and again, with the Boston Red Sox.

8. Put on Your Sunday Clothes/Hello Dolly (1964) Pretending to be Hello Dolly with my dear friend Jaynie in my basement. Recently, the song is my "go to" song to lift my spirits during this time of Covid.

9. Fly Me to the Moon This is the beginning of an entire list just devoted to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como and other crooners. It's a link to elegance to dancing around the kitchen with a dish towel on my shoulder, just like my mom used to do.

10. Try To Remember (1965) I find myself humming this a lot. I don't think that it was a song we heard in the house, but like Camelot, it is a song that I sing now because it brings me to a nostalgic place and time.

11. I am cheating a little here and adding one more...A Beatle's song!

I Want to Hold Your Hand(1964) I remember hearing this on the radio, sitting on Annie's kitchen counter and going crazy listening! Toll House cookies were nearby in the cookie jar.


This post is dedicated to Lexi, my beautiful niece of 22

To Orry, happy birthday to you, my sunny boy, on your birthday

To Jaynie- We share so many musical memories. We'll always be kids in my mind.

To Annie- We will always have The Beatles and your mom's Toll House cookies

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