Music and Memories

From youth to old age 

There is a crashing of keys on the piano.  The gifted musician plays with a skill and a vigor which captures the attention of all of us.  Music pours out, most of it from the early forties when we were young and full of life.  We know the songs, all of them.  I danced to them with the man who later became my husband, and the memories pour back.  A lifetime has passed with the highs and lows that are inevitable.  The music and the memories blend into a wonderful mixture.  Then, with a flourish, he plunges into his final piece.  “I’ll Be Seeing You,” he announces.

Suddenly I am no longer in my Vancouver Lodge on a chilly November day, but back in Calgary on a warm September morning, whose calm is shattered by the rousing music of a military band, and the sound of marching troops.

“Mom, look!  They’re heading for the cenotaph in the park.  What’s going on?”

“Canada must have declared war,”whispers our trembling mother. “Over and over again – Why does this have to be?  Oh, God help us.”   

 It is September 10th, 1939.  The troubles of our convulsing world have finally reached our doorstep. In the early 1930s the European and North American worlds had grown increasingly uneasy.  Germany, under Hitler, was striking out against neighboring countries.  In 1938 Germany had annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia.  Which country would be next?

That same year, 1938, in the United States a partnership of musicians produced a song for a Broadway show.  Sammy Fain wrote the score, and Irving Kahal the lyrics. The show was a flop, but the song “I’ll Be Seeing You,” was immediately accepted.  It was especially popular with the men in the armed forces.  It grew out of the uncertainties and dangers of their times and they claimed it as their own.

When Fain and Kahal presented the song in the play, they used what was called a preamble . . .

“Cathedral bells were tolling and our hearts sang on;
Was it the spell of Paris or the April dawn?
Who knows if we shall meet again?
But when the morning chimes ring sweet again” . . .

 Then followed the four verses that make up the “I’ll Be Seeing You” song as we know it.

And we do know it!  It has passed from one generation to another and still strikes a chord with the common person everywhere.  It conveys a universal truth that persists in being recognized in the haunting melody and nostalgic lyrics.  In general neither the music or the lyrics have been altered by the multitude of popular singers who have showcased this song, over the many decades since 1938.  Way back, about 1944, there was a beautiful black singer with a wonderful voice.  She called herself Billie Holiday.  Her life was troubled and tragic, and she died in her early forties.  Because she sang it so often, it is sometimes called Billie Holiday’s song.

Back in my Lodge, I listen as the music starts up.  People start singing, filling in the words they recall.  As the last note on the piano fades away, I look around.  Many have tears in their eyes, or are rummaging for handkerchiefs.  And so am I.

Why such a reaction?  Many reason and different ones.  However, we are all old, have large stores of memories, and music seems to be a universal key to releasing these memories.  The mind is selective.  Good and happy memories are easier to trigger than painful ones.  That of course, is as it should be!

On the off chance that some of you may not recall all the words to this ageless song, here is a refresher:

I’ll Be Seeing You

I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through.

 In that small café
The park across the way,
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees, the wishing well.

 I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way.

 I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new,
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you.

  My sincere thanks to the many fellow residents who looked up dates, places, and people.  Your interest and cooperation is much appreciated.    MMG





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10 Responses to Music and Memories

  1. Dorothy

    Some people speak of smells that remind them of family and events, but for me it is music that is so evocative. Whether at a concert or sitting in my car, hearing the strains of some familiar melodies brings memories flooding back. And yes they are happy ones, but mingled with that happiness is a bit of sadness for what can never be again. Thankfully we are always creating new memories that will bring us “roses in December” Thanks for your essays, Marjorie. Whether they are vignettes from your early days or tell of moments like these that we all have experienced, they always make me smile and grateful for having in my life, people like you who can express in words what many of us are feeling.

    • Marjorie

      In our residence here, Dorothy, we are all in our “December”, and for those who respond to music as a trigger, there are memories beyond count. And you are right – no wonder the tears, for many of the memories are of much loved people no longer with us. That’s life, isn’t? The flip side of love is sorrow, but that is what makes life so valuable

  2. Anne Longworth Marshall

    Marjorie, as a musician, I know well the power of music. For several years, I did a music and conversation program with a group of Alzeimer patients at a long term care centre. Many could not remember recent events, but song words flowed out of them, especially songs from their courting and dancing years. Music seems to be stored in a very secure place in our brain computers! I now lead a 55+ choir. We were part of a very moving Remembrance Day service on Nov. 11th which combined writings of seniors about their own war experiences, interspersed with songs from the choir. One of our soloists is a 94 year old tenor, who still has a beautiful and clear singing voice. He sang “When the Lights of London Shine Again.” He even still fits into his uniform! Thanks for all your memories!

    • Marjorie

      Anne – So good to hear from you, and very interesting to learn about your musical experiences with seniors. What I have experience and observed supports all you said. What a great blessing that it works that way. Isn’t the brain an awesome thing? The musician who belted out that song was giving a performance here shortly before Nov.11th, so of course the “I’ll Be Seeing You” song brought back dual things – the music of our youth and the war memories – including our youthful companions who never returned, and our spouses with whom we shared youth as well as life.

  3. Leone

    I always look forward to “Marjorie Remembers”….a bright spot every time our inbox alerts us. There are so many treasured memories.

    • Marjorie

      Leone and Dave – The decades do slip by, and before you know it you’ve lived a lifetime. Music for sure is a trigger to memories in many people. Funny how those old familiar songs can bring a smile to your lips and tears to your eyes, at the same time!

  4. Hi, Marjorie.
    Bonnae and I sure do appreciate your vignettes. (Good word, Dorothy!)
    Music is a very strong memory. There is a a growing science to this knowing. And since your ongoing project is managing (with your typical energy and thoroughness) the problems of forgetting, I thought to share a fascinating lecture I heard recently by Dr. Oliver Sacks. Music is more. It is a key to remembering. The lecture induced me to buy the book. Here’s another tool for your toolbox, then.
    It was a big ideas lecture at TVOontario where he reviews the magic of music with his patients, and highlights ideas from his book, “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain”. His work tells us music is a different learning and is never forgotten.
    Sacks is famous also for “Awakenings” in 1973 (also a 1990 movie with Robin Williams playing Dr. Sacks). Sacks is in his 80’s now as well.

    amazon sample of book:

    • Marjorie

      A great reply, Jock – and a gift to me. Sheldon and I attended a lecture Sacks gave at U of C, years ago. Have you read his book, and I believe it is “Islands of the Colour Blind” or something close to that. I will see if I can get his book from the library.

  5. Hi again. You met my mother once at St. Davids. She’s 90 now. Music is not an aspect of her life so much as its centre. Let me share her miracle story. When Gerry, her second husband, died, she had suffered a caregiver’s overload and ended up in the hospital at the same time. She came home to an empty home. A quiet home – for she was dismayed to find she had lost everything about playing her piano. Not just her skill, not just the music she knew, but even the meanings of notes and fingers. But she matches you, Marjorie, in determination and practical energy. So she doggedly started to teach her fingers and her head the basics. In a few months she could play simple hymns. Then one fine morning her miracle occurred and her music was given back to her. All of it. At once.

    Here is the poem I wrote then:

    • Marjorie

      Don’t tell me miracles don’t happen! What a wonderful story, Jock. My regards to your mother when you see her.