Music, the Voice of Memory: An Exploratory Approach

Norman King, Jane Ripley


The word memory comes from mind and suggests that what is directly experienced remains in our awareness. Even though no longer physically present, experiences may be called to mind or remembered. The word voice or vocal comes from vox or vocare, meaning to call, with its cognates evoke, to call forth, and recall, to call back. The notion of memory, therefore, may be linked to the voice both calling back and, in a sense, calling forward various experiences of ones life. To remember is to call back a voice from ones past, to hear it again in its same form or to give it new voice. Through music, perhaps especially vocal music, we are drawn to return or called back to a place, a time, a person, and with the thoughts, feelings, and associations of that experience that remain with us still.
This paper is an attempt to explore the connection of vocal music with memory. Essential elements of this exploration include: the roots or etymologies of words connected with memory and voice; the various dimensions and meanings of memory at the level of thought, feeling, presence, and identity; the inseparably relational dimension of memory; and its flowing not only from the past into the present but also reaching into the future; and the connection of all of these with vocal music. Music may be a link to our human quest to find and express our authentic voice, within a greater relational, communal, and social context.

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