"Silent Night" Won't Be the Same For Me

Reflections on the power of music, emotional memories, and the holidays

Posted Dec 22, 2012

I don't often cry when listening to music. Don't get me wrong—music touches me deeply.  I get chills and experience a range of emotions. I dance when I turn on the new country station, my heart feels lighter as I sing along to holiday music, and I feel goosebumps when listening to Rachmaninoff's piano concerto #2.

But I rarely cry.

Last Sunday was different. I launched Hulu and pressed "Play" on the most recent episode of SNL. Instead of opening with audience laughter that led to the opening skit, there was quiet silence that led to children's voice singing "Silent night...holy night...all is calm...all is bright..." Then the tears started pouring. This was two days after the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary. I do not have any personal connection to that area or that community, but I am a parent. Hearing those beautiful children's voices float through "Silent Night" allowed me to grieve for those parents and that community.

I found it striking that SNL chose music as a way to honor and acknowledge what had happened the day before. They contributed to our national healing not through comedy or words, but through music.

Music is second only to smell for it's power to evoke strong emotions and emotional memories (a phenomenon I have talked about before). This is something I am reminded of during the holiday season, when holiday music is streamed in shopping malls, grocery stores, and restaurants. The holidays are a season of heightened emotions and emotional memories. For many people, these are positive feelings. Even though there is the stress of shopping, travel, and fluctuating schedules, it is a time we spend with family. There is good food and seasonal treats, the joy of experiencing the holidays through the eyes of our children, and reflecting on holidays past.

But this isn't true for everyone—for many people, the holidays are a time of experiencing and re-experiencing sadness, loss, and grief. And music can be a powerful, if at times unintentional, trigger for these difficult feelings. Given how ubituitous holiday music is this time of year, being aware of the possibility that it can trigger feelings in you or others can help you begin to navigate those feelings when they arise.

And for me? I love holiday music. I sing, I tap my toes, I dance. But there is now one song that will be forever changed for me. I will sing it differently and I will listen to it differently. I will be transported to that one Sunday morning when the angelic voices of the New York Children's Choir made me cry.

Follow me on Twitter @KimberlySMoore for daily updates on the latest research and articles related to music, music therapy, and music and the brain. I invite you also to check out my website, www.MusicTherapyMaven.com, for additional information, resources, and strategies.

About the Author

Kimberly Sena Moore, Ph.D., MT-BC, is a board-certified music therapist, blogger, and professor at the University of Miami.

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