I saw something interesting on the TV the other day, in a programme called
If Memory Serves Me Right, made by actress Maureen Lipman. While the main thrust of the programme examined the difficulty of learning lines as one became older, a specific interview with a researcher did give me significant pause for thought.
Sadly I don't have a recording and the programme is not available on
iPlayer, so I can't provide more than a brief recollection of the study in question, but the gist seemed to be that an individual's most powerful memories are those that are built up during the transition from childhood to adulthood – say between the ages of 12 and 25.
I'm increasingly convinced that this probably applies even more to musical memories than those of a more general nature, and as a result often goes some way towards explaining an individual's particular taste in music – at least in terms of popular music forms.
It's certainly true that much (though by no means all) of my favourite music tends to date from my adolescent years (say, from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s), and I'm also conscious that jazz fans are often a little older than I, and that punk enthusiasts tend to be rather younger.
Indeed, listening to the beginnings of punk rock at my local record shop, I recall thinking that it wasn't particularly original and strongly reminded me of early Who material. I therefore never really
'got' punk rock – but it's no surprise that my kid brother (12 years my junior) became a big fan of The Clash.
Over the years my record collection has accumulated loads of music from outside that 1962-1974
'window', much of which has no less merit than the music I enjoyed back in those early years. But there's no denying that many of my favourite discs date from that era. And on the odd occasion that I get talked into participating in pub quizzes (I've discovered that my knowledge of history and geography can be quite useful), I find myself well able to answer questions from
'my' era, but quite unable to cope with those from more recent years.
I should stress that this observation only applies to popular music. Enthusiasm for classical music seems to belong to a different part of the brain and memory entirely. I was certainly exposed to plenty of classical music through my formative years, but the composers I heard in my youth seem to have little if any relationship to my current personal preferences (for the works of Sibelius, Elgar and Wagner, for examples).
However, while I don't believe that one's preference for a particular type or era of music entirely determines one's choice of hi-fi system, it probably does have some influence. It also maybe helps explain why timing and dynamic expression seem to be much more important than imaging or tonality, for me at least, though I'm fully aware that others have quite different priorities.
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