For me, the year starts to wind down when Daylight Savings Time ends. The shorter days and long dark nights naturally cause me to start reflecting on the year that is coming to a close. The last leaves are falling, winter jackets are coming out of the closet, and in front of the fireplace is my favorite place to be.

Thanksgiving to New Year’s is a blur of activity. To me, this short time between Halloween and late November is when I try to take a deep breath, reflect on the past year, and set some goals and intentions for the next year. As a music therapist, I love using music to help capture and frame this review.

You have probably heard that music is a powerful way to trigger memories. There is even a name for this – Music-Evoked Autobiographical Memories (MEAMs). This term grew out of a body of research that identified specific brain regions linked to autobiographical memory and emotion that are activated by familiar music. Researchers found that even people with dementia or brain injuries can remember more autobiographical facts after listening to familiar music.

While most of this research focuses on older memories, music can also be used to structure your own recent year in review. Self-reflection is a valuable practice, and music creates a structure or container for reflecting on the past. By identifying songs that represent certain periods, you can use these songs as a kind of cue or representation of that time. This technique is also great if writing or journaling is not your forte.

A great way to start is to think about songs that have had an impact on you over the past year. You can organize this by month, season, or however you want. I’ve provided some prompts and examples to help you turn this experience into journal or blog entries if desired. With a blank piece of paper (I recommend unlined):

  1. Write down a song title, and then listen to the song without any lyrics or visuals
  2. Listen to the song again with the lyrics printed or on-screen in front of you. Circle or mark those words that have a particular effect on you.
  3. Write out those words or phrases on your blank paper.
  4. What does the music capture? A memory of an event, interaction, person? Note this.
  5. How does your body feel when you listen? What part of your body is affected? Note this.

None of these prompts require you to write a full sentence, just to respond in some way. It could be with words, sketched images, or entire stories. There is no right or wrong way to process this experience

Comfort amidst chaos

Non nobis, Domine, by Patrick Doyle from the movie score for Henry V.

I trained as a classical musician and that style, especially choral music, is my “home” as it were. It brings me comfort and helps me cope with stress. This year and into 2020 is a whirlwind of activity for my husband and me. He is serving as the Grand Commander of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Pennsylvania, the final year of a 6-year journey. Much travel is involved with many obligations and commitments. We work as a team and I am with him through all of this. However, it is exhausting and I find my “fuse,” as it were, to be much shorter than usual. Richard chose Non nobis, Domine as his theme song for the year and I have adopted it. The song has become a safe haven for me amidst the chaos. When I listen, my breathing begins to slow and my mind quiets as it focuses in on the words; I am comforted.

Non nobis, Domine, sed nomini, tuo da gloriam
(Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us; but to your name be the glory Psalm 115:1)

We have six more months before Richard is done, this song is both an active cue for me to take a moment to relax, and will be a direct reminder to me about our year of service and activity.

Turning point

“This is me” Keala Settle from The Greatest Showman

The year has been one of growth for me personally, and that is not always easy. I referenced above how busy my husband and I have been with travel and obligations related to a major leadership role he has held this year. For me, this has meant learning to be a partner and picking up the slack when he is overcommitted; it means learning how to be comfortable and take ownership of a role not of my choosing. It means truly being myself. When I first heard the music from The Greatest Showman, it was this video of Keala Settle’s first presentation of This is Me that stopped me in my tracks. So many of the words spoke to me personally. From my own thoughts that “cut me down,” to learning to “drown them out” and accept that “I am brave, I am bruised; I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.”

I’m sharing two versions of the song. One is the official audio, and the other a video presenting the backstory of This is me that I encourage you to watch. The video explores what it was like for Keala to overcome her fears in this performance. Watch the other musicians expressions as she begins to move out from behind the music stand; watch and listen to how music completely takes over the room; watch Hugh Jackman’s response to her emotion when she releases his hand. The song itself stands alone as powerful, self-affirming, defiant. This video helped me see how much support there was for her surrounding that experience. It made me reflect on my own life and see how people in my life are truly supportive and excited about me. I’m often my own worst enemy when the words in my head are “the sharpest words, wanna cut me down.” This song helps me …“send a flood,… drown them out” and then I believe “I am brave, I am bruised; I am who I’m meant to me, this is me.” This song has become my anthem, as it inspires and challenges me to stay committed to my conviction that building community with music and drumming is necessary and important that I make no apologies, this is me.

“Look out’ cause here I come
and I’m marching on the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.

This song represents such a turning point for me and will continue as my anthem in 2020.

Looking Ahead

Music is not only a great way of reminiscing and looking back, but can also help you frame the year ahead. I am not someone who typically makes New Year’s Resolutions, but I do find that setting an intention for the year ahead is meaningful. What if instead of making a New Year’s resolution this year, you select a song that represents a goal or state of mind that you’d like to achieve in 2020? Music can help you to formulate and reach your goals because it is motivating, inspiring and often transcends language. What is your Anthem for 2020?

Download this PDF to help you get started. I’d love to hear what music has made an impact on you in 2019 OR what might be your opening song for 2020 and Why?. Share your thoughts on our Facebook Blog post or send me an email using the contact form above.