Back to Camp
In his book about memory, White Gloves, John Kotre poses the question, 'If you could tell the story of your life by taking someone to half a dozen different places, where would you go?' One of the places I would go is back to camp. Even today the sound of rain in the woods, the smell of insect repellent, sitting on a log watching a fire - all these things stir up memories of being a camper and counselor, of old friendships, of discovering nature and having fun. They have become part of my 'autobiographical memory' as Kotre calls it - the memory of people, places, events, and feelings that we cultivate and make into the story of our lives. Some of my strongest memories of camp are of the songs we sang. We sang after meals, in the woods, hiking, around the campfire. I am surprised at how I can regularly forget my social security number at inconvenient times, yet still remember the words to a song I haven't heard for 30 years. Music seems to have a life of it's own in the brain. Oliver Sacks, in his many writings about neurology, describes patients who are unable to initiate the movement of walking, yet can dance when music is played; a woman with Parkinson's Disease who cannot put on her glasses, yet can play the piano beautifully for hours; musicians with Tourette's Disorder who remain free of tics and impulses while they play; patients with aphasia for whom language is lost, who can speak words only if they sing; people with Alzheimer's who have forgotten everything but how to play a Chopin Etude. Music enters the brain via the auditory nerve, which makes an almost immediate connection to the limbic system - the emotional core of the personality. The entire brain becomes involved in the performance and enjoyment of music. The right brain perceives the whole, the left brain distinguishes the parts, memory and the association centers provide context and personal meaning. Research has demonstrated that music can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and pain, increase energy, and ease depression. These multiple connections give music it's power. Among other things, it is the power to make us stop what we are doing and pay attention - to a feeling, a memory, a brief recollection of who we used to be. The songs on these CD's are my favorites from summer camp. Most of these songs aren't sung anymore, a sad fact that also happens to remind me of my age. Each generation has it's own songs to remember, after all. But these are the songs of my past. They're reconstructed here without words; bent, folded, and teased into new settings and sounds. They are presented as a mixture of past and present, as all memory is - part recollection, part invention. Each time I think about camp, for instance, the story changes a bit - the water isn't quite so cold, the mosquitoes aren't quite as persistent, the food is better, the days brighter and the nights clearer. I am there with my best friends, lighting a fire, making a raft, hiking to the rope swing by the river - always in the moment, always young and alive, always eager for the next adventure around the bend. Welcome back to camp!