Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lost Memories?

A few days ago, I posted some video clips to my blog Sam's Story. They were clips I thought had been lost, clips of my beloved grey cheeked parakeet, Sam, who passed away three weeks ago. I was so happy to have them, to always be able to see him--and hear him--alive.

I confided to William yesterday that I wished I had such videos of my parents. Though I can remember most things about them clearly, with the passing of time I've lost the ability to remember how their voices sounded. He told me he also had trouble recalling his late brother's voice. I had also heard others express similar frustrations. William suggested this was simply something lacking in our brains, but I find myself wondering if there's something more to it, if it's not just a universal deficiency.

Odd...I can recall the slightly fruity scent of Mom's skin (she was diabetic)...the way Dad used to stroke his eyebrow when he was watching TV...the shape of Mom's hands and nails (my hands look exactly like hers)...the exact color and texture of their hair...the quirky facial expression Mom had when annoyed (it drove me crazy) and so many other things--but I can't remember their voices.

Could the ability to recall the sound of voices be connected to musical ability?

Those of us lacking in musical gifts--tone deaf, for lack of a kinder term--don't hear ourselves as we actually sound. Think of the rejected would-be contestants on American Idol, who sound terrible but believe they have great talent. They have no idea how bad they really are. It stands to reason that if we aren't hearing their own voices as they really sound, there would be a problem in hearing--and recalling--the voices of others as well.

Is it possible, then, that someone with an ear for music could be able to hear and recall the voices of those they've lost? If any of you reading this are musically gifted, perhaps you can answer this question. I would love to hear from you.

There is a study that's discovered a hub in the brain linking music, memory and emotion....

I wish I could hear my parents' voices. I would love to be able to watch video of them, hear them talking, joking, I miss that! That sound is the only thing missing from my memories, and it bothers me more than I ever thought it would. I never thought I'd ever forget.

As for my video clips of Sam, I wish I had more. I wish I had audio of the wide range of sounds he made. The only thing Sam didn't do was sing. (He, too, lacked musical talent!) As I told William, there was a sound he made when he was especially content and happy, a sound I'd give anything to hear right now...the funny thing about it was that he sounded like a cat purring.

Yes, I said purring....


  1. I'm sorry about your parakeet. We had a parakeet named Buddy. In the days leading up to his death I had gradually converted his cage into a hospice unit. Sad. Birds are wonderful little creatures.

    (Buddy didn't sing either. Canaries do.)

  2. I have pretty close to perfect pitch. I played the cello in school and still play the piano and guitar. I have a pretty pleasant alto singing voice. I can remember clearly the sound of both of my grandmothers' voices, and I can remember Dad's voice. My dad had a beautiful singing voice--I miss that. He played more instruments than I could easily list. I guess I get my musical talent from him.

  3. I can play guitar, and I can one-finger plink out any tune on the piano from memory, unfortunately, I never nurtured this ability with lessons. I can hear and remember voices of friends and family. Sometimes I can hear entire songs play back in my head like I am listening to a radio.

  4. Norma, I have no musical talents (although, I like to think I do when I'm singing in the car), and I can't remember what my dad sounded like. Not very well, anyway. I only have a few pictures of him and no videos. I wish I did.

  5. BTW, my dad's been dead since 1988...23 years in wonder I can't remember.

  6. Very well said, Norma. I think you're right, too, particularly in what we're seeing in comments... the musically inclined may well be better tuned to remembering that.

  7. William, I do believe we're onto something!

  8. Norma, that is the one thing I miss too - voices, whether human or my pets. I like to say I sing in D Flat, which means there is no accompaniment for me,(Donna's flat)and wait for musicians to say 'there is no such note.' They just need to hear me sing to know it.
    I think you might be right. It is an area of the brain most of us don't use much. Sure is something to think about.

  9. I miss my cat, Percy. He was so full of personality, and I wish I had a picture of him to put online. He was very vocal, and would talk non-stop sometimes. If I sneezed, or was crying, he'd come over and make sure I was all right.

    Although my cats now "talk" sometimes, they don't do it as much as Percy did. I wish I had a video of him, too.

  10. I too wish I could hear my mother voice and what pictures I had were lost in the a California firestorm. I only have four family photos.

    I am happy you have the videos of your Sam.

    Hamish my Scottie/Westie mix purrs but then Scotties are the cats of the dog world so it makes sense to me.

    cheers, parsnip

  11. I am as tone deaf as a post. Maybe more so. I don't know if I remember how dad sounded, but I think I do. But it has only been two years. I do have a box full of journals he kept and his hand writing is hard to read. But they are certainly treasures.

  12. You mention smell. That has actually been tied to memory. Actually, smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers.

  13. Love this post-but I wondered if Sam's voice sounded like other parakeets? (Sorry- I know he was one of a kind)
    I played flute and piccolo for 9 years and sang for years after that with relative pitch which is similar to perfect pitch except that people are born with perfect pitch and relative pitch is a learned talent. My parent's voices comes to me in small fragments...very interesting.

  14. About the only thing thelisas can pitch is each other - sort of like politically incorrect dwarf tossing, though far more strenuous.

    You have given us inpiration to make a few new memories of the audio-visual kind (or at least the one of us who lords over the spokesperson-ing), and so for that I/we thank you.

    p.s. it's legal to tape people when they're not looking, right?

  15. Eve--yes. Sam was a grey cheek--technically a parakeet but looked more like a parrot. I had another pocket parrot before him, and they each had their own particular sounds.

  16. Norma, fascinating post. I'm lousy in math and was never much good at reading music or learning to play an instrument.

    I can carry a tune and play things by ear. I remember exactly how my grandparents sounded. But I never realized this could be related to musical ability (or in my case, miniscule musical ablity).

  17. I know that memory is connected to music and there are the studies to back that up. You might pick up Oliver Sacks' "Musicophilia" and also "This is Your Brain on Music" by a different author.

    I'm musically-gifted, but I'm not sure how well I can remember voices.


  18. Norma, this is a super interesting post. I have, at best, bad relative pitch, but have a really, really acute sense of smell with an even stronger memory. My parents passed 20 and 18 years ago. In the beginning, I remembered their voices not as strongly as how I remembered faces, movements and so on but strong enough that I didn't long for a deeper remembrance (didn't think about it, actually). But, as I accepted their departures, their voices gradually faded into a weaker memory (with other more physical memories remaining the same.) I wish I had videos of them and could see them alive again.

  19. Fascinating subject, Norma. Such nice memories of your parents. And sorry to hear about Sam. :(
    I'm not musically gifted, but I do have a great memory. I can remember both my grandmothers' voices clearly. I can remember old boyfriends' voices. I can remember my brother's voice as a toddler. But hearing them actually recorded after so long would be such a treat. Perhaps you'll find an old video or tape someday and there will be your parents' voice on it. It will be so sweet. Til then, enjoy those memories you do have.
    I love your very thought provoking post. I hope you'll share results with us if you learn there is a connection.


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