North West students talk about relationships with music
Do you have a summer song? Maybe a seasonal playlist? Music is one of the ways people experience memories and emotions, but what does that look like for students at Northwestern? Tune in to this episode of Podculture to hear four students talk about their moments with music and what it means to them.
SRIMAN NARAYANAN: “Projector Pluto” by Rex Orange County. The first time I listened to this song. I was like, “this is amazing,” like I was in my garage on the first day of spring 2020, 2021. And I was still home because I wasn’t on campus. And it was the first day it was hot outside. I was working in my garage and I just had this euphoric moment listening to this song.
KATRINA PHAM: It was Sriman Narayanan, a second-year student from Medill. For some North West students, songs have the power to bring out powerful emotions or bring back old memories. Fiona Shonik, a second-year student at Bienen, said she was able to remember specific moments when listening to certain songs.
FIONA SHONIK: The only song that comes to mind is “Hold my Hand” by Jess Glynne. And it’s a song that I just, for some reason, I kept hearing on this trip where I went with a couple of my friends, like, it kept going to the radio. Like in random settings, we were like in stores, and it just kept playing. And we’re like, “Oh, that’s like our theme song for this trip.” It was just really funny. And so sometimes I listen to that and laugh a little bit, because it’s like I miss them. And like, I wish I could see them.
KATRINA PHAM: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Katrina Pham. Meet Podculture, a podcast about arts and culture on campus and beyond. For this episode, I spoke to several North West students about how music speaks to them. Whatever the setting, music has the power to evoke strong feelings and memories. Here are some of their stories.
KATRINA PHAM: For Sriman, distinguishing music is easier than analyzing literature.
SRIMAN NARAYANAN: It is much more difficult to read a book than to listen to a complete album. So in that sense, I think music is particularly different because you’re having an experience that’s happening to you. This makes it easier to consume. But it’s also super dense. So the more you consume, the more you will learn the words without even realizing what you are saying.
KATRINA PHAM: But what does it mean that music is something that happens to you?
SRIMAN NARAYANAN: That first experience, that first exposure that you have to these artists is kind of very important because it hits you and that raw emotion is so important when it comes to music because you can listen to something the first time and get something completely different from what you did, you know, the fourth or fifth time.
KATRINA PHAM: I asked Sriman for an example of a song that stood out to him the first time he heard it.
SRIMAN NARAYANAN: There is also a song by a lesser known artist named Fenne Lily called “What’s Good” that was on this playlist on Spotify called “The Most Beautiful Songs in the World”. And that song has always stayed with me. The first time I listened to it was a really powerful experience.
KATRINA PHAM: For Bienen’s second year, Fiona Shonik, listening to music is a therapeutic experience. Fiona grew up around music – her family is full of musicians and she plays the trumpet.
FIONA SHONIK: Music is just a really big connecting language for people. And it’s really cool that you can exist in the same space with someone and hear the same thing. And then kind of create that memory. When I listen to something, I also look at my surroundings. And I don’t know, for some reason, I can just be more aware of everything around me when I’m listening to music, and I can really feel present with that.
KATRINA PHAM: While music helps Fiona feel present in her surroundings, she also said it helps her look to the past and remember experiences from her youth.
FIONA SHONIK: I went to my first concert when I was only two months old and my parents took me to concerts all the time. I was a bit of a roadie when I was younger. And I would say the Beatles are probably the most nostalgic for me and listening to their music is very therapeutic. I think a lot of that therapeutic feeling comes from growing up playing music and listening to music all the time. And also, just because I love playing my instrument so much.
KATRINA PHAM: While Sriman and Fiona experience music by listening to it or creating it, Bienen senior Matt You says music is a full bodily experience. Matt is a dancer and free-styler, as well as a member of Refresh Dance Crew and Fusion Dance Company.
MATT YOU: My relationship with dance and music is something that can never really be completely separated. Because when you do one, you also do the other at the same time, that’s what I think. But dancing is like showing people what you hear. Music is an audible thing. And then dance is like a visual thing. You are essentially transforming one form of sensory into another form of sensory. Dancing is seeing music, basically.
KATRINA PHAM: Matt also offers playlists for different moods. He said that sometimes these playlists and music helped him clarify his emotions and gave him space to feel.
MATT YOU: Back when I was making playlists, it heavily depended on my current situation. If I was having a good time, you’d probably find me creating playlists with songs that were more energetic and upbeat. But inevitably, everyone has negative thoughts or these emotions creep in at some point in your day. So I will always have more calming and emotional playlists to deal with those times of the day.
KATRINA PHAM: Bienen sophomore Olivia Pierce’s experience is similar to Fiona’s. While Fiona makes music with her trumpet, Olivia makes it from scratch. Olivia is a songwriter and started making music at the age of 15. She told me that songwriting was a way for her to bring people together and build community.
OLIVIE PIERCE: Basically, what I want to study — as a musicology major — is how black artists build community or mobilize for social change and activism through their music. Like Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone. And so I guess, for me, building community is like making sure people know they’re not alone, in terms of bigger issues or just giving people something positive to listen to, so they can just have a good day.
KATRINA PHAM: Olivia said she was able to express her own emotions through songwriting. She wrote a variety of songs, such as “Smile”, “Missing You”, “Long Distance”, and “X-RAY”.
[music – X-RAY by Olivia Pierce]
OLIVIE PIERCE: I originally wrote X-RAY in 2017 and Philando Castile was murdered by a police officer in the St. Paul area around this time. And I was really upset because I thought, I don’t know, I was like, ‘Okay, well, people will go protest, and then we’ll get justice.’ And then he ended up being acquitted. And then I was really upset. And so I just went home and started writing on the piano. And I was like, you know, “Why? Are we so hung up on things that don’t matter, injustice makes us blind. I was really upset. And then I ended up writing the song. And a lot of people were able to really connect with it, which is cool.
[music – X-RAY by Olivia Pierce]
OLIVIE PIERCE: It’s a bit of our responsibility but also an honor to be able to give voice to more serious things than my music.
KATRINA PHAM: Expressing her emotions in a way she feels words can’t – that’s part of Olivia’s experience with music. And for her, music is not just about listening.
OLIVIE PIERCE: Sometimes if you try to put something into words, it takes away what you’re really trying to express. But then you always have the freedom to express it in music, because you can just sing what you feel. And I also think if somebody’s giving a speech, and they’re like, “We have to fix this,” you know, you can’t really engage because you just have to listen, like you can’t talk with them. But if you sing, you repeat the same refrain five times and everyone can understand. So they can say that message with you instead of just listening.
KATRINA PHAM: Transcending language, the music expresses feelings and memories in a universal way for these Northwestern students. It is a feeling that travels through the ears, and through the bodies and the minds.
FIONA SHONIK: So many different people can listen to the same song and have so many different memories and experiences associated with it. Because like, there are a few songs that I really like, and my friends will absolutely hate them. And then, you know, vice versa. And then I might even be in the same place as someone listening to the same song and creating memories with it, and I’m creating different memories with it. And I just, really love how personal listening to music can be.
KATRINA PHAM: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Katrina Pham. Thanks for listening to another episode of Podculture. This episode was reported and produced by me. The Daily Northwestern’s Audio Editor is Will Clark, Digital Editor is Jordan Mangi, and Managing Editor is Isabelle Sarraf. Be sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more podcasts like this.
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– NU Declassified: The Melody of the Music Education Major
– Liner notes: On “Laurel Hell,” Mitski gets existential about his relationship with music
– Sound source: Moyana Olivia makes music, community with “Missing You”