Musical Memory

One often hears about the mind’s eye; a reference I suppose is to the imagination. Recently–like yesterday–I finished a book entitled “Thinking in Pictures”, by Temple Grandin that makes me wonder if the phrase has broader explanation. Dr. Grandin, one of the first people to write about autism “from the inside”, and also a livestock industry consultant, writes that she is able to picture her designs in detail, in her head, before anything is put down on paper. She references Nikola Tesla, the inventor, in his ability to see, in head, his designs in motion before any parts were made, as an example of how her mind works as an autistic person.

I plan to give a more comprehensive review of that book in an upcoming blog post. However, something I noticed today made me wonder if our minds can not only see, but hear. On Saturday nights or Sunday mornings, as often as I’m able, I review the liturgy (order of service) our pastor sends out as a preparation for worship to members and regular attenders. It’s also on his blog site.

Since it was quiet in the house today, I didn’t want to play the piano to review the hymns, so I started reading through the words. This is also beneficial, but what I realized was, that for certain songs, I was able to hear the tune in my head. I was singing with my mouth or through my nose. I was hearing it in my mind. The songs that I heard in this manner included “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”, on page 35 of the Cantus Christi hymnal. That song is a setting of Psalm 23 in E flat major. I also noticed this ability with “For the Beauty of the Earth” (G major) and “Blessed Jesus (at thy Word)” (G major). It would seem that my familiarity with these songs (some since childhood) is the cause, because with less familiar tunes, I cannot hear in my head. That’s one theory, anyway.

I wondered if the great composers, such as Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven, had this ability as they were composing. Does any reader have experience with either phenomena?