The beat of a city


Music. God I love it. If had to decide which temple I had to bow down at it would be hard to choose between music and travel. (Or books but that’s another story). It brings meaning into situations, it gives words to things I thought were unexplainable. It is a way to feel more potently.
If I am feeling happy, listening to a song that that gives words to that happiness is like giving the emotion a channel to run through and enter into the world, rather than letting it bottle up inside. Of course this is particularly relevant with sadness or confusion or any negative emotions, music gives them a release from being bottled up inside. And it doesn’t have to be the lyrics that that give sound to the emotions, of course it can just be from the melody itself that meaning can come from.
I once fell wildly for a boy and played Taylor Swift’s ‘Mean’ on repeat (hey, I never said anything about good music). The lyrics were about how mean guys can be and how she didn’t need them. The words were irrelevant to me and I barely heard them, but the melody leapt and dipped and danced like my heart was doing at the time and so I played it.

Another way that music is important to me is in creating memories. Lee Kernaghan and Garth Brooks are my childhood. Guns and Roses, Thin Lizzy and the soundtrack from ‘Rent’ are Ireland and the time that I spent there on exchange. Just the first few notes from The Kook’s ‘She moves in her own way’ and I am transported to a grassy cliff on a sunny day watching waves roll in to Bantry Bay. I can even hear my friends singing and clapping along in the background.

On a 4 week road trip through America, Claire’s friend gave her an iPod loaded with 100 songs and a book he had created detailing at what point each of the songs were to be played and why they were relevant and what to listen for in each of them. It is still the most thoughtful gift I have ever seen and it made a huge impact upon our trip (I think for the most part I only insisted on interrupting it to make sure The Killers were played veryloudly as we drove through Las Vegas). He knew the power each song had, especially when played in the right situation.

My music player is full of playlists named ‘Espanya’ ‘Eire’ ‘Zeeland’ (I was embarrassed recently to read a post on ‘how to know if you’re a vagabond traveler’ or something, and see that naming playlists after places was a horribly clichéd thing to do. Oh well.). Each of them is filled with songs that I listened to whilst in that place, ‘Espanya’ is bright and cheerful, peppered with Vampire Weekend and Australian hip hop. ‘Eire’ is soft and calming, think Angus and Julia Stone and Mumford and Sons. Some connections you don’t even have to try to make. I’m sure I’m not the only person who will connect Avici’s ‘Wake me up’ with the European summer of 2013 and I didn’t even once press play on the song myself!

On Topdeck trips we make a conscious effort to connect each trip with a song so that the passengers will be reminded of their once-in-a-lifetime-European-adventure every time they hear it. The trip leader chooses a song (usually something popular and in the charts) and plays it every time we come into a rest stop (about 3 times a day) to wake up the passengers and let them know to get ready to get off. It will also be requested at all the clubs we go to and without a doubt it will be received with roars of delight.
In opposition, the Topdeck Training Trip was almost music free. The use of music players of any kind was banned and music was played on the coach for us in only the most specific of conditions. We grew hungry for a melody and our solution was to sing. The very first week in the Netherlands the cooks were banned from singing after our harmonies in the kitchen were judged too raucous and not to the theme of training trip at all. After that we had to resort to underground music and illicit singing. Emily and I played a few select songs in the morning as we got ready in our hotel room in Switzerland, Laura taught me an almost silently sung ditty at the back of the coach. We belted out Tom Jones whilst walking through Krakow and Paris and ‘Not giving in’ (Rudimental) became my mantra after pounding up and down hostel corridors with it plugged into my ears on repeat.
 Coming in to a new city I would never dream to lock myself away behind headphones. So much can be learnt from listening to the sounds of a place. Ambulance sirens sound different, the music playing from shop fronts is different and of course the chatter of the locals is going to be different. There is so much to be learnt that I have to keep my ears open to experience it all. But after a week or so I will be ready to experience the place in a different way, through music. I have said before that listening to music and looking, really looking and seeing, is a great way to experience your own home city in a new way and it is the same overseas. Happy, dancing music makes me smile and look up, I see different high up frescos and strangers smile back at me. Soft music sets me dreaming and imagining the place in times gone by.
I am excited to be going back to Rome soon to spend some serious time there, 5 weeks or so, and I am already thinking about what tunes would suit a city so stuck in the past yet indignant and rowdy and demanding that they be recognized now. Any recommendations?

Not all of these pictures belong to me. If any are yours or you have a problem with me using them please feel free to contact me at gemtherese@hotmail.com

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