How a Playlist Keeps My Family Connected to My Late Father

I added each of these songs to a shared Spotify playlist I named “Dad” and encouraged my relatives to add more to the queue. Fortunately for my sometimes tech-averse family, creating the playlist was as easy as clicking three dots to add songs, share the list, and collaborate. In that way, creating a playlist became an interactive walk down memory lane for the whole family—and a dramatic upgrade from the days where you had to purchase music, make a mixtape, and ship a copy to each family member.

For me, listening to the carefully curated “Dad” playlist and viewing the accompanying music video my brother-in-law created on Vimeo brought me back to cherished moments with my father—how he shimmied through our living room singing Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and transformed himself into the perfect swing dancing partner when “In the Mood” played during family weddings.

Apparently, I’m not the only one turning to music as a substitute for real-world comfort and connection. A 2021 study, published in Humanities & Social Sciences Connections, revealed that more than half of the 5,000 people surveyed about their music listening habits during the pandemic reported engaging in music to cope, both in terms of emotional regulation and also as a proxy for social interaction (take TikTok challenges, for example). The strategy works, in part, because music has the capacity to instantly transport you to a different place and time with just a few notes.

“Music taps into the emotional center of the brain, and it’s strongly associated with memory,” Glowacki says. “If you hear a piece of music, you can pull up the emotions, the affect you had from other times in your life when you heard it. It’s an immediate sensory response in a way that spoken language is not.”

With modern recording technology, we’re able to passively listen to music, but historically music was always participatory. “There’s this sense that you have to be a musician to sing, but that’s not the way it was for most of history and that’s not the way it has to be,” Savage says. Plus, making music—and singing along to it karaoke style, even if you’re tone-deaf—has a host of health benefits. This study, published in the Journal of Voice, says that singing can boost immunity and enhance cooperation among community members. It’s almost instinctual; a sort of evolutionary survival mechanism.

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“If you can sing a song, hum a tune, or whistle a melody you have the power to unite people, even if you don’t speak a word of their language,” Glowacki says. Walk into any dueling piano bar where vocalists are singing “Sweet Caroline” and you’ll undoubtedly see patrons jump to their feet singing at the top of their lungs, “so good, so good, so good” in unison.

The euphoria that happens when you become part of the music can foster positive connections between people and bond them together, says Glowacki. That’s why people across the globe are using advanced technology like JackTrip for real-time synchronized virtual jam sessions or combining services like Zoom and YouTube to have virtual karaoke parties. Even widely used social media like TikTok allow remote collaboration. The TikTok sea shanties revival is a prime example. “People really got into the experience of doing these virtual duets. One person would sing. Another would layer in a harmony,” Savage says.

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