Ideas

Part 5 of The Nerve reveals you've got the music in you

This episode of The Nerve focuses on the relationship between music and personal identity. From tribal tastes among teenagers, to the nostalgic playlists of older people, the music we listen to says a great deal about our individual identities. The music we like — and dislike — defines us, never more so than in today’s world of a million genres and personal playlists.

'We all have our anthems' says host Jowi Taylor

According to violinist David Harrington, everyone personally experiences music differently. He says, for him, 'It's my private world and I believe that everyone has that.' (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Listen to the full episode53:59

From tribal tastes among teenagers, to the nostalgic playlists of older people, the music we listen to says a great deal about our individual identities.

Even though music brings people together, there may be no more subjective art form. The music we like — and dislike — defines us, never more so than in today's world of a million genres and personal playlists.

People rally around pieces of music if they're looking for something to be a badge of their identity.- Bruce Cockburn, singer-songwriter and activist

Think of the way you can remember the lyrics of a treasured song you haven't heard in years. The music we love as adolescents seems to weave itself into the wiring of our brains.

"Everyone experiences music personally and differently than everyone else," says David Harrington, violinist and founder of the Kronos Quartet.

"Music can be so private. I can be talking about certain notes in music that mean a great deal to me personally. But nobody else will hear them in this way. It's my private world and I believe that everyone has that."

Music connects us to where we come from and speaks to the deepest part of our personal identities. Renowned Inuit musician Tanya Tagaq remembers feeling intense culture shock when she first left the North to attend school in Halifax.

"I just felt like someone had pulled me out of the ground by the roots. I was just desperate."

Music was a lifeline. 

For Inuit musician Tanya Tagaq hearing throat singing when she missed home made her feel an intense connection to the music. (Kevin Kane/Getty Images for UNDP)

"My mom, she's so sweet. She sent me these packages. There'd be newspapers from home and tapes of people singing and stuff and CDs and Cup O'Noodles and all that kind of mummy stuff. And I remember putting on the Inuktitut singing and throat singing and I had my head on the stereo. I was crying. I just missed home so much and I felt really lost at that time. I found that the sound of that extremely compelling and it made me feel like I could go home again."

Even when it connects to thousands or millions of other people who like the same song, it's a statement about who we are.

"People rally around pieces of music if they're looking for something to be a badge of their identity," says singer-songwriter and activist Bruce Cockburn.

The relationship between music and identity is the focus of this episode of The Nerve, presented by host Jowi Taylor. 

"Some music feels as if it has been written just for me — like it speaks privately to some deep essential part of me. Other music I confess I listen to because it makes me feel part of something. Or maybe it just identifies me as part of something to other people, like a demographic or tribe or subculture," says Taylor.

"We all have our anthems — personal ones as well as national ones. There are a million musical ways to declare this is who I am."

The Nerve is a documentary series about why music exists and how it affects us. Music is Who I Am first aired on CBC Music in 2008.

Guests in this episode: 

Also appearing…

  • Sheila Rainger
  • Steven Brown
  • Ellen Dissanayake
  • Sandra Trehub
  • Laura-Lee Balkwill
     

Episode 5  features music from these artists and composers:

  • Kronos Quartet & Hamza el Din
  • Kronos Quartet, Zakir Hussain & Wu Man
  • Fritz Kreisler
  • Antonín Dvořák
  • Tanya Tagaq 
  • Jukka-Pekka Saraste/Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
  • Jean Sibelius
  • Pete Seeger
  • Nirvana
  • Kermit the Frog
  • Kveta Novotná
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Vladimir Ivanoff & L'orient imaginaire
  • Dave Brubeck
  • Johnny Cash
  • Hank Williams
  • Lipps Inc.
  • Kinky Friedman
  • Randy Travis
  • Norah Jones
  • John Coltrane
  • Enigma
  • Bruce Cockburn 
  • Gilles Vigneault et les Charbonniers de l'Enfer 
  • the Aka Pygmy tribe

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