Defeated by the summer heat and lack of caffeine, I looked for my friend Dani and found her holding a boombox. It was small, but had a CD player, a radio, and it actually worked– a rarity when shopping second-hand. We left the thrift store excited to walk the 2 blocks back to her apartment so she could show me her CD collection. I laid stomach-down on her floor, my head turned towards her, and she held up the CD that would christen her new boombox. The familiar sound of a CD turning felt like a warm hug as Track 1 started. “We are Maggie and Terry and Suzy,” scratched its way through the unused speakers; Dani was playing one of her favorite albums for me, and suddenly it was my favorite too. She had played these songs for me before, but the experience of the boom box, her telling me the band’s lore, and singing all the songs with such fervor exponentially changed how I felt about this album. For the next 2 weeks, the only thing I listened to was the Roches. They stayed up until 2 AM doing ceramics with me. They crammed for my midterm with me. Songs that had never held any sort of significance to me became the only thing I wanted to listen to. 

There is a unique ability for music to relate to your shadow– the parts of you that are hidden away behind locked doors. So I ask, why is music the universal language, and how do other people feel about this experience? Music educator Paul R. Lehman gives us a possible answer: “Music speaks directly to our emotions without the intervening filter of language” (Lehman 61). The way I understand this is that you don’t have to be particularly articulate to reap the benefits of listening to music. Taking that a step further, Lehman proposed that “it’s likely that the music reflecting our state of mind at a given moment will have special appeal at that moment” (61). It’s the excitement of my loved ones that inspires me to feel some way about music. The love I have for them encourages me to appreciate the same things they do. But sadly, I am just a case study (not everyone is so impressionable), so I looked to others, hoping to maybe come to some sort of general conclusion of my own. 

In an ideal world, I would have set up a random selection, but it’s midterm season, so I asked my friends and coworkers. I asked some general questions and just had a discussion about music with them:

  1. Would you consider yourself an emotional person? 

  2. What’s your favorite song/album?

  3. What (if you have one) was the moment you heard it and thought “this is the one”? 

For Logan Barth, it doesn’t take a long conversation to know he isn’t a very emotional person. If the situation mandates it, sure, but other than that you won’t catch him tearing up at sad videos or getting overly excited about a good grade. His favorite song is “Next Up, Forever” by indie pop band AJR. The first time he heard it was when it came out in April 2019. Logan was a sophomore in high school then, a time he believes “the whole future comes into your mind”. He told me, quite vulnerably, that the song was about never reaching your peak– always striving to do better. As his friend, I’ve seen Logan juggle full-time jobs, plus extracurriculars and schoolwork, yet he never ceases to amaze me. He told me that this song “did have an emotional impact and it still does to this day.” Even someone who isn’t a particularly emotional person can feel connected to music. He believes that music touches a part of your subconscious that nothing else has access to. 

On the other hand, Alyse Saucedo is quite in touch with her emotions. I’ve watched her push things down to put her best foot forward, but I’ve also seen her feel things with a depth that most people fear. Her favorite song is “Can’t Help Falling In Love” by Elvis Presley (though she said she prefers the Kina Grannis version more these days). Alyse told me that she cries every time she hears this song and her “ah-ha moment” made me understand why. The first time she heard the song she was 5 or 6 years old, sitting on her grandparents' kitchen floor. As they began to dance together, she remembers “smiling so big watching them because that was my earliest memory of perceiving what love is.” The ability of a song to capture such a fundamental human emotion is so unbelievable to me. For me, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” is one of the first songs I learned to play by ear on the piano. It was a stepping stone for me, and it was a stepping stone for Alyse in an entirely different way. 

Alex Zepeda is someone I have felt comfortable talking to since I met him– he’s like an older brother you would trust with your life. So, when I asked if he was an emotional person, I wasn’t shocked to hear him say “absolutely.” He told me he’s someone who’s bad at absolute favorites, but in turn gave me the exact type of answer I searched for: “an album that upon hearing [he] thought was a 10, a perfect album - In Rainbows by Radiohead.” Alex and I have had many conversations about music, but the way he describes a song is so unique that I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. He prefaced by saying he had listened to Radiohead albums before (and felt emotional reactions) but In Rainbow's “choice of textures, lyrics, and sonic space” made Alex feel like everything served to create beauty. Alex, like myself, tends to replay albums and songs into the ground in an attempt to chase the feeling you felt when you first heard them. But, with In Rainbows he swore to himself that he wouldn’t do this. Rather, he abstained from not only the album but even individual songs off the album. He allows himself to listen to it once, maybe twice a year to signify a special moment (“like fancy sushi on your birthday”). 

So what’s the conclusion? These are three people in a world full of billions of people, but if any conclusion can be drawn from this it’s that it doesn’t matter how emotional you are– music will touch you in some way. If you ask me, there is definitely a reason music is the universal language. Unfortunately, I am no scientist- I’m a college student trying to find solace in the little moments, and thus I ask, what is your “this is the one” moment? 

Lehman, Paul R. “Another Perspective: Why Do We Like Music? And What Does This Mean for

Music Education?” Music Educators Journal, vol. 108, no. 1, 2021, pp. 60–65,

https://doi.org/10.1177/00274321211024194.