Home Feature Ted Ferris reflects on personal anthems

Ted Ferris reflects on personal anthems

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When and how does a song make the transition from our favourite to a personal anthem?

I discovered the Bruce Cockburn song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” shortly after it was released in 1984. The lyric “…nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight. Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight” resonated with me almost immediately, but I didn’t consider the song a personal anthem until over 25 years later. I even chose to have a portion of the lyric incorporated into a tattoo – one that Bruce has graciously autographed after several concerts – but that’s another story.

I’m sure most of us could quickly come up with a list of our favourite books or movies. While our top pick sometimes changes, for some it can be a life-long commitment to an all-time favourite. However, when it comes to selecting a song, the term favourite can have many implications. Do we just really like the tune? Maybe it’s our jam, or has it actually become our very own anthem?

While a book or movie can often remind us of a certain time, place or person, at times inciting incredibly emotional responses, the ubiquitous nature of music cultivates an environment where it is more readily accessible to the listener. We may own a copy of our favourite book or movie, but we have the ability to listen to our favourite song on a regular basis. How many of us use our favourite song as our ringtone or alarm clock? How many of us can access our favourite song from our mobile phone, vehicle or computer, in addition to our stereo? We can be almost anywhere, doing almost anything and our favourite song is right at our fingertip.

Given the ease with which we can access our favourite songs, it’s no surprise that they often become the soundtracks to our lives. Simply upon hearing even a few notes, we can be instantly and either willingly or unwillingly transported back to a very specific memory, an aural reminder of a certain time, place or person. However, a personal anthem is on a whole other level in terms of favourite songs, as they’re a unique breed of musical touchstone that can seemingly rescue us in times of greatest need.

It may sound a little too “new age,” but sometimes we choose our personal anthem and yet sometimes it feels as though it chooses us. Our song selection can occur during a particularly low point in our lives and even coincide with significant personal challenges. In a desperate search for much-needed self-care, we discover or rediscover a song that ticks all of the boxes, even for a few glorious minutes. Such a song can evolve into a go-to work of art, a touchstone for our emotional well-being, for some a “fight song.”

However, our selection can also occur during the happiest times in our lives. It becomes a celebratory anthem reminding us of our fondest memories, greatest achievements or even our triumphs. We listen acutely and often, intent on absorbing every ounce of positive vibes in hopes of history repeating itself.

Regardless, we find ourselves playing our anthem before and even during significant life events or simply before we start our day. We share it with those we care for the most.

It’s not always the entire song or even the lyrics that provide us with the antidote to what ails us. Sometimes all that resonates is an engaging melody or a clever lyric. Just hearing a few bars or a single line can instantaneously and significantly alter our mental state. Do musicians truly understand and appreciate the power they wield?

So what’s your personal anthem and why? Did you choose it or did it choose you?

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