Most of my coursework at the University of Michigan is buried somewhere deep in my brain, never to be heard from again. But there are some exceptions. I remember almost everything I learned in my art history and music literature courses.
I am convinced that I have retained that knowledge in an accessible part of my brain because I use it all the time in art museums and at concerts.
On exams in music literature, we had to identify snippets of pieces we had listened to in class. To prepare for an exam, we made up words to the main themes of the music and memorized where in the symphony they occurred. My roommate and I were particularly good at this, and thought we were pretty original.
I was in Symphony Hall last month for a concert of “war horses.” The program included Mozart’s monumental 40th symphony. As the orchestra tuned up after intermission, the words to the opening theme came to mind. “It’s a bird; it’s a plane; it’s a Mozart…”
My friend Joe was sitting next to me. He leaned over to his wife and sang the same words that we “invented.” He had prepared for music appreciation exams the same way when he was an undergraduate.
I guess we weren’t so original.