Lately I've been trying to commit songs to memory, mainly for the purpose of giving myself a pleasant way of passing the time at The Store while I'm sweeping or wandering the parking lot or whatever. (People never look oddly at a person who's walking around singing to themselves. But just try merely talking to yourself, and you gain an instant reputation of being on the lam from the guys in white coats.) I started off concentrating on songs from Lerner-and-Loewe musicals, and now I'm moving on to folk tunes from my Irish, Scottish and Celtic music collection (starting with "Caledonia", a simply beautiful ballad).
But I've noticed some interesting things about the process of memorizing songs. Lots of people know their favorite songs well enough that they can sing them along with the CD or when they come on the radio, but if you remove that crutch, it's much harder to recall all the lyrics. Being able to accompany the radio isn't the same thing as knowing the song, which I find fascinating. And after watching two full seasons of American Idol and seeing contestants fairly frequently forget words (sometimes blatantly, othertimes showing enough presence of mind to toss in some variant of "ooby-dooby-doo" to cover up the error), I conclude that maybe it's not even the presence of the accompaniment that helps us sing along with the radio. Now, what the missing "X-factor" actually is, I don't know. This is all half-baked thinking, obviously.