Podculture: The rhythms of feeling

Katrina Pham, Video Editor



Do you have a summer song? Maybe a seasonal playlist? Music is one of the ways people experience memories and emotions, but what does that look like for Northwestern’s students? Tune in to this episode of Podculture to hear from four students about their moments with music, and what it means to them.


SRIMAN NARAYANAN: Rex Orange County’s “Pluto Projector.” The first time I listened to that song. I was like, “this is incredible,” like I was in my garage on the first day of spring in 2020, 2021. And I was still at home because I wasn’t on campus. And it was the first day that it was warm outside. I was working out in my garage and I just had this euphoric moment listening to that song.

KATRINA PHAM: That was Sriman Narayanan, a Medill sophomore. For some Northwestern students, songs have the power to bring out powerful emotions, or to remind us of old memories. Fiona Shonik, a Bienen sophomore, said she’s able to recall specific moments by listening to certain songs.

FIONA SHONIK: The one song that’s coming to my mind is “Hold my Hand” by Jess Glynne. And that is a song that I just, for some reason, I kept hearing on this one trip that I went to with a few of my friends, like, it just kept coming on the radio. Like in random settings, we were like in stores, and it just, like, kept playing. And we’re like, “Oh, this is like our theme song for this trip.” It was just really funny. And so sometimes I’ll listen to that and chuckle a little bit, because it’s like, I miss them. And like, I wish I could see them.


KATRINA PHAM: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Katrina Pham. This is Podculture, a podcast about arts and culture on campus and beyond. For this episode, I spoke to several Northwestern students about how music speaks to them. Regardless of setting, music has the power to elicit strong feelings and memories. Here are some of their stories.


KATRINA PHAM: For Sriman, picking apart music is easier than analyzing literature.

SRIMAN NARAYANAN: It’s a lot harder to read a book than it is to listen to a full album. So in that sense, I think music is especially different because you’re getting an experience that’s happening to you. So it makes it easier to consume. But it’s also super dense. So the more you consume it, you’ll learn the words without even realizing what you’re saying.

KATRINA PHAM: But what does it mean that music is something that happens to you?

SRIMAN NARAYANAN: That first experience, that first exposure that you have to those artists is kind of really important, because it just hits you and that raw emotion is so important when it comes to music, because you can listen to something the first time and get something completely different out of it than you did, you know, fourth or fifth time.

KATRINA PHAM: I asked Sriman for an example of a song that impacted him when he first listened to it.

SRIMAN NARAYANAN: There’s also a song by a lesser known artist named Fenne Lily called “What’s Good” that was on this playlist on Spotify called “The Most Beautiful Songs in the World.” And that song has always stayed with me. First time I listened to it, that was a really powerful experience.


KATRINA PHAM: For Bienen sophomore Fiona Shonik, listening to music is a therapeutic experience. Fiona grew up around music — her family is full of musicians, and she plays the trumpet.

FIONA SHONIK: Music is just a really big, bonding language for people. And it’s really cool that you can exist in the same space with somebody and be hearing the same thing. And then kind of create that memory. When I’m listening to something, I’m also looking at my surroundings. And I don’t know, for some reason, I can just be more aware of everything around me when I’m listening to music, and I can really just feel present with that.

KATRINA PHAM: While music helps Fiona feel present in her surroundings, she also said it helps her look to the past and remember experiences from when she was young.

FIONA SHONIK: I went to my first concert when I was only like two months old and my parents would take me to concerts all the time. I was a little like, roadie when I was younger. And I would say that The Beatles are probably the most nostalgic for me and listening to their music feels very therapeutic. I think a lot of that therapeutic feeling comes from growing up playing music and hearing music all the time. And also, just because I love playing my instrument so much.


KATRINA PHAM: While Sriman and Fiona experience music through listening to or creating it, Bienen senior Matt You says music is a full-body experience. Matt is a dancer and free-styler, as well as a member of Refresh Dance Crew and Fusion Dance Company.

MATT YOU: My relationship with dance and music is something that can never really be fully separated. Because when you’re doing one, you’re also doing the other at the same time, is what I think. But dance, it’s like, showing people what you hear. Music is an audible thing. And then dance is like a visual thing. You’re basically processing one form of sensory into another form of sensory. Dance is seeing music, essentially.

KATRINA PHAM: Matt also has playlists for different moods. He said that sometimes those playlists and music help him clarify his emotions, and give him the space to just feel.

MATT YOU: Back when I did make playlists, it highly depended on my current situation. If I was having a great time, you’d probably find me making playlists with more high energy, more optimistic songs. But inevitably, everyone has negative thoughts or those emotions creep in at some point throughout your day. So I’ll always have some more calming, more emotional playlists to cope during those times of the day.


KATRINA PHAM: Bienen sophomore Olivia Pierce’s experience is similar to Fiona’s. While Fiona makes music with her trumpet, Olivia makes it from scratch. Olivia is a songwriter, and started making music when she was 15. She told me songwriting is a way for her to bring people together and build community.

OLIVIA PIERCE: Basically, what I want to study — as a musicology major — is how Black artists build community or mobilize for social change and activism through their music. Like Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone. And so I guess, building community for me, it’s just like, making sure that people know they’re not alone, in terms of more serious issues or just giving people something positive to listen to, so that they can just have a good day.

KATRINA PHAM: Olivia said she’s able to express her own emotions through songwriting. She’s written a variety of songs, like “Smile,” “Missing You,” “Long Distance” and “X-RAY.”

[music – X-RAY by Olivia Pierce]

OLIVIA PIERCE: I originally wrote X-RAY in 2017 and Philando Castile was murdered by a police officer in the St. Paul area at that time. And I was really upset because I thought that like, I don’t know, I was like, “Okay, well, people will go to protest, and then we’ll have justice.” And then he ended up being acquitted. And so then I was really upset. And so I just went home and started writing on the piano. And I was like, you know, “Why? Do we get so hung up on the things that don’t matter, injustice makes us blind.” I was really upset. And then I ended up writing the song. And a lot of people have been able to really connect with it, which is cool.

[music – X-RAY by Olivia Pierce]

OLIVIA PIERCE: It’s like our responsibility but also an honor to be able to give voice to things that are more serious than my music.

KATRINA PHAM: Expressing her emotions in a way she feels words can’t — that’s a part of Olivia’s experience with music. And for her, music isn’t just about listening.

OLIVIA PIERCE: Sometimes, if you try to give words to something, it takes away from what you’re trying to actually express. But then, you still have freedom to express it in music, because you can just sing how you feel. And I think also, if somebody is giving a speech, and they’re like, “We need to address this issue,” you know, you can’t really engage with it because you kind of just have to listen, like you can’t speak along with them. But if you’re singing, you repeat the same chorus five times and everybody can kind of catch on. So then they can say that message with you versus just listening.

KATRINA PHAM: Transcending language, music expresses feelings and memories in a universal way for these Northwestern students. It’s a sensation that travels through the ears, and throughout bodies and minds.

FIONA SHONIK: So many different people can listen to the same song and have so many different memories and experiences associated with it. Because like, there are a few songs that I really love, and my friends will absolutely hate them. And then, you know, vice versa. And then I could even be like, in the same place as somebody listening to the same song and they’re creating memories with it, and I’m creating different memories with it. And I just, I really love how personal listening to music can be.


KATRINA PHAM: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Katrina Pham. Thanks for listening to another episode of Podculture. This episode was reported and produced by me. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Will Clark, the digital managing editor is Jordan Mangi and the editor in chief is Isabelle Sarraf. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more podcasts like this.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @KatrinaPham_

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