I tuned into NPR on my car radio this afternoon and heard a baritone voice singing the single syllable “ee,” stretched out over several bars on a single note. It was immediately recognizable as Tommy Makem, singing the final bit of the final “she” in “Four Green Fields.”
For lots of us Early Boomers, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were the first taste of Irish folk music, a taste that, in many cases (especially, I think, among Jews) turned into a lasting pleasure. So reading about his death this morning, first in an email from a college roommate and then in an Atrios post, brought back lots of memories, and surely primed me to recognize his voice when I heard it.
Still, it struck me that my mind, way below the level of a conscious search, had performed an astounding piece of pattern-recognition; I haven’t heard that song in at least two decades, and the clip I heard had neither lyric nor melody. If there’s a more puzzling psychological phenomenon than music, I don’t know what it is.