Transactive memory is a psychological hypothesis first proposed by Daniel Wegner in 1985.
Without getting too technical (or weird), a transactive memory is one that is encoded, stored, and retrieved collectively.
Think of it as having a part of your personal memories based in the cloud. And by “cloud” I mean someone else’s mind, but you are still able to retrieve it.
Before you think that I've lost my mind (is it stored in yours?), you should know that there is some serious research and anecdotal evidence that this stuff could be real. For example, when you hear someone who has recently lost a spouse say, “I feel like I have lost a part of myself,” according to transitive memory, they have. When a spouse dies, so does a portion of their own memory stored within that spouse.
I know what you are thinking, “Scott (insert long condescending sigh), you’ve been reading WAY to much Deepak Choprah & Eckhart Tolle!
While transactive memory was initially studied in couples and families it was later extended to teams, groups wanting to develop and achieve a "group mindset.” Before you discount the possibility of this being real, consider the evidence.
In a journaled published study, several groups were studied during the learning of a task and when the group members were trained together, the team developed a stronger transactive memory system, recalled more information, and made fewer errors compared to teams where individuals had gone through the same training but separately. As a result, groups that trained together performed better in the task.
IF this is true and IF transactional memory does really exist, it would explain a lot about why music education matters. Think about it. The fact that we place seniors with freshman, all-state players with beginners, and veterans with rookies allows for a unique transfer of information that accelerates the learning process. This is more than just role modeling. This is validated assimilation of information at an accelerated rate based (in theory) on group interaction.
It’s no secret that teaching music is getting harder. It’s also widely understood that by and large, ensembles today are performing at higher levels than ever before. Could transactional memory be the reason for both of these things?
Is it possible that this “group-think” is responsible for the large scale and incredible gains made in the activity the past 40 years? Is it conceivable that year after year, as current seniors elevate freshman, that four years later, these newly minuted “seniors” were better prepared to advance their freshman? Is transactional memory part of the reason that music education is in a perpetual and accelerated state of advancement not found in other curricula?
The answer is, I don’t know.
But, what I do know is that music is different than other classes. That the memories made through music are deeper and the learning is more profound. That despite the notes and rhythms being unchanged year in and year out, that the experience is entirely unique to each ensemble and each year. That working with students for four hours is nothing like working with them for four years and I miss those deeper relationships and shared memories.
I also distinctly remember that each and every May, as my graduating students departed, I felt as if a little part of me was leaving too.
So maybe there's something to this transactional memory stuff. I just wish you were here thinking with me so that we might think about it together and figure it out faster
Have a GREAT week.