December 31, 2020

Finding our rhythm — KPWHRI shares songs to carry us into 2021


Susan Brandzel cues up our tunes as we look ahead to better days in the new year

By Susan Brandzel, MPH, research project manager, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI)

When I was a kid, I used to make “mix tapes” for friends (and crushes!) to share my favorite songs. I remember holding my fingers carefully poised over the “stop” and “record” buttons of the now-antiquated machine I would use to weave together a compilation of melodies, the other hand delicately moving the record player needle to just the right groove on the vinyl. Decades later, playlists, as they are now called, are still alive and well. They are just made digitally rather than on plastic tape.

A few weeks ago, I invited my co-workers at the institute to submit songs that represent their hopes and dreams for 2021. This now-assembled playlist, is being shared among the KPWHRI community with the idea that the music brings those who listen a sense of community, of optimism, and of renewal. From listening to and organizing the songs, a few key themes emerged:


The year 2020 has left many feeling drained, rattled, and weakened. Songs like Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile’s “A Beautiful Noise” and Andra Day’s “Rise Up” inspire us to find our voices and our strength once again.  Another Alicia Keys song, “Underdog,” is a tribute to the disenfranchised and disempowered, encouraging hope that they should not be invisible and will, someday, land in a better place. And the oldie, yet still goodie, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” inevitably made the list. Despite 42 years having passed since its release, it still provides that fist-pumping reminder of how resilient we can be.


Without a doubt, isolation has been one of the worst aspects of 2020. And whether the songs that were submitted with this theme were written in the wake of COVID-19, like Luke Combs’ touching song “Six Feet Apart,” or back in 2011, like “How Bad We Need Each Other” by Marc Scibilia, there is no doubt that most of us hope to be together with friends and loved ones in 2021.


What better way to dream about our emergence from the pandemic into the realm of beauty than to listen to Prince’s epic 9-minute, live version of “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”? More avant-garde afficionados may also find beauty in the lyrics of Bjork’s ethereal “All is Full of Love” or the lilting sound and charming video of “One of These Days” by Bedouine.


Cabin fever is nibbling, or perhaps voraciously chomping, at our heels. Many of us are longing to get out for a change of scenery, an opportunity to see new horizons, and to visit people we have not seen since the world was turned inside out by the events of 2020. These compunctions came through in submitted songs like Dar Williams’ “Iowa,” The 5TH Dimension’s “Up, Up & Away,” and “”Roadside Anthems” by the Steep Canyon Rangers.

The Chinese sage Confucius said “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” While “pleasure” can be defined in many ways, it is usually associated with a positive feeling. And yet, as I was also reminded through listening to the incredibly thoughtful submissions from my co-workers, music can also be unsettling, sad, or disturbing. It sometimes serves as the most powerful means to express anger, frustration, and grief. While these emotions might not feel good, they may also teach, motivate, inspire, and energize. Music legend Herbie Hancock nailed this idea when he said “Music is the tool to express life — and all that makes a difference.”

As we close the door on 2020, many of us are clearly longing to come out of our cocoons, to shout, to stretch, and to connect. This playlist will hopefully take the edge off the cold days of winter and tide us over until we can, side by side, sway in unison to shared melodies in a concert venue or sweaty-dance with our posse until the wee hours.



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