Spelling music in colours

One of my characters is a synesthete.

According to wikipedia (because… well, nevermind), synesthesia is:

‘a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.’

It’s quite unarguable that colours naturally evoke particular moods (or colour therapy wouldn’t be A Thing, as wouldn’t such literary clichés as ‘red = anger’ and ‘white = pure’, etc.), but there is a certain automatic and unselfconscious precision with which a synesthete experiences the connection of disparate sensory experiences that, to me, is fascinating.

For me, on the piano, an F key is undoubtedly purple, and always has been.

If you’re interested, As are yellow, and Cs are red, while D is brown and Bs are pink.

Since I’ve started, I’ll finish the musical alphabet: Es are always blue and Gs are yellow (but bright yellow, where as A is pale pastel yellow). Incidentals (sharps and flats) are the same as the naturals (e.g. Eflat is also blue), but for some reason the colours are far less vivid. I suppose I seem to impose colour more naturally on the white (blank canvas?) notes.

I have no idea where these ‘realities’ came from, but I can’t remember ever not feeling that musical notes have colours.

I don’t think, however, that what I’m describing is quite synesthesia. It’s more to do with what my piano teacher calls the ‘spelling’ of music than the actual sounds. For me, it’s a visual thing rather than an aural experience of colour.

I like the idea that, to a pitch-perfect listener, a casual twang of an A chord on a guitar could elicit a particular shade of maroon (or, dare I say it, mellow yellow) in the listener’s consciousness even when they’re blindfolded. Isn’t that incredible?

I do get strong flashes of images while playing certain sections of musical pieces, though. I think a lot of people do. Music in general is a very visual thing. What’s interesting is when those images are repeatable (always flung into your brain without your intention or wanting it to happen) and occurring at the exact same points of a piece each time. During the final appegio of Clair de Lune, if I play it at a perfect pace which crosses through the previous bars like triplets, I see very clearly a sheath of semi-translucent ice slicing through a miniature ravine.


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