I hear blue, green and white
Do-re-me-fa-so-la ti-do. As these notes flow through her ears, senior Shrinithi Kalai can see different colors within each note. Initially, Kalai didn’t realize she had a rare condition called synesthesia, a condition in which “a certain sense or part of a sense is activated, another unrelated sense or part of a sense is activated concurrently.” (Boston University Synesthesia Project)
“Actually, as a kid, I had the condition, but I didn’t know it was synesthesia until about last year. I thought the fact that I could hear color was just some awkward phenomenon that everyone had and nobody would talk about,” Kalai said.
Kalai found out about the condition a year ago during English 3 IB, where she learned how rare of a condition it was. Synesthesia was a literary term, and Kalai’s friends talked about how people who had the condition had different perceptions at the same time.
“I was like ‘Is that even a thing?’ I didn’t know it was a very rare condition, and I felt kind of special and kind of fascinated that I had something that nobody really had,” Kalai said.
Kalai discovered that she had chromesthesia, “the association of colors with words, letters and sounds.” (Journal of Abnormal Psychology) People with chromesthesia are not tone deaf, and they are able to stick to the same pitch because of their sensitive ears.
“Synesthesia has helped me in my singing. Indian classical music is passed on orally, so I need to learn songs by the ear only. Also, there is no sheet music to this type of music, making it really important that I have a good ear to pick out such musical notations,” Kalai said.
While learning to sing Indian classical music, Kalai received a musical worksheet to sing, but she didn’t know how to read music. Instead, she began writing down colors that reminded her of each note. For example if there were a G key, Kalai wouldn’t be able to read the note, but she would see green and would write it on that color.
“So then on every single note that I had I would have, I would write a color and I would get it as soon as I read it. It’s really complicated because when you’re trying to explain the note to your friend, you can’t say ‘oh, sing it a little bluer’ or ‘sing it a little greener’ because they don’t get it,” Kalai said.
Synesthesia helped Kalai pursue her passion of singing even though she could not read music notes. Because of synesthesia, Kalai is skilled at repeating words, sentences and even songs. If you were to say a couple of keys to her, she would able to repeat it with ease.
“The best part about having synesthesia is that it makes listening to music really fun. Every note that you listen to is like paint on a canvas. It makes me appreciate music a lot more and it helps me catch simple details and nuances,” Kalai said.
By Eric Peng, Staff writer