Choral Synesthesia

I’ve written quite a bit on my blog about my synesthesia, and how musical notes generate color in my head (back in June 2011 and more recently in August 2012). However, it recently occurred to me that my experience of choral music, in particular, is pretty different from just perceiving specific notes and note colors.

How different, you might ask? Take a look at the following illustration, which is but a poor visual representation of what I see when I hear individual voice parts singing.

descant_mercury Top soprano/descant
soprano_silver Soprano
alto_gold Alto
tenor_copper Tenor
bass_hematite Bass

I’ve been tacitly aware of this as long as I’ve been singing in choirs (late childhood). When I listened to or sung in choirs, for instance, I would see these various metallic colors as if superimposed on my vision when the sopranos would sing alone, or when the tenors would practice their part, etc. When a group of like voices sings together, my synesthetic experience does not reflect the individual pitches they hit; instead, the single metallic color seems to represent an overall “sense” of the harmony line they are building.

Hearing an entire choir together, however, is a much different experience from hearing each voice part separately. A piece of choral music is like a sculpture being built in mid-air out of mere threads of metal, always twisting, twining, and shaping into something glittering and light. Adding my voice to this lovely object, which only exists as a flickering in my imagination and looks thin enough to pop like a soap bubble, is an amazing feeling–my voice becomes one of those thin strands of metal winding into the choral sculpture.

I haven’t tested this very often with bands or orchestras, but it seems as though this is specific to choral music. Perhaps the human voice lends a special timbre to the harmony lines, which creates this awesome mental artwork in my head. (Unfortunately, I cannot produce this artwork with my hands and do it any justice, but I can at least help others imagine it with my words.)

Does anyone else experience synesthetic events like this when listening to large ensembles of voices (or instruments, for that matter)? Tell me in the comments!

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