I recall a specific day as an undergraduate at the Cleveland Institute of Music sitting in theory class on a cold, snowy day. I was probably tired from working the graveyard shift at Presti’s Bakery, nervous about my upcoming cello lesson in which I had to play Popper 33 from memory, or dreading the inevitable humiliation of singing atonal melodies or improvising chord progressions in front of a classroom of super smart, talented students.
There was a substitute that day, and he opened my eyes to the sixth sense I didn’t know I had. He was lecturing on key signatures and recognizing modulations and tone color changes. The graduate assistant commented that many people see colors when they hear certain keys – yellow for D-Major, green for C-Major, blue for d-minor, etc.
Suddenly, I thought to myself, “There is an actual term for this? I thought I was just weird!” I came to find out that many people have chromesthesia on some level or another. I am an amateur visual artist as well as a professional musician, and I wonder if my chromesthesia has something to do with this.
Synesthesia is “the stimulation of one sense alongside another: the evocation of one kind of sense impression when another sense is stimulated, e.g. the sensation of color when a sound is heard”. Technically, synesthesia is an umbrella term for the ability to associate any one sense with another, and chromesthesia is the term for the ability to associate color with music.