The question came out of the blue from the backseat of the car one afternoon driving home,
I looked around – nope, no one dressed in purple out shoveling their driveway or going for a jog that he might be looking at.
Just a moment or two ago, we were talking about the music on the radio. He always likes to ask “What’s this guy’s name?” which I’ve come to learn is his way of asking who the artist is. I tend to keep it to two channels in the car when he’s with me – SiriusXm Symphony Hall for classical and sometimes 40s on 4 for some music from the Big Band era. (I save the 80s and 60s music for when I’m on my own.)
We go over the names, and his retention has been fantastic, remembering names like Mozart and Beethoven, and even Vivaldi, of whom he says “That’s a silly name!”
So, as he kept asking me who the ‘purple guy’ is, I honestly had no idea what he was talking about.
Then he kept going, informing me that Beethoven is red, Mozart is blue, and Vivaldi is orange, and asking once, again “What’s the purple guy’s name?”
I didn’t have an answer for him, but while confused, felt like I finally had some kind of explanation. Whoever this ‘purple guy’ was, it must have been someone associated with the music.
This could have just been some one and done car game he was playing, but it also made me look a little further into something I was only peripherally aware of previously – something called synesthesia.
I’m not saying that what he did was any indication of synesthesia, just that it prompted me to look into it a little more out of curiosity.
Synesthesia is defined as a condition where one of our senses (such as hearing) is, at the same time, perceived as if by one or more additional senses, such as our sight. There is another form of synesthesia that associates objects like letters, shapes, numbers or people’s names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor. The word synesthesia comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception). Therefore, synesthesia literally means “joined perception.”
The most common form of synesthesia is colored letters and numbers, when someone always sees a particular color in response to a certain letter or number. (“Nine is green, B is red,” that sort of thing.)
According to a Neuroscience for Kids site by a faculty member at the University of Washington, there isn’t an official way to diagnose synesthesia, but researchers have set up some guidelines (although it isn’t something all are in agreement upon; it serves merely as a starting point for diagnosis):
- a potential synesthete does not actively think about their perceptions; they just happen.
- instead of experiencing something in the “mind’s eye,” such as when you’re asked to think of or imagine a color, a synesthete often actually, physically sees a color projected outside of the body.
- it has to be perceived the same way every time. If you see red when you hear the letter B, it has to be red every time.
- the color is often remembered better than the object, name, letter, etc associated with it. (i.e. you’d remember orange better than you would Vivaldi).
- The perceptions also cause emotional reactions and feelings.
There doesn’t seem to be a definite estimate of how many people can have synesthesia, according to the research by the Washington University faculty member. The ranges seem to go from 1 in 200 to 1 in 100,000, and notes that there are probably many more folks who have it but don’t realize they have it. They often tend to be women (three times more likely in the U.S. than men), are more often left-handed, are of normal or possibly above-average intelligence and that it often times seems to be inherited.
I find this to be a fascinating area of study, and whether the little guy actually did see a color, or our little composer bit was just a one and done episode of silliness that prompted me to learn a little more about synesthesia, well, color me interested.
Breaking it down to even numbers, it’s about a half hour for us to get to his grandmother’s house in the morning, and then another half hour (roughly, maybe slightly less) for daddy to get to work from there.
Needless to say, that gives us quite a bit of time together in the car, even though, on good days, he sleeps through most of the ride. Which, for a little boy who doesn’t take naps, we will gladly take right now so he’s getting SOME sleep.
What has happened, though, and has turned into routine, is the type of music we listen to in the car to and from each morning. I’m fortunate enough to have Sirius XM Radio in my car, and have been switching between their Pops channel and Symphony Hall channels in the morning and evening rides. You can likely use any free, public radio station that pumps classical, though.
It’s been calming for him, and apparently for daddy too, because while I used to switch it back over to 80s on 8 or The Bridge for some Simon and Garfunkel after dropping the little guy off, I find myself, without even thinking of it, continuing to listen to the classical stations even after I’ve dropped him off and before I pick him up.
While not the intention of my post, it’s hard to write a post about classical music and children and not mention that there are some studies out there that believe classical music can help boost a child’s ability to learn, their coordination and other attributes. Some people dispute these studies, so take them as you like. I’m not here to prove a point one way or the other on that one. We just enjoy listening to the music, that’s all.
However, I will mention some other recorded benefits of Classical Music while we’re on the topic. Reportedly, in London, England, when the British Transport Police piped classical music into London Underground stations in some of the area’s most dangerous neighborhoods for six months, they found that robberies were cut by 33 percent,staff assaults decreased by 25 percent and vandalism went down 37 percent. Some studies in hospitals found that heart patients s from listening to 30 minutes of classical music as they did from taking the drug Valium (which I think is phenomenal, as I’m a big proponent of not having to pop pills whenever possible).
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can be used to help people of all ages with mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities; Alzheimer’s disease, brain injuries, physical disabilities, substance abuse and even help mothers in labor.
You be the judge, though. Give some classical music a try in your life and see if it boosts your spirits. It might boost some other things in your health, mental and physically as well, but that’s for you to decide.
We’ll take it, though.
Whether it’s been Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, or any other composer joining us for the morning ride, we’ve been thoroughly enjoying your company, guys.