Sensorium

A Quest to Understand Extraordinary Experiences of Sense

Bach Star

Synesthete Evan Shinners is shaking up classical music from his piano bench

Pianist Evan Shinners
Evan Shinners is taking Bach to a new level.
Courtesy Evan Shinners
At 10, Evan Shinners used to play "Louie-Louie" for two hours a day, without pause. It was always the same three chords, but he made up different lyrics for it. It was then the colors began to appear before his eyes and he'd just sit back and enjoy the show.

"It wasn't until 16 that I discovered Bach, or should I say, he discovered me."

The Juilliard graduate is taking the New York City music scene by storm with appearances in intimate venues around town playing Bach -- often with inventive interpretations. He says he had difficulty conforming to the strict curriculum at his prestigious alma mater and says he found it hard to "break out of the Lincoln Center-like shell." Yet now he's surrounded by other promising graduates of that school all "furiously staking out their own path." And he credits all of his musical and literary knowledge to Jerome Lowenthal of the school.

Known as a "Bach Star" his aim is to take classical music out of the hands of what his friend Martin Lewis calls "tuxedo nazis." He decided they weren't his audience anyhow and he wanted to "take back Bach."

He wants to "bring him into the places in the world which work: namely, everywhere. Not many other composers can have that appeal: subway platform, living room, coffee shop, rock show, poetry reading, candle light romance, roof top drinking... Bach is appropriate in all these settings."

He first realized he was a synesthete as a child but only mentioned it to his Mom, until very recently when he made a music video showing the colors he sees while playing his favorite composer. See:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9PxsEFSlqU

"My brain absorbed distinct colors for the chords of 'Louie-Louie' as a child, almost like that of the American flag -- distinct red white and blues for each chord. Once i started playing Mozart the other chords seemed to trickle down from the color wheel onto Mozart."

When he gets into a song he's performing, the colors are pronounced and it feels like a meditative state or a psychedelic trip, he says. "The colors only really begin to fly when the piece is learned and I can put my head back and watch the show fly by, sort of like a drug trip. But at that point I usually realize it's Bach or Krishna, or some godly type thing taking over because the music is too great for me to play -- I realize I'm just watching the show go -- it's like autopilot!"

Shinners' heroes include Beethoven, Thelonious Monk, Bob Dylan, MIA, Lil' Wayne and Jack Kerouac. He also admires the soon to be famous like the Jesse Scheinin Band, Tommy Gardner, Ryland Kelly, The Tres Amigos, the Suits!, Michael T, and the poets and painters as he describes them, of the New Cull, Julia Easterlin and his poetry teacher Ron Price.

Shinners also composes original music. If you'd like to give it a listen, here's a link: www.wesuits.bandcamp.com.  Here's a fabulous short film he recently did -- including the score: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Zu_Ku5iMfMY And to learn more about him or reach out to him, go to www.evanshinners.com. Bach on, Evan!

Maureen Seaberg is an author and synesthete dedicated to advancing understanding of synesthesia.

more...

Subscribe to Sensorium

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.