Courtesy Tina Larkin
Source: Courtesy Tina Larkin

Tina Larkin of Wassila, Alaska was a wee girl on February 9, 1964, when her family gathered around the television to watch the debut of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.

"When they started 'She Loves You' I saw brilliant red flashes, all sparkly and beautiful and not at all sharp or scary. I blurted out to my family 'Wow, that 'She Loves You' song sure is pretty and red!' and immediately, I was scolded and made to feel ashamed for 'being weird'. I learned that day to not talk about this phenomenon that combined sound with colors."

Fast forward to 1978. Tina is in a car in Washington D.C. and "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," by Ralph Vaughn Williams, is playing on the radio.

"Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," courtesy Tina Larkin
Source: "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," courtesy Tina Larkin

"Suddenly I am enveloped by a grayish-purple web, a fabric-like warp and weft of texture. It moves to the rhythm of the music, undulating and wiggling, getting tighter and then looser, like a cocoon, but cozy and warm, never claustrophobic. It completely surrounded me and I wanted the music to never end. I have made a purple painting for this music., and overtime I hear this piece, I have the same experience. Lovely!"

Tina has always "seen" the melody line of all music, going up and down and moving, even without the benefit of staff lines or any notation. 

"Many years ago, I became enamored with Irish music and began learning jigs and reels on a penny whistle, and then, the fiddle. When I began to listen very carefully to this Irish music, I started to see what I can only describe as melody lines, not only moving, but actually bending back on themselves, one note sliding into another, as if by jumping behind the second note, the first note became the second and the second, the first. To me, this represents time travel of sound. You go back in time and meet your father, and you are older than him—that sort of philosophical conundrum...So what is the real beginning of the tune? Which one is the first note? This may sound like this synesthetic space experience would make learning tunes more difficult, but it did not. As long as I could hum the tune, I could figure out how to play it, without any music. And learning by ear is the best way to obtain that authentic feeling in ethnic music. Knew that I had color/hearing synesthesia, but it was Dr Julia Simner at Edinburgh University who said I had some sort of interesting spatial/audial synesthesia as well. I think there is something intuitive going on with me and music, as well."

"Beethoven's 5th," courtesy Tina Larkin
Source: "Beethoven's 5th," courtesy Tina Larkin

Tina refers to "teaching music out of the box" as pertains to synesthesia.

"I currently teach a lot of  music and a little bit of visual art. Music includes violin, fiddle, harp, ukulele and 'Music and Movement' classes." Her visual art expertise includes nature drawing and journaling, watercolor and oil painting. For Tina, music and art have always been two sides of the same coin, and this informs her teaching.

"When I say that I teach music outside of the box, the first thing that comes to me is how I used lots of visual metaphors and analogies to describe/teach a musical idea. For example, to encourage my violin and fiddle students to create flowing sounds when they are changing bow direction, I ask them to picture flowing water streams, or rainbows, and how one color flows into another. In other words, flowing instead of abrupt. 'Make the sound flow.'"

She also encourages all of her students to move about as they play, as she believes that most of us learn kinesthetically and we play violin with our entire bodies, not just our brains and hands. "One fiddle student practices while on a slow treadmill! It works for her, keeping her limber and not rigid as she plays."

Tina says we use all our senses when we learn. 

Inspired by "Happy" by Pharrell Williams, courtesy Tina Larkin
Source: Inspired by "Happy" by Pharrell Williams, courtesy Tina Larkin

She has literally made art for as long as she can remember. "As a child, I was never interested in dolls, but very interested in making houses for them out of shoeboxes, and decorating those houses with paint, cut paper and more. It was the creative aspect of anything, that I found interesting." Drawing was her favorite activity, along with music, plants and dogs.

"When I was 14, the interest grew into a fire and I drew and painted every minute of my free time. At 15, my art teacher said that if I wanted to get an art scholarship to college, I needed to learn to draw the human figure, so I practiced drawing myself, in my bedroom, for at least an hour every day after school. I won art scholarships to Webster University in St Louis and Columbia College in Columbia MO at age 17. Then two years later, I received a scholarship to study art at Pratt Institute in New York, and graduated from there in 1977. In 2009, I finished a Masters in Art that I had begun years earlier. While I work intensively abstract art created with music, I also still enjoy sketching and painting the natural world. Painting outside, on location, is so much fun!"

One experience that was not wonderful was when she was at a museum in Tallahassee FL, looking at an entire wall of vivid, sunny Florida landscapes, done en plein aire, that is, actually painted outside on location. "They were beautiful, but so intense and loud that I couldn't stand it. I had to go outside and get away from them. What I heard when looking at them was loud clanging noises which were unbearable. I have noticed that I must protect myself from sensory overload, which is the only negative of having this sensory thing. But it is a huge negative, and one from which I must protect myself. When I get 'overloaded' I am incapacitated for several hours or even a day or two."

Synesthetic response to "Imagine" by John Lennon, courtesy Tina Larkin
Source: Synesthetic response to "Imagine" by John Lennon, courtesy Tina Larkin

I wondered what Tina thinks synesthesia's role is in humanity.

"At a synesthesia conference, at McMaster University, Dr. Daphne Maurer spoke of a colleagues' research. Several dozen babies, all under a year old, were given MRI s in a darkened room. There was beautiful classical music piped into the room. The babies could not see, but could hear perfectly. And, guess what—the visual cortex, along with the audial cortex, was lit up. On every baby. So we can surmise that humans are born synesthetic and as the brain grows, nerve synapses disconnect for many, but not all people."

To see more of her work go to

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