Sarah Grace Paints The Blues

A Houston teen wowing on "The Voice" came to music through synesthesia.

Posted Sep 28, 2018

Sarah Grace's synesthesia inspired her to make music.

NBC Photo by Tyler Golden.
Sarah Grace is on Team Kelly on "The Voice."
Source: NBC Photo by Tyler Golden.

"Music was just like a painting and ever since I can remember, I always wanted to be able to paint my own colors," she tells me. Though her synesthesia faded two years ago, as sometimes happens, she remembers every music to color association.

The talented 15-year-old wowed judges on “The Voice” recently with a powerful version of Janis Joplin’s “Ball and Chain,” and earned a spot on Team Kelly:

I had the honor of speaking with the successful contestant between her busy high school and television schedules. She tells me she's meeting a lot of synesthetes—and people who didn't even know they were synesthetes until she described it on the hit NBC-TV show. Here is our Q & A.

Can you describe what some specific music looked like when you had synesthesia? Was there one moment like this when you knew you would be an artist?

SG: To me, music looked like a swirl of colors. Music overall reminds me of watercolors, because as you set your paintbrush down, the pigment spreads through the paper and the colors change as they collide with the other watercolors on the paper. Specific songs that I remember the colors of are "Purple Rain" (which is actually purple) and "Sweet Child of Mine" which was mainly green. When I was learning guitar I started to associate the unique hues with certain chords. G was green, A was red, E was orange, C was yellow-green, Bm was blue, etc. I wouldn't say that there was one specific moment where I knew that I would be an artist due to synesthesia, however it was the culmination of the beautiful experiences that music created for me. Music was just like a painting, and ever since I can remember, I wanted to be able to paint my own colors. 

Can you tell us about the moment your synesthesia started to fade when you were 13? Do you miss it?

SG: At first I didn't notice that it was fading. The softer sounds like opening a Ziploc bag stopped having colors and then eventually the colors of the louder sounds like slamming a door were not as noticeable. I definitely miss it at times, especially when I'm writing music, and I still find myself compartmentalizing songs by what their color would be, however I feel like my synesthesia went away at the perfect time. I was just starting to learn the nuts and bolts of music and I was not dependent upon the colors yet. I feel like I had my synesthesia just long enough to spark an interest in music, and it went away as the sounds of the world became more distracting (although I'm still not very good at reading with any background noise).  

Why do you think they call it "The Blues," after all? ;)

SG: First of all, I love this question, however the blues to me were not usually blue. As I was introduced to the blues, I often found myself listening to the standards such as "The Thrill is Gone" ( dark gray-blue) "I'd Rather Go Blind" (red) and "Stormy Monday" (dark green). I really do wish that the blues were blue to me, but honestly, there were very few songs in general that were blue. The majority of the songs that I was introduced to were very orange to me. Horns, chord progressions from the one to the third, and many songs with heavy guitar were orange (if they were minor) or green (if they were major). Songs that had a piano mainly subsiding in the lower register or an organ were usually blue to me, such as "One More Try," the beginning of "Free Bird," or the end of "Layla" as well as a few of BB King's songs off of his "Live at Cook County Jail."

Have you been hearing from other synesthetes since talking about it on the show?

SG: I actually have been hearing from other synesthetes since talking about it on the show, and it's been amazing. It's been really neat to see other synesthetes reach out to me, several of which don't even have chromesthesia (which is the kind I had). I've heard from people with the same form as me, but I've also heard from people who taste words and see colors with letters. I've also had a couple of people who didn't know they were synesthetes reach out to me, and it has been really amazing to be able to provide that clarity for someone who didn't know why they experienced things differently than others. Synesthesia was a true blessing, and it has been so amazing to be part of such a unique culture. 

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