Books, Music

A Colorful Symphony


“The last colors slowly faded from the western sky, and, as they did, one by one the instruments stopped, until only the bass fiddles, in their somber slow movement, were left to play the night and a single set of silver bells brightened the constellations. The conductor let his arms fall limply at his sides and stood quite still as darkness claimed the forest.” –The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I love how Norton Juster makes music the source of color in his children’s book, “The Phantom Tollbooth.” (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, it’s very Alice-in-Wonderland-esque with puns and other wordplay.)

He really hit the nail on the head here: different subtleties of sounds are as beautiful as all the different shades of color! And without music, how colorless would our lives be?

This passage also made me think about synesthesia, the state when a person sees actual, physical colors when they hear music among other things (I knew a band director who had this). It got me thinking: what color would my favorite songs be? Would each song by the same artist have the same basic hue with different nuances, or would there be an entire spectrum in every album? Do all synesthetes see the same colors for the same sounds, or is each person different?

On a related note (ha! Pun not intended), how amazing would it be if we could name the different shades of music in the same way we name different shades of color! Just imagine which sounds might match:


Macaroni and cheese,



Burnt Sienna.

And what color is a bass drum? Or a flute? Or a ukulele?

For that matter, what color is a train’s whistle, or a knock at the front door, or an ambulance siren?

So my question to you is this: if you were to choose a color to match any given sound, what would it be?

11 thoughts on “A Colorful Symphony”

  1. Well if one was listening to a fortepiano in an historical tuning (temperament) then one might hear a whole range of colours! For me, the instrument is many faceted, depending upon what music and key signature it is in. You might like my recent post about this subject Aubrey.
    What is the colour of one hand clapping….? 😉
    I think whale songs might be turquoise…


      1. I am crazy about historical tunings- to my ears they sound far superior to modern tunings. The music sounds more alive and affecting. Once you start listening to period instruments and tunings you notice more and more what is lost in equal temperament. In fact it doesn’t sound that “tuneful” to me any more. Whale song is awesome isn’t it!

        Liked by 1 person

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