The high school auditorium was filled with excitement this morning as the Little Miami Select Choir took to the stage for the time-honored tradition of revealing the sash colors of its newest members. Choir Director Sarah J. Baker presented the sashes to each new member as everyone cheered and squealed as each color was revealed. The sashes are much more than just a random selection of colors and come from a unique gift that Mrs. Baker has that allows her to see a singing voice color.
We asked Mrs. Baker a few questions to give us all some insight on her ability, how the sashes came about and who makes them.
Q: We’ve heard that you can see voice colors. Can you explain what this is and what the experience is like for you?
Mrs. Baker: Synesthesia is a condition that occurs when one sense triggers another sense simultaneously. In my case, when I hear a person’s (singing) voice, I also see a color. Having synesthesia makes listening to music, in particular live music, more interesting and vibrant. The colors provide a greater depth in the experience, almost like a painting that is produced at the same time as the music. More than that, though, is how much joy I have listening to the voices of my students and letting them know their colors (even my own children identify themselves as “bubble gum pink” or “field corn green.”) It is a unique gift each one has, the color they bring to the ensemble, which in turn creates a greater sense of pride and ownership.
Q: When did you first notice the ability to visualize voice color?
Mrs. Baker: I was in my early 20s, working with the All-Ohio State Fair Youth Choir. The director at the time, Charles R. Snyder, was working with the basses in part rehearsal. I was his accompanist, and he was always teaching. Mr. Snyder asked me to listen for balance between the baritone and bass parts in a divisi section. The parts were so close together it was difficult for me to hear. I realized later -actually, it took a few years of working with my own choirs to figure this out, that part of the problem was that the colors of the baritones voices were brighter (if I recall correctly, emerald green, shades of orange – really bright orange!), while the bass voice colors were more in the dark green, navy blue, dark burgundy color range. This made the baritone voice part appear to be louder, drowning out the basses. They weren’t singing louder, though, it was just their color stood out more. In fact, if the placement on the risers had been adjusted, or if the men had stood in a mixed formation, the colors would have blended and complemented one another.
I continued to work through this phenomenon, but I did not implement it completely with my ensembles until I established the select women’s chorale here at Little Miami in 2003. Before that, I would share with individuals, but I didn’t think it would make a difference to do it with every choir member. This was a mistaken impression, however. I was asked to identify colors at an honor choir festival with students I did not work with everyday. They loved the concept, it made the blend better, and every member felt stronger in their contribution to the choir.
Q: Do the colors typically fall in the same range based on voice type (alto, soprano, etc)?
Mrs. Baker: A pattern is noticeable for certain voice part or voice type, but it is not always the case. In my ears, soprano I and tenors have a tendency to lean toward lighter blue, light green, silver/gray colors; soprano II/ tenor/baritone carries a variation of light pink and orange; alto I/tenor II will fall in the lilac, periwinkle, indigo range; alto II/bass leans toward burgundy, maroon, dark purple, plum, navy blue. There are exceptions, though, including one of my friends who is a first soprano – she is bright red with gold flecks!
Q: How did the sash/bow tie idea come about? Who makes them?
Mrs. Baker: The sashes were introduced after the select women’s chorale performed in the 2012 World Choir Games. The exposure to the international choirs really opened our eyes, not only to the expanse of repertoire, but also to the appearance of the ensembles. One major thing we noticed was how bland we were compared to the other groups. There was nothing to make us appear unique and noticeably different. In looking for ways to create a new look, the thought occurred that I should use this voice color concept to our advantage.
My mother is a professional seamstress, so obviously, I went to her first when considering ways to incorporate these colors. We liked the idea of a sash because it could be worn in multiple ways. She and my dad went fabric shopping, looking for just the right material – my dad claims the fame for choosing the sequin material! The first year (2013), my parents donated the sashes to the SWC. Since then, the ladies purchase the material, but my mom still donates all of her time to make them for us. The sashes are such a hit wherever we go, and many people have inquired about getting them for their own groups. I always tell them about the entire process and how personal this is to us, and of course, that the sashes are not available outside of this ensemble.
Thursday, October 5, 2017 – Fall All Choir Concert, 7pm-9pm, LMHS auditorium