Colours: Your True Colors?
Updated: May 26
Picture: A group of boys in India celebrating Holi, a popular ancient Hindu festival, also known as the "festival of spring", the "festival of colours", and the "festival of love". The festival signifies the triumph of good over evil.
"Beauty is not monochrome"
Pope Francis' homily to the community of Qaraqosh during his visit to Iraq on 7 March, 2021 reflecting on the beauty of the range of different religious traditions present in the congregation as an example to the modern world.
What are your true colours? And do colours in music have different characters, different tones and energies? These are the questions I came to with after asking my sister-in-law Kate for suggestions for the Theme Show. True Colors, that 80s hit by quirky Cindi Lauper was an obvious early addition to the playlist. Listened to, the lyrics read like a powerful poem of affirmation, starting with verse one:
You with the sad eyes
Don't be discouraged, oh I realize
It's hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
The darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small
Then followed by the refrain: I see your true colors; And that's why I love you; So don't be afraid to let them show; Your true colors. The playlist for me became less of a neat way to connect disparate songs across four different genres of music - Rock & Pop; UpBeat; Chill Zone and Wind Down - and more a call to being true to yourself "in a world full of people" who too often fail to Be Kind, as Caroline Flack desperately pleaded in her final days.
So while I have assembled a series of playlists on first colour and then individual and groups of colours, it has really been a tool for musing on our true character and how different music with the same colour theme can have similar energy and characteristics.
Colour itself, is a topical subject, as David Attenborough's Life in Colour launches a 2-part BBC series on new perspectives in colour in the animal world looking at how animals use colour for protection and as a strategy to hunt prey.
Music & Colour
Jason Cliffen's 2015 blog The Relationship between Music and Colour: 5 Reasons Why It Is Important has a corporate brand focus but is a good intro: Music and colour are similar in the uncanniest of ways. At a fundamental level, both hit us in a powerful, memorable and emotional sense. This connection is overlooked by most, but a shift in perspective will make marrying music to your brand easier, relatable and very creative!
Cliffen also looks at ''Chromesthesia', a common form of synaesthesia - a neurological phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to an involuntary experience of another sensory pathway - causing the ability to see sound as colour.
BBC Music Magazine noted 5 Composers With Synaesthesia: Alexander Scriabin wrote Prometheus: The Promise of Fire featuring the clavier à lumières (or luce), a keyboard ‘instrument’ emitting light instead of sound. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius claimed to hear sounds in his mind when he saw colours, objects or via scents. Olivier Messiaen said: “I see colours when I hear sounds, but I don’t see colours with my eyes. I see colours intellectually, in my head.” Gyorgy Ligeti said: “Major chords are red or pink, minor chords are somewhere between green and brown.” Franz Liszt would instruct musicians on the colours they needed to achieve in their performances: “A little bluer, if you please! This tone type requires it!”
Jason Cliffen produced a circular guide to the overlap between colour and music: "I find one of the most interesting correlations between music and colour to be that both follow a spectrum. It has been documented that synesthetes and non-synesthetes alike draw the comparison from low musical notes to dark colours (negative) and high notes to bright colours (positive)."
The Seven Colours of Music
The Seven Colors of Music blog is: "All about the special power of highly-inspired music, and how attunement to great music relates to soul evolution... The seven rainbow colors constitute a convenient vocabulary for discussing the seven evolutionary steps of the Soul Emotions, or energies. I don’t believe power music conveys color in a literal sense - the Hallelujah Chorus probably doesn’t bring the color orange to mind in most listeners - but most people associate certain traits with each color and those traits correlate nicely with the emotional aspects of the music energies.
There is a belief among metaphysical seekers that the color bands repeat in each higher octave of the electromagnetic spectrum, but our eyes are sensitive only to one octave of the spectrum, the visible light octave.
Kay Gardner quotes from the 19th century scientist Dr. Edwin Babbitt: When one musical octave is finished, another one commences and progresses with twice as many vibrations as were present in the first octave, and so the notes are repeated on a finer scale. In the same way, when the scale of colors visible to the ordinary is completed in the violet, another octave of finer invisible colors, with exactly twice as many vibrations, will commence and progress on precisely the same law.
In the color violet, we can see the spectrum returning to the beginning, red. One can imagine the color bands repeating in higher and higher octaves of vibration, all the way up to what is known as the “emotional plane”. If that plane of existence consists of one octave of vibration (a 2 to 1 frequency ratio) then we have a reason to think that musical power may really carry color in an esoteric way. There are a lot of “if’s” in all of this and it is still hypothetical conjecture but it makes sense in a certain simple and elegant kind of way.
In any case, here is a brief listing of the seven energy types, with some of their qualities. An important point is that each energy admits of more than one kind of interpretation.
Red: separation, beginning, alone, fear, stimulation, aliveness, adventure, danger, challenge, vitality, courage, strength.
Orange: independence, freedom, newness, celebration, gratitude, praise, boldness
Yellow: self-identity, personal power, self-fulfillment
Green: awareness of the world, compassion
Blue: appreciation of beauty and truth in form
Indigo: appreciation of beauty and truth without form
Violet: return, home, completion, rest
Colour and Music in the New Age
Other color-music correlations: The musically intuitive author Corinne Heline, in Color and Music in the New Age, is on the right track when she ascribes a certain color to an entire work, according to the “feel” of that work. She ascribes color nuances to specific sentiments, for example: carmine with strength; bright brick red with anger; scarlet with pride; silver-green with life; greenish-gray with pessimism, etc. These assignments, however interesting they may be, seem a bit arbitrary and unsystematic, and we are not given any good reasons to believe that the music actually carries these colors inherently.
Healing with Music and Color by Mary Bassano begins to explore the music-color correlations systematically in the context of healing. That little book uses only the seven fundamental colors; the attributes presented for each color are ones that you might come up with on a first attempt and some are partially correct; unfortunately in general they fall well short of the full truth. Many of the examples that are listed for the particular colors are correct, but not all of them. The section of that book not dealing directly with color offers wonderful wisdom."
Explore your True Colors through a kaleidoscope of colour in song and instrumental music with The Hub's Colour playlist across four zones: Rock & Pop, Upbeat, Chill Zone and Wind Down. Take us away Cyndi!