by Danielle Phillips
Does sound have a color? What about music? When you listen to your favorite song, does it bring a particular shade to mind? Maybe a sunny yellow for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys or a dusky blue for Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces”? If that’s the case, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the concepts of music and color have been intertwined for centuries.
For instance, “tone color” is a musical term used to describe the quality of sound produced by a particular voice or instrument; a lower, richer tone might be said to have a “warm” color, while a thinner, higher sound could be called “bright” or “brilliant.” And maybe you’re acquainted with the chromatic scale, a series of twelve tones composed of all the pitches found in Western music? That scale’s name comes from the Greek word “chrôma” meaning color, and is therefore thought in some senses to be a scale containing “notes of all colors.”
According to Dubuque Chorale Artistic Director Dr. Amanda Huntleigh, “Color and music are actually very closely connected because they both surpass words, so when [they’re] trying to describe emotions, oftentimes people use color metaphors or they use musical metaphors.”
In an effort to further explore this correlation between music and color, the Dubuque Chorale, their chamber choir Cadenza, and both of the Dubuque Chorale Children’s Choirs present their spring concert, Hues of Harmony. Dr. Huntleigh continues, “In this program, we’re focusing on color metaphors within music. The whole first section is dealing with poetry that evokes imagery that uses color to evoke an emotion or an idea.”
Most audiences are already somewhat familiar with this idea of color being used to evoke emotion in music. After all, nearly everyone has heard some version of the blues, the musical genre that best illustrates color’s close kinship with emotion, as early examples expressed sorrow so profound that it was named for the color especially associated with sadness. And naturally Hues of Harmony will include some blues, although they may be a little less morose than traditional examples of the form.
“My favorite piece to conduct is ‘Mary Had a Little Blues,’” remarked Karmella Sellers, Dubuque Chorale Children’s Choirs Program Director and Legati Singers Conductor. “I love the sound of it, the way it takes on a dark turn for a popular nursery song, and the musical concepts [the] kids get to learn. The kids really like it, except where there is a mention of lamb stew. We almost had organized protests over that part! Of course, most blues evokes a feeling of sadness; but in this piece, Mary comes out okay, and so the genre is juxtaposed with the text at the end.”
While the first half of the concert will feature the adult choirs and focus on classical settings of colorful poems, the second section will highlight children’s choirs the Legati Singers and the Staccati Singers, whose selections include pop favorites that often use color metaphors to suggest feelings of unity and connection.
“My favorite piece that I will be directing is ‘Colors of the Wind’ [from Disney’s Pocahontas],” said Staccati Singers Conductor Victoria Bausman. “I have always loved this song’s melody and message. It beautifully brings together the theme of our concert: color in music and life. The melodic contour of the piece takes you on a journey all while empowering people to love our world and its inhabitants for who they are.”
These motifs of empowerment and acceptance will continue through the concert’s close, culminating in a piece that uses color metaphors in yet another sense. Huntleigh concludes, “The finale of the program ‘True Colors’ is a jazz arrangement of the Cyndi Lauper tune, and the [adult] Chorale focuses as the backup singers while we let the children sing the solo line, hoping that as we move forward, the next generation of children feels like their true human colors can shine through – pairing the metaphor of color imagery [in] lyrics to the children embodying the song’s message.
Hues of Harmony will be performed at 7 PM on Saturday, May 6th, and at 2 PM on Sunday, May 7th, at Westminster Presbyterian Church (2155 University Ave.). There is no charge for admission; freewill donations will be accepted. For further details, visit DubuqueChorale.org.