Seeing Sound: Student uses condition as a musical tool

Kelsie Stevens | Banner | Stephen Wright, senior music education major, sings baritone in the University Choir and Orchestra.

When Stephen Wright sat down to write his song “Truly my Soul” based on Psalm 62, which speaks of finding his way back to God even during difficult times, he played with the note E flat and saw a vivid red in his mind’s eye.

For as long as he can remember, Wright has seen vibrant colors when hearing music. The colors dance around in his head whenever pitches can be heard.

“When I’m using one of my senses, another sense kicks in. If I hear a sound in my imagination, though I can’t really stop it, I experience a color.”

There are different colors for different pitches and patterns, but it is always the same color experienced with the same pat- tern of music.

Wright has synesthesia, a neurological condition that enables him to see colors in his mind while hearing music and helps him have perfect pitch.

Wright, senior music education major, is a chapel band member, vocal director and singer in the University Choir and Orchestra. Synesthesia helps Wright with his music abilities and talents, however, he still considers it to be a disorder.

“When you grow older, you can lose it more and more. It’s not as grandiose as when I’ve experienced it before,” Wright said. “It brings familiar patterns in music back to me. But I have perfect pitch, and if you give me a pitch I can tell you exactly what it is.”

Hector Jimenez, assistant professor of music, oversees the Chapel Band with Wright and speaks to his experience.

“In vocal rehearsal, he is able to give encouragement about pitches,” Jimenez said. “It helps him to be more intentional musically because he can hear the imperfections that the regular ear can’t hear.”

Jimenez also said he admires Wright’s vocal talents.

“He has a really high-quality voice and is very servant-heart- ed. It has been very encourag- ing to have him on the team,” Jimenez said.

Wright said he started singing in a church choir when he was 3 years old but never saw himself pursuing music while growing up and instead wanted to be an aerospace engineer.

Wright said his road to music started when he and his friend made a band together.

“When I was 14 or 15, I realized maybe I should not do aerospace engineering,” Wright said. “Then, of course, I went to a UCO concert and it changed my life.”

Wright sings and plays drums and piano, but is learning a variety of other instruments.

Morganne Warner, sophomore worship arts and ministry major, said she currently participates in UCO and Chapel Band with Wright and admires him for more than just his musical abilities.

“Stephen has a natural gift for leadership and kindness,” Warner said. “He has a gift for hearing harmonies and in a Chapel setting, he guides us in what we should sing. Watching him use his talents to help us be better at what we do is so awesome to see.”

While synesthesia is a major part of Wright’s life, he said he does not find his identity in syn- esthesia or in his music.

“The moment you wrap your identity around your music is the moment that you lose your identity,” Wright said. “Let your identity be in Christ alone.”

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