words by Sean Holohan | video by Molly Misek
When I first met Kaitlyn Hova, she said I was red and blue.
Like a subtle silhouette around my body, a haze of colors greeted her when we spoke. When she plays her violin, an array of colors flashes before her with every note that she plays. And when she reads a book, the black and white pages are more like a rainbow.
Hova experiences synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon where stimulation of one cognitive pathway triggers another involuntary experience in a second cognitive pathway. In short, Hova sees sounds, letters and people as colors.
Although she has had this ability her whole life, Hova says she wasn’t aware of it until she was in college. One day, a professor was talking about some people who have the ability to see sounds as colors and how interesting it was to him. That’s when she realized, “Wait, not everyone can do that?”
“I was in my very last class at UNO for my music degree and a professor said, ‘Oh, funny thing, did you know that some people can see sounds with music?’” says Hova, who’s since lent her violin to Omaha bands such as Bad Country, All Young Girls Are Machine Guns and Midwest Dilemma.
“And I was the only one in the room that was completely dumbfounded that this was not normal.”
When she’s improvising on violin, she plays to color, not key. When she goes running, she can see the sound of a car coming before she even sees the car itself. And when she is working on computer coding, she can often pick out letters and numbers by their colors instead of wading through pages of code.
After she met her now-husband Matt, they began researching a way to take people without synesthesia through the same experience Kaitlyn has when she hears sounds. They recently developed an app that assigns the colors Kaitlyn hears for each note and projects that color through a light show. With one stroke of her violin, anyone is privy to the mesmerizing display of colors that Kaitlyn sees on a daily basis.
After YouTube videos of the app garnered attention from scientists across the country, the Hovas were asked to present their app at the World Science Festival in New York City on May 28. They say sharing this app with the scientific community could be a significant step in further research on synesthesia.
For a first-hand look, watch the video below: