January 2010


Sound Colors

Associate Professor of Music Tom Evans can hear the colors of musical instruments' sounds. The sound of the English horn, for example, is similar to "but slightly darker" than that of the oboe, Evans once explained to his high school music teacher, who had mistaken the two in a recording. Evans learned this ability from his father, a blue collar hard hat who worked in the Pittsburgh steel mills and loved classical music. Arriving home, his father often would put on a record from his extensive classical collection and sit down to listen. The sounds drew his young son like light does a moth, and the father would often tell him when certain instruments were about to come in. Soon the boy could associate the colors he was hearing with the names of specific instruments. His synesthesia wasn't confined to color and sound; the music demanded something physical. And so, as young as age 8 or 9, Evans would "conduct" the music in the room where his steelworker father quietly listened, unbothered by the gesticulating boy. One day the boy's third grade teacher asked the class to color while she played music on the record player. "Mrs. Reynolds," said Tom, "may I conduct it instead?" Apparently she let him; we know (though Evans doesn't remember it) because his childhood friends remember that day to this day. Perhaps it's not surprising Evans doesn't recall that day. After all, thanks in part to his father, conducting while you listened to a record player is what you had to do, every time.

What's the best song ever recorded?
"That's like asking who my favorite child is!"

What's your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
"A Fly Went By. I loved how something as innocuous as a fly buzzing by could lead to so many wonderful adventures. The story is about taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, and in some ways that reflects my attitude toward life."

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
I'd hope for, "Well done!" but would be content to hear, "Thanks for trying."

What's your favorite word?

What's your least favorite word?

What turns you on?

What turns you off?

What sound do you love?
The sound of my children laughing

What sound do you hate?
The sound of people arguing

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Being a wilderness guide

What profession would you not like to participate in?
Any job that does not involve creativity

What's been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
Ideally, I'd like to say every time I step on the podium or enter my classroom. Realistically though, it would be the times when everything comes together during a performance, which, unfortunately, doesn't happen often enough. I guess that's why they're so special.

Who's the person (living or dead) with whom you'd most like to spend a lunch hour?
Beethoven. I'd want to know how he was able to create such beautiful music in spite of his multitude of difficulties.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?
All the ones I've lived through, where that outcome seemed in doubt. I used to tell friends that I left home at age 10 but waited until I was 17 to actually go. And what I meant by that is I was having some grand adventures at a very young age, the kind of adventures that usually occur after you've moved out of your parents' home. When I think about these memories I realize I'm pretty lucky to be here.

What is your favorite curse word?
Shitsky. I came up with this word while I was on tour with a jazz band in Russia. It seemed appropriate then and I've used it ever since.

What is your favorite hobby?
This, also, is like being asked to name your favorite among all your children. I have a ton of interests. The ones occupying my attention these days are: hiking, backpacking, reading, and learning about Native American culture.

What is your favorite comedy movie?
There are several, but my top two are: Monty Python and The Holy Grail and Young Frankenstein. My favorite funny-and-profound movie is King of Hearts.

What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?
The first moon landing and Woodstock. Both these events serve as bookends to the summer of 1969, when I was telling my "coming of age" story. Both affected me in profound ways.

What instrument do you play?
Trombone, doesn't everybody?

If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?
Yes, and then we would laugh all the harder.

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