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Seeing colors when he hears music

Have you ever heard music and experienced color sensations simultaneously? Or have you associated colors with letters?

Mike Royal experiences both those sensations.

Royal, 17, a senior at Providence High School,

lives with his family in Providence Heights in south Charlotte.

Royal sees colors when he plays or listens to music, or when he reads letters or numbers - a condition called synesthesia.

He used to think everyone had the same experience; however, a few years ago, while talking with his mom, he shared those sensations. Amy Royal recently had seen a program about synesthesia on the Discovery Channel, so she had an idea of what her son was talking about and thought he might have the condition.

Research revealed Royal has both musical and grapheme synesthesia. The musical form results in Royal seeing colors when he hears music; grapheme synesthesia refers to how he experiences colors when he sees letters or numbers.

There is no cure or treatment for the condition, thought to affect anywhere from 1 in 200 to 1 in 100,000 people. There seems to be a higher incidence in creative and left-handed people, and the condition doesn't seem to have any negative effect on a person's life.

In fact, as shared by Royal, synesthesia can enhance a person's creativity. Royal said he believes it allows him to have an "improved creativity and performance," with a greater imagination; he's happy to be a synesthete - someone with synesthesia.

Royal recently created a DVD, "Musical Synesthesia," for his senior exit project from Providence High. He presented the video to a committee of two teachers and one parent, and scored 100 - a top score. Royal put in more than 30 hours of research, and within two days put together a professional presentation that allows the viewer to get inside the mind of a synesthete.

Synesthesia is a neurologically-based condition believed to be an inherited trait carried on the X chromosome. It's as though wires are crossed and your senses are affected: You might experience a stimulation in one sensory pathway that leads to an automatic and involuntary experience in another.

Royal's sister Natalie also has a form of grapheme synesthesia, in which every letter has a personality. Natalie, a singer and songwriter at Belmont College in Nashville, Tenn., recently wrote a song about those personalities.

Musical greats including Duke Ellington and Billy Joel have been thought to have musical synesthesia.

When Royal plays chords, he sees different colors: C major is light blue, F major is purple, A minor is red, D minor is yellow, E major is yellow, G is green and G minor is a darker green with a yellow tint.

Far from being a handicap, Royal said, the condition is fascinating. Synesthesia adds excitement to his daily life and affords him a very creative imagination, he said.

Royal now is knowledgeable about synesthesia and presents himself with an amazing maturity and insightfulness for a teenager.

He said he wants people to know more about the condition.

"I think a lot of people should know. It's very interesting; I want to know more," said Royal.