The color of music with Dan Binstock

Dan Binstock (Photo courtesy of Dan Binstock)

Name a tune and Dan Binstock can probably play it on his piano from memory. Binstock estimates he knows the melodies of maybe 10,000 songs by heart. What’s more, if you hum a bit of a melody that he doesn’t know, he’ll pick it up with ease.

It’s a rare ability that he’s always had.

“I was born with perfect pitch,” says the 47-year-old Potomac resident, a member of Washington Hebrew Congregation.

He was also born with the neurological condition Chromesthesia, or sound-to-color synesthesia. When he listens to music, he sees colors.

“My brain converts musical sounds into colors,” he says. “And so when I hear a song, I see colors and a visual pattern.”

To play a song, he converts his visual memory back into notes on the piano.

Last April, with the pandemic taking hold and many people in quarantine, Binstock, a legal recruiter by profession, took to Facebook Live to entertain his friends and family. He asked for requests, then played song after song from memory.

After that, he began receiving invitations to perform virtually at private events. That was the beginning of Dan Binstock’s Virtual Piano Party. Invite him to perform and over Zoom, he’ll lead you and your guests in “name that tune” and play songs on request. Binstock likens it to a piano or karaoke bar in your own home.

“People seem to really enjoy requesting songs and seeing it played in real time,” Binstock says. “I love doing it. It allows me to be a part of the celebration and bring a lot of energy and excitement to people at a time where they’re not having as much interaction. Music is a way for people to bond with each other.”

Binstock started playing piano when he was 4, after seeing the musical “Oklahoma.” On the family piano he picked out the songs by ear.

“It was just like oxygen to me. I gravitated toward it from my earliest memories,” Binstock says. “It really puts me into a different space, a different mindset that really takes me out of my analytical brain and puts me into my feeling brain. And I also love the effect and the impact it has on other people.”

He studied classical music at the University of Maryland in College Park. During this time he played piano for The Capitol Steps political satire troupe.

But while Binstock had no problem playing by ear, he struggled learning to read music. He also didn’t like practicing alone for hours on end, which made him feel isolated. So he switched majors to psychology and graduated in 1995. Five years later, he completed his juris doctor degree and practiced Intellectual Property law until becoming an attorney recruiter in 2004.

The Virtual Piano Party is more for the fun of it. And he’s been having a lot of fun. Since December, he’s performed at more than 50 events, or about four to five a week. He’s played fundraisers to birthday parties, for people all across the country. And Binstock says he’s seen people shed tears at his virtual shows.

“They’ll go from dancing and jumping up and down to crying,” he says. “Because if someone’s had a tough year, to see all of their friends there together, it’s sort of like the equivalent of a musical video hug.”

Once in a while, a request will stump Binstock. When that happens, he quickly pulls up Spotify, gives the song a quick listen and is able to play it from memory. Most of requests he gets are hits from the last few decades, movie themes, Broadway numbers and Motown classics. But his favorite era is the 1980s.

“There’s a lot of very catchy melodies that seem to put everybody in a good mood,” he says. “The music from the ‘80s is very uplifting and very melody driven. And I love songs with great melody.”

Binstock has performed for his synagogue and other Jewish organizations. He sees his music and his Judaism intertwined.

“When I’m playing piano and performing for people, I feel very close to God because my ability to do this, it’s not something that I learned. It was something that was given to me. Something that I was born with. And when I’m playing and seeing people smiling and waving their arms and having such a good time, it truly feels like I’m having a spiritual experience. And I’m doing what God wanted me to do by gifting me with this unique ability.”

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