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Laurie Rubin: Blind Opera Singer Defies Expectations

Laurie Rubin '03MM, mezzo-soprano
July 1, 2013

Laurie Rubin, opera singer and author of “Do You Dream in Color?”, doesn’t let the fact that she’s blind stop her. She puts on her own makeup, makes jewelry, and goes skiing. “I go to movies,” Laurie says. “Amazing, blind people go to movies.”

She says that even as a young child, she knew she was blind, but didn’t know what it meant. “It’s very hard for somebody who’s sighted to explain to somebody what sight is,” explains Laurie. When she was four, Laurie began piano lessons. Laurie would sing along and create her own melodies, prompting her piano instructor to suggest voice lessons to Laurie’s mom.

When she was 14, Laurie got asked to sing at Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan’s inauguration. With her heart beating fast, she says she was afraid she would forget the words, but she got rave reviews with people calling her a “14-year-old singing sensation.” “I remember thinking,” says Laurie, “if I can do that, I can do anything.”

Laurie studied voice in college and graduate school, but still struggled to gain acceptance as an opera performer. Because she was blind, she says people were worried that she would fall and hurt herself on stage, but she also thinks people actually had a hard time accepting a blind person as a “normal, sensual, feminine human being.”

Laurie has appeared in major operas and as a soloist at Carnegie Hall and the White House, but it wasn’t without a struggle. She says being blind has frustrated her opera directors, since she’s never seen what an eye raise or an eye roll looks like. Laurie has learned over time how to make common gestures look natural. She realized, after her teacher at Yale told her that she would have be better than the “best sighted singer,” that she would need to find her niche. “When we are different, you have to find the thing that makes you special,” says Laurie.

Last year, Laurie published a memoir, “Do You Dream in Color?” Today, she keeps busy with her arts education non-profit, Ohana Arts, which is devoted to music education in Hawaii. She says the program strives to give kids in Hawaii inspiring opportunities to perform onstage. Laurie is also touring and working on a new album called “The Girl I Am.”

Laurie explains that if people say she took risks, faced fears, and made things happen for herself, she’d be perfectly happy. Laurie knows that positivity will get you farther in life. Even with limitations, she says, “There’s no ceiling on what people can do. I think that we can actually use those limitations to build upon our strengths.”

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