I don’t think I do, but I just finished reading a memoir with that title by Laurie Rubin, a totally blind mezzo-soprano. To listen to her sing, click here. This site cannot be read with a screen reader, but in a recent interview with Books and Beyond, an Internet radio program showcasing authors, publishers, and other interesting people, she stated that she is working to make the site more blind friendly. In the meantime, you can listen to a live recording of her singing mostly art songs with piano accompaniment. If you like what you hear, her CDs are available through Amazon, and she’s on YouTube.
In Do You Dream in Color? Insights from a Girl without Sight, Laurie Rubin talks about her life from birth to the present. When she was a baby, she was diagnosed with Leber’s Amaurosis, a disorder that keeps the retina from developing and left her with only light perception. She describes her life growing up in Los Angeles during the 1980’s and 90’s. She began her education in a nursery and elementary school, both for blind children, but because her parents were not pleased with her progress, they were eventually instrumental in getting her mainstreamed into a public school when she started fourth grade. For the seventh grade, she applied and was accepted to a private school where she finished her education before continuing to OberlinCollege. She explains how resource room teachers and other professionals helped her during that time.
She started voice lessons at an early age, and although she liked popular songs, she wanted to sing opera. She describes meeting Kenny Loggins who taught her to water ski. She also learned downhill skiing through a program for the blind.
In middle and high school, she had a hard time fitting in because of her blindness, but when she attended summer music programs, she bonded well with other students because once they heard her sing, they realized she was one of them despite her sight loss. Laurie also describes attending a summer camp for the blind where she also bonded with other students with vision loss. She talks about the competitions she entered and her eventual performance at the Dorothy Chandler concert hall in Los Angeles when she was still in high school.
She describes her college experience at Oberlin where she played the lead role in an opera during her senior year. She was then accepted into Yale’s graduate opera program, and she talks about the frustration of not being cast in their operas because of her blindness, although the director and other staff at Oberlin were willing to work around it. At that time, she got her guide dog, Mark, and that gave her more confidence. She also talks about discovering that she’s a Lesbian and details the relationships she had in college.
After graduating from Yale, she moved to New York with her partner, and she describes learning how to cook for the first time because her mother never taught her. She also learned to make jewelry which she still does today. After living in New York for one year and studying in London for another, she moved back to New York and started performing chamber music and eventually was cast in her first New York opera. That was in the earlier part of this century. She now lives in Hawaii where she is director of a fine arts program and is currently working on a novel.
I found myself identifying with Laurie when I read her book. I didn’t want to sing opera, but I did want to be a performer. I took voice lessons in college because it was a requirement of my music major. During my sophomore year at SheridanCollege, my mother insisted I audition for an opera she was directing. I didn’t get the part, but I don’t think it was because of my visual impairment. Other sopranos with better voice quality auditioned for the same role, and the music director chose one of them. I didn’t care because I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. Instead of an opera singer, I became a music therapist and worked for fifteen years in a nursing home.
I became indignant when I read about Laurie being told point blank by the director of Yale’s opera program that she wasn’t cast because being on the stage would be too dangerous for her. To me, it was a clear indication that they weren’t willing to work with her disability. It reminded me of a time when the activity director at the nursing home told me she could not work with my visual impairment and wrote me up for every possible minor infraction and drastically decreased my hours. This was a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I appealed to the State Division of Labor Standards and won. I wonder if Laurie could have made a similar appeal with the same results.
Do You Dream in Color? Insights from a Girl without Sight is available from the National Library Service’s Braille and audio download site. You should also be able to purchase it from Amazon. Even if you hate opera or you’re not blind, I recommend reading this book. The story is a good example of how one woman didn’t let her blindness stop her from doing what she wanted. So does Laurie Rubin dream in color? Her answer is it’s not the dreams you have when you’re asleep that count. It’s the dreams you have when you’re awake of what you’ll be that are important.