Off-Ramp | Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Laurie Rubin, blind opera singer, answers Off-Ramp listener questions

Mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin wrote the poem at the core of her new album,
Mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin wrote the poem at the core of her new album, "Do You Dream in Color?"
Jonathan Barkat

Laurie Rubin, the blind mezzo soprano, gave us an amazing interview last weekend on Off-Ramp. But she also agreed to answer listeners' questions about her music. The listeners who got to ask her questions are subscribers to the Off-Ramp newsletter, and -- except for my sister Joan -- win a copy of Laurie's new album, "Do You Dream in Color."

Laurie has a concert Saturday at Valley Beth Shalom. There are still tickets available as I write this, but reservations close at noon today (Friday).

Melissa: I work at a Los Angeles based agency that teaches independent living skills to newly blind adults and young adults. Do you see music? Do you conceptualize the different notes or sounds in your mind? Do you feel like your passion for music brings you closer to people? If so, in what ways? What about singing to an audience inspires you?

Laurie: Hmm, do I see music?  Interesting.  I guess music really has given me a sense for what color might be. For example, A-Major is like the afternoon in a meadow with the birds singing. B-flat is like chocolate chip ice cream. The weird thing is that my musical associations seem to resonate with sighted people I know. Jenny (Rubin's girlfriend) feels that A-Major is like a cheerful afternoon, too. G-Major is the color blue to me, cool and soothing, and the key of G can incorporate anything from dark to light blue depending on the song.

Funny, a song in G minor just started on Jenny's iTunes as I wrote that.  Yes, my passion for music definitely brings me closer to people. When I was a teenager and I went to a music camp at Tanglewood, the kids seemed unsure how to relate to me. When I opened my mouth to sing, everything changed, and suddenly I was a person. I think the music conveyed the feelings I had in me, and it proved I was very adept at it, so the kids sort of forgot about the blindness and just saw me for who I was beyond that.

Also, the whole "Do You Dream in Color" project enables me to share on a larger scale things about my life I could never do on a day-to-day basis in conversation, because for one thing, people would be too afraid to ask certain questions, and for another, the emotions of music get right to a listener's core the way a conversation about it would not.  

The reason singing for an audience inspires me is that I am able to interact with each person in a unique way without my even knowing it. For example, one time I started singing the famous Leonard Cohen Halleluja, and a woman in the audience started bawling. Turned out her nephew had just died of an overdose, and they played that song at his funeral. It was cathartic and healing for her to hear it again. Other songs resonate with other people, but one thing is for sure, I always learn such unique things about the individuals in the audience, and they somehow feel that once I've sung, they can get very personal and open up to me.

I especially like singing for small, intimate audiences because of the ability to hear the audience's reactions, and to get them to feel more laid back about the experience. Sometimes big concert halls cause a lot of distance between audience and performer, making it more formal.

Victoria: Laurie, do you compose music yourself, or do you collaborate on compositions with other musicians?

Laurie: I wrote the lyrics for the "Do You Dream in Color" piece that was on the radio segment.  It was my first time writing and singing my own lyrics, and it was very gratifying to do so, and to hear how a composer interpreted my words. I don't usually write the music itself. My partner Jenny and I are writing songs together these days, but again, my input is mostly on the lyrics writing side. I do feel very involved in the music composition as a result.

Alejandro: What’s her opinion of Meredith Monk’s music?  

Laurie: Funny you should ask. I stumbled upon one of her CDs when I was in middle school. I had never heard new music before, and frankly, I burst out laughing when I first heard it. Hearing simple minimalism with random proclamations and laughter just hit my funny bone. I still haven't really understood the crux of what she is trying to convey, but I imagine there is a depth there that I have not accessed within myself yet.  Give it a few years.  :-)

Joan: When you sing for a living, do you still enjoy singing just for fun - in the shower, with a song on the radio. etc?  

Laurie: Hawaii (where Laurie lives) has a big tradition of Karaoke, and you can find me singing at the top of my lungs to Bruno Mars, Rihanna, songs from Wicked or some other musical, etc. I rarely listen to classical music in my spare time anymore because I need a break from it, so yes, I listen to and sing hiphop, rock, and everything else in the shower.  I don't even take care to sing perfectly in tune.  Ha!! :-)