Mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, who is blind, describes her world of color

Laurie Rubin, a mezzo-soprano who is set to return Monday to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, says often it’s other people who can’t see beyond her blindness.

“People are so terrified to hire me. They are afraid I will fall into the orchestra pit,” says Rubin, who will perform songs from her recent album and read from her memoir, “Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight,” set to be released Tuesday by Seven Stories Press.

“I have always had to prove myself beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

Rubin, 33, who has been blind since birth, learned that lesson acutely at Oberlin College, when she discovered she had not been accepted into an opera program because the director feared she would not learn the music as quickly as others.

Rubin’s voice teacher at the time told her: “You’ve got to be better than the others. You’ve got to have something so compelling about your singing that they would justify going out of their way and working past their own fears to hire you.”


handout image: Mezzo soprano Laurie Rubin. (Jonathan Barkat/Jonathan Barkat)

Since graduating, Rubin has performed at Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall in London, the Parcol Auditorium della Musica in Rome and the Lincoln Center.

Among the glowing reviews has been one from New York Times classical music critic Anthony Tommasini, who praised her “communicative power” and “compelling artistry.”

Rubin writes in her memoir about how she’s learned to distinguish herself.

“I’ve always thought of myself as a normal person,” she says. “But from the eyes of someone else, what they see is someone very different and isolated. They think I wouldn’t go to movies, or wouldn’t be interested in makeup or making jewelry,” a craft she picked up after a family friend who designs jewelry told her it was all a matter of touch.

People often ask Rubin how she can design jewelry if she’s blind.

“The answer is complicated,” Rubin says. “I listen to people talk about color and which combinations look good together. I associate colors with smells, tastes and textures, and I use a visual sense of color that I must have inherited from a past life or something equally unexplainable.”

Friends will tell her the color of the beads and findings she is using. And when she hears the words, “images come to my head.” With blue, “I think of the ocean and the sky,” she says. “With space, I think of electric blue and dark blue. . . . I think of red as a color with passion, that makes a statement.

“I can vividly imagine what the colors look like. It may not be anything like what other people think.”

Rubin’s earrings and necklaces have been sold in boutiques in New York and Los Angeles and are found online. A necklace she calls “Ancient Rome” is made of lapis and rutilated quartz on a gold-filled chain.

The title of the memoir comes from an encounter with a young fan seeking an autograph after a concert in New York.

When the girl asked “Do you dream in color?” Rubin responded: “I don’t know. Why don’t you explain colors to me?”

The girl told her: “Blue is like the ocean in the morning when the sun is out. Green is like the trees when it’s spring. Yellow the color of my hair. Pink is the color of cotton candy.”

Rubin told the girl, “I guess I do dream in color, because I dream of all those things.”

Looking back, she writes that she wishes her autograph had read: “To the girl who gave the colors of my dreams their proper names.”

Laurie Rubin

performs for free at 6 p.m. Monday at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. www.kennedy-center.org.

DeNeen L. Brown is an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post who has covered night police, education, courts, politics and culture.
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