Name: Laurie Rubin
Instrument: Voice, mezzo-soprano
Current City: Mililani, Hawaii
Year won: 1997
1. What led you to apply to the VSA International Young Soloists Competition?
At the time, I was very eager to apply to the VSA International Young Soloists Competition because the prospect of singing at the Kennedy Center sounded amazing. I also loved that the competition included instrumentalists and singers. Little did I know what a wonderful group of people who advocate for people with disabilities in the arts I’d have the privilege of meeting, and subsequently working with frequently.
2. What is one of your proudest accomplishments (personal or professional) since winning the competition?
I think winning the competition spearheaded some efforts of mine to educate people in the performing arts industry and beyond, and it reinforced my desire to change attitudes about people with disabilities. I wrote a memoir called Do You Dream in Color? Insights from a Girl Without Sight about my life as an opera singer who happens to be blind, and I am very happy with the decision to write that book. It has led me into many artistic ventures, including co-writing a piece of music that takes listeners on a journey with me through the many visual aspects in my life– in spite of being blind. It has also enabled me to speak for a variety of organizations, to give motivational speeches, and to perform concerts in which I weave stories from my life with relevant pieces of music.
I think the most incredible thing about having written the book is hearing from readers who tell me that they went into the read thinking they’d feel like a voyeur, learning all these unique things about a blind person. But then they realized that they were reading a book about themselves, realizing that I had the same desires, insecurities, and yearning to fit in that is so universal. I think the book melted barriers for a lot of readers, because they realized how similar we are and that disabilities don’t necessarily make us different in the ways you’d expect.
3. What was your biggest takeaway from being a VSA International Young Soloists Winner?
I think my biggest take-away was realizing how many amazing musicians with disabilities there are out there. I had been going through life feeling as though I was the only one since I was the only blind student in my summer music programs, choirs, etc. Many times I felt insecure because I felt that people were afraid– assuming that I had more limitations than I actually did. My self-esteem took several hits and I started to internalize some of those attitudes. When I saw that there were other accomplished musicians with disabilities out there, it reaffirmed my belief in myself and I felt very uplifted and inspired. I felt like sharing my fellow VSA colleagues with the world and saying, “See, we can do this!”
4. Tell us something exciting you’ve been doing lately (performance, project, travels, job, etc.).
We are about to premiere a new musical called Peace On Your Wings, which my wife and I co-wrote. It is inspired by the life of Sadako Sasaki, the 12-year-old girl who died from Leukemia caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. She unknowingly led an international movement to fold paper cranes for peace. It began when she folded over 1,000 paper cranes in order to fulfill the Japanese legend that states that 1,000 paper cranes will bring you long life and one wish. After she died, her junior high school friends lobbied support from students all around the country to get a monument built in her honor in order to remember the children victims of the atomic bomb.
The musical features several underrepresented groups, including Asian students, as well as youth. There are only a handful of musicals that feature youth, and we wanted to help enrich that repertoire. The musical includes taiko drumming, 1950’s rock, and modern musical theater/pop.
My wife Jenny and I also produced our first music video for our first original single, “The Girl I Am.” You can see that video here.