So I wonder if this is part of the reason that the blind community has some of the best people in music? I thought this was a very interesting article and I hope you do as well! Yvonne
Blind opera singer tells of her experience with bullying
Laurie Rubin sings an opera song during a special anti-bullying concert at Ravina’s Martin Theater Wednesday, September 9, 2015. (Kevin Tanaka / Pioneer Press)
Karen Berkowitz•Contact Reporter
Highland Park middle schoolers relate to blind opera singer’s bullying experiences
September 10, 2015, 12:33 PM
Though blind since birth, mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin thought of herself as quite normal growing up. She came to realize — somewhat painfully — that her school contemporaries didn’t see her the same way.
“One of the things that would happen was that I would start talking to a group of kids, and then they would walk away,” Rubin told an audience of sixth graders Wednesday during her Voices Against Bullying concert in the Martin Theatre at the Ravinia Festival. “I’d still be talking, because I didn’t realize they were gone. They thought it was really funny, because it looked like I was talking to no one.”
The singer and author of “Do You Dream in Color?” had plenty of stories to share with middle-school pupils from Highland Park and Highwood. She appeared with pianist and composer Jenny Taira, with whom she has collaborated on a music video, “The Girl I Am,” based on the themes explored during her concert.
Rubin recalled that while the fashion-conscious girls at her private school in California were obsessed with shopping at The Gap, a new phenomenon at the time, her own look was clunky and unstylish. Her backpack was loaded with voluminous texts in braille and her belt had a holster for the cane she used to keep from bumping into objects.
“Kids don’t necessarily have a sense of how to treat people who are different,” Rubin said backstage before the concert. “For me, it was very much about eye contact. I was very different. Kids just kind of ignored me. I never got invited to parties. Every once in awhile they would say mean things to me.”
Rubin said that focusing on her classical music — she started singing at the age of 10 — helped her through the difficult pre-teen and adolescent years.
“I went to summer programs where every kid was interested in music,” she said. “That really broke the ice. Music was my social portal into having friends and feeling a sense of community.”
When Rubin invited a few questions at the end of her concert, one student seized the moment.
“I know how you feel because I myself have been bullied,” he told Rubin.
“People are so mean. I end up in the principal’s office a lot. I’ve asked my Mom to do something and she keeps telling the principal, who has tried everything. But the kids don’t care about getting in trouble or anything.”
When another student was interested in knowing how she had been mistreated, she told her story about students walking away during the middle of a conversation.
North Shore District 112 Superintendent Michael Bregy attended the Voices Against Bullying concert and knew from students’ comments that they had gotten the message.
“I think it is really important that kids understand what the message is, if we are pulling them out of instructional time,” Bregy said. “When students start questions with ‘I know how you feel’ and then share how they feel,” it’s clear they’ve understood the message, he said. “Laurie showed the importance of telling your story, and kids wanted to model that and share their own stories.”
Bregy said he also was heartened that Rubin advised kids to ‘”reach out to those around you.”
“You can see that our students are surrounded by teachers who can help them understand these situations,” the superintendent said.
Rubin was to make her official Ravinia Festival debut on Thursday in a concert of arias and duets with opera star Frederica von Stade.
“Like the rest of the world, I have been a fan of Ms. von Stade for many years, and her agent suggested the concert of duets with Laurie Rubin,” said Welz Kauffman, Ravinia’s chief executive officer.
It was a fortunate coincidence that Kauffman later learned of Rubin’s work against bullying at the same time the city of Highland Park was launching its anti-bullying campaign. Ravinia underwrote the concert for pupils from Edgewood, Elm Place and Northwood middle schools.
“Sometimes the gods figure these things out,” Kauffman said. “I’m glad it turned out so well. It’s just luck sometimes.”
Ravinia also created a public service announcement for the campaign featuring jazz legend Ramsey Lewis, local middle school students and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering. Festival officials say the ad has run thousands of times on Comcast, WGN and WTTW.
“Ravinia has been an unbelievable partner in bringing the arts into the anti-bullying conversation,” Rotering said.
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