Monday, March 12, 2012


Many great musicians have been blind or near blind. Art Tatum, Andrea Bocelli, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder all come to mind immediately.

But how do you rate blind musicians? Do you judge their work based on their disability (i.e. the drummer from Def Leppard is pretty good for only having one arm), or alongside everyone else (i.e. Evelyn Glennie is a world famous percussionist despite being mostly deaf because she is just AWESOME)? I usually tend towards the latter, I think. I work with several staggeringly-talented blind musicians, and am always amazed at how good they are at what they do.

These thoughts and more came to me Saturday night as I sat with Timur listening to blind mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin. She performed at Valley Beth Shalom synagogue on Saturday night with pianist Marija Stroke and clarinetist Jennifer Taira. Most artists are only ever as good or as limited as the support community that surrounds them. Rubin, who has the 5th-most funded classical music project on Kickstarter, seems to have a very supportive community behind her.

Though her voice seemed most at home in the deep vibrato moments of Fauré and Schubert, there was one contemporary work on the program that she probably felt closer to. Rubin collaborated with composer Bruce Adolphe on a song called "Do You Dream In Color?" You might recognize Adolphe from Piano Puzzlers or the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. In "Do you dream in color," Adolphe's composition effectively portrayed a monochrome wash many of us might associate with blindness, which complimented the hand-crafted verbosity of Rubin's own words set to music.

Oliver Sachs' Musicophilia has several chapters dedicated to case studies of blind patients, BTW. Among other things, he discusses how the parts of the brain commonly used for processing visual information are often used by blind people to instead process aural information. It is a much better book on the physiology of hearing than Daniel J. Levitin's book on the subject, "This Is your Brain On Music," which was an embarrassingly misinformed, skippable piece of literary shit.

OK, here's Rahsaan Roland Kirk rocking so hard the camera guys get a little hyper at the end:

And now Art Tatum doing Dvorak's Humoresque:

1 comment:

gloomycomrade said...

Nice post, Daniel! I also enjoyed Bruce Adolphe's piece quite a bit, for it certainly captured the feeling of floating and flowing in and out of darkness. Where are we going next?