Informal Biographies

Photo credit: Brittany Florenz

Updated APRIL 2024

My beginnings as an “Accidental” Vocal Composer.

An unofficial biography, not to be used in a program.

I come from a musical family. My mom was a singer, pianist, and violinist, and my sisters were also musicians — one a pianist, one a violinist. There was always music in the house and music at any family get-together.

My mom says that when I was very young I was always making up songs, on the order of “My mommy is putting the clothes in the washing machine.” I have no memory of this. I do remember being plunked in front of the record player and listening over and over again to several kiddie records: Peter and the Wolf, Pee-Wee The Piccolo, Bongo the Bear, and Tubby the Tuba. In retrospect, I think this early exposure to story and song must have made an indelible impression on me.

I began formal music training at age 5 with piano lessons, and at age 7, I started flute lessons. Until college, my musical life was focused on becoming a professional flutist.

I do remember being amazed by composers — it was beyond my comprehension that people could make up music, and certainly, this was something that I never thought I could do.

At age sixteen, I graduated from high school and went to Yale. My class at Yale was only the third year women were admitted — and my class was comprised of 1000 men and 250 women. The majority of my Yale friends were musicians and composers. By my sophomore year (being competitive in nature), I thought I too should try to write some music. I started studying with Jonathan Kramer, and my first piece was a piano rag — The Enchanted Knickers Rag. I loved playing ragtime on the piano, and its structure provided an easy starting and finishing point.

The summer following sophomore year I wanted to stay at home and relax, but my parents insisted I continue my musical studies. They gave me the choice to go to Fountainebleau in France to study with Nadia Boulanger, as both my sisters had done, or to study flute at Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan, where my sister Lynn had also spent summers. Not particularly liking theory and terrified at the prospect of studying with the legendary Boulanger, I chose to attend Interlochen.

This choice defined my life in many ways.

My roommate at Interlochen was soprano Lauren Wagner, and we got along fabulously. Although I was attending Interlochen as a flutist, I also studied composition. I wrote Lauren a crazy piece in an “avant-garde” style and required her to make all sorts of weird sounds, singing the words “yo-yo-yo-yo-yo” to some leaping intervals. A tape of this composition exists somewhere, but I will be very content if it is never unearthed.

Returning to Yale in the fall, I continued composing — mostly instrumental pieces. I did set one poem — Remember Me — by Christina Rossetti — but that was the extent of my vocal writing. I was accepted into a 5 year BA and MM program and continued my graduate studies at Yale School of Music. There I developed an interest in writing for film and theatre and took Frank Lewin’s class in composing for film and theater. This class taught me various techniques for writing dramatic music to fit words or images.

After graduate school, I married my college boyfriend, Bruce Rosenblum, and moved to Williamstown, MA, where Bruce was the music teacher at Buxton School, a small private high school. I joined Bruce on the Buxton faculty in 1976 and played flute in the Vermont Symphony in 1977. The next year, Bruce changed paths, and enrolled at Columbia Law School. We moved to New York City, where I taught flute at various music schools and started writing music for industrial films. I became the composer for the Dick Roberts Film Company and wrote scores for such films featuring the magazine Psychology Today and Camera Arts Magazine. In 1980, I wrote the score to The Taming of the Shrew at the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC.

Also in 1980, I had my first child, James. Suddenly, I learned that the reality of parenthood did not mesh with the pressures of producing a complete recorded film score on a fast timetable. So I focused on composing chamber music. I also continued to teach flute, and while teaching at The International Conservatory of Music I met koto player Miyuki Yoshikami. I began to write music for flute and koto which Miyuki and I performed regularly in concert.

I had two more children: Diana in 1983, and Andrew in 1986. Then, much of my life became devoted to driving. I drove the kids to school, to lessons, to activities… any stay-at-home mom or dad knows what I am talking about.

Over the years, I had been in and out of touch with my former roommate Lauren Wagner but it was 1991 when I received an excited call from her. She had just won the Concert Artists Guild competition and was about to make her debut CD. She asked me if I would write some songs for the CD. I was flattered she asked, but not sure of my ability to write an art song. In fact, I told her that I could not, that I had no idea how to write a song. She was insistent, however, so, I went to the library and began to read a lot of poetry. I was attracted to the poetry of Sara Teasdale.

For my first song, I decided to set Teasdale’s The Metropolitan Tower and wrote the vocal part very quickly — so quickly that I doubted my creation was really any good. I was actually going to throw the music out, but my husband assured me that it was a beautiful song. For years I remained particularly self-conscious about this song, afraid people would think it (or I) was stupid because of its strophic simplicity. Now it is one of my favorites and of it, Gregory Berg of The Journal of Singing has written: “Amazingly, Laitman’s very first art song was nothing less than a masterpiece, and it was just the spark of what would become a truly glorious career.”

Lauren premiered The Metropolitan Tower at Merkin Hall in New York on December 16, 1991, with Frederick Weldy at the piano. After the recital, Paul Sperry hosted a party at his wonderful apartment overlooking Central Park. This was my introduction to the art song world, and it was here that I not only met Paul Sperry, but Richard Hundley and John Musto. Richard said something to me that I will never forget: he had been planning on setting that very Teasdale poem, but he said he never would now, because could not do a better job than I had. These were heady words for a mom from Potomac. I became hooked and since then, have never stopped writing songs.

And that is how I found my voice in writing for the voice.