Alumna Rosalie Goumas plays the piano at her Somerville home.
By Karen Shih
Rosalie Goumas has never seen the color green. Or the color orange. Or the color blue.
But you wouldn’t know it if you listened to the 1965 Perkins School for the Blind alumna play her musical interpretation of the colors – created from descriptions and her own imagination – in a piece she composed, called “Color Impressions.”
Green is lyrical and fluid, like wind dancing across a field of grass. Red is staccato and jaunty, like sparks leaping from a fire. And blue is somber, in a minor key, like a score to a tragic love story.
As she plays, it’s easy to imagine her as a precocious 16-year-old, performing with the Boston Pops and feeling no nerves at all – just the excitement of being on stage.
“I liked the applause and knowing that they’re here to see me,” said Goumas. The accomplished pianist, who has played throughout the Boston area for decades, lives in Somerville, Massachusetts with her husband Charles, a 1964 Perkins alumnus.
Born prematurely at 6 months old, Goumas became blind when she was given too much oxygen in the incubator. But that never stopped her from expressing herself through song – a talent her parents discovered early in her life.
“My father loved music,” said Goumas. He kept a piano in the house, and she started playing at just a year and a half old. When she was 3, her father brought her to a local VA hospital to play for patients.
She enrolled in Perkins at age 5, where she quickly made friends and joined the chorus. She became a leader in the group as she got older, teaching others their parts.
While she took part in the usual activities like cheerleading and baseball, Goumas also took special classes outside of Perkins: private lessons with Leo Litwin, a solo pianist with the Boston Pops. Through that connection, she was invited to play with the orchestra while she was just a teenager. She recalls learning Mendelssohn’s Concerto in G Minor for the performance.
“It was really hard!” she said. But despite that, “I was really calm about it” when the day of the show came.
After graduating from Perkins, Goumas enrolled in Mount Ida College, then auditioned for the Boston Conservatory, which accepted her. She recalled taking master classes, reserved for students of the highest caliber, including with famed Hungarian pianist Balint Vazsonyi, who praised her playing.
It was also music that helped bring her and Charles together. Though they’d overlapped at Perkins, they didn’t know each other well. Dating was discouraged – the idea at the time was that it would be better for people who were blind to find spouses who were sighted – and it wasn’t until 1980 that they reconnected, thanks to a mutual Perkins friend who was in the hospital. They traveled together to Connecticut to visit her, then made plans to go see a concert of Beethoven sonatas.
“Don’t be a stranger!” Goumas said to Charles at the end of the night. Two years later, they were married. Goumas composed a variation of the Lord’s Prayer for their wedding.
Since then, she’s played frequently throughout the Boston area, both as a soloist and with orchestras. For 30 years, she’s accompanied Jose Mateo’s Ballet Theatre during classes and performances, and she also gave lessons to a student she met through the theater. At the First Lutheran Church of Boston, Goumas often plays for Sunday school classes, as well as at Camp Winni, an annual church retreat. She’s recorded a few CDs with fellow musicians at the church, including an album of Christmas music.
“I feel very blessed that Rosie’s my wife,” said Charles. He loves it when Goumas plays for just the two of them in the evenings on their Baldwin baby grand piano, a gift her father purchased at a Boston Symphony Orchestra sale when she was just a teenager. “She’s very talented. She makes a lot of people very happy with her music.”