Arts & travel inspire Julia Rahm
Last updated 1/4/2022 at Noon
Julia Rahm got her start in Sisters. Her love of theater and singing took root from programs she sought out in Sisters and Bend. She is now a vocal artist, voice teacher, composer, and poet. She received her bachelor’s degree in theater, music, and the French language at Sarah Lawrence College in New York and her master’s in voice performance from Roosevelt University in Chicago. She also studied for one year at the École Normale de Musique in Paris.
A Sisters High School graduate, Rahm is the director of social justice & programming of The Valkyrie Ensemble, a Chicago-based vocal/opera ensemble seeking to promote women and women’s stories through music. Her work is in response to the high numbers of female singers in a competitive and sexist industry. The Ensemble finds creative ways to open doors for women while also actively changing the narrative of well-known operas to reflect the varied complexity of the female/nonbinary experience.
Finding the silver lining in having to remain at home and unable to perform in live productions during the pandemic, Rahm used the forced transition-time to finish her first book of poetry. “Wild Heart: Poetic Musings of a Queer Mystic.” Her blog of poetry and stories can be found on Amazon.com.
Rahm describes her book as an exploration of the alchemy of heartbreak, the bewilderment of life’s paradoxes, the power of the Divine Feminine, and the wisdom to be found in the nuances of nature. With a distinctively queer, feminine, and mystical lens, her poetry takes the reader on a journey toward finding meaning in the unorthodox, following the longings of a wild, passionate heart and sensuous, awakened body.
As a woman who possessed an early understanding of herself far beyond her years, she describes growing up in Sisters as a mixed experience.
“I realized, after leaving, how good I had it with regard to nature surrounding me,” said Rahm. “I went to Sarah Lawrence College for undergraduate. I loved that and the contrast of being so close to New York City. It’s so much louder than Sisters. I took for granted being able to find peace and tranquility, and how easy it was to go to the river or a lake and ski.”
From an early age, Rahm was very interested in the arts and sometimes found it frustrating that there wasn’t much musical theater happening. She found more opportunities in Bend where she took music lessons. Although she was sometimes frustrated by the limitations in Sisters, Rahm is quick to point out that Sisters had a great arts department compared to most other schools.
“I enjoyed being in the Americana Project and the theater scene got better toward my last couple of years. We started doing musicals which made me happy,” she said.
Even with a solid group of friends, Rahm struggled when she came out as a lesbian in high school.
“I didn’t get the sense that there was anyone else who was LGBTQ in the community,” she said.
“Some kids were directly hateful about it, but most were just ignorant.
It was also glossed over in sex education class.
They kept it very hetero.
It was too much of a hot button then.
A lot of teachers were afraid to do so.
I started the first Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) my junior year.
I found some supportive teachers like Mr. Gladden, who was our sponsor for the GSA. Our health teacher, Heather Johnson, was supportive for me in general.
Some kids posted a hateful poster mocking my GSA poster and she was the first to tear it down and say, ‘We don’t do that here!’ It was a whole different time back then.”
Rahm is amazed at how far gay rights have come in only 11 years.
“Back then there was way less representation, especially for young people coming out,” she said.
Through the GSA, Rahm and other members started Sisters High School’s first diversity week.
“We covered socioeconomic and racial diversity, religion, and the last day focused on sexual orientation,” Rahm recalled. “The principal was less than supportive of the venture and canceled my speaker the day before. He was afraid that parents would be picketing outside. He asked me to speak instead. That’s what ended up happening. I’m proud of that moment in my life. My inner rebel came out. I’m lucky my family was supportive. I know a lot of people don’t have that. I never felt afraid for my safety, it was more of a psychological fear of being shunned.”
After high school graduation, Rahm went to school in New York and studied theater, French, and music. She studied in Paris her junior year, which was transformative for her.
“I used the year to explore a bunch of interests and took voice lessons at a school in Paris, which got me on a classical music track. I thought I wanted to do jazz voice, but my teacher kept giving me all these opera arias and Vivaldi solos and found it worked well with my voice… and it was fun,” said Rahm.
Rahm’s instructor offered her the opportunity to perform a Vivaldi solo with a choir traveling down to the Loire Valley and a venue in Paris and the Chartres Cathedral.
“It was very empowering and launched me into the classical music realm,” she said. “I continued with theater at Sarah Lawrence and after that decided to go back to Paris to teach English in a high school for seven months. I studied voice on the side, then enrolled in a school in Paris which I didn’t like as much.”
Eventually, she ended up coming back to the States and began looking into master’s programs. She spent a year in Central Oregon and got into the Chicago College of Performing Arts.
“The master’s program groomed me for a specific path,” Rahm said. “I realized during COVID that things I thought were important tended to fall away and I didn’t miss them. I finished my master’s in 2019. When COVID hit I was just finishing up my first paid opera gig in Evanston and we literally finished the run on the day the governor shut things down. After that, boom! Nothing… It led to things falling away. I stayed in Chicago then moved to Rancho Santa Fe, California, with my family. I’m saving money while teaching voice and piano virtually from California to students in Chicago.”
Reflecting on her childhood, Rahm wants kids growing up in Sisters to know that it’s OK for your path to not be linear.
“I encourage them to follow what they love, trust themselves, and not compare themselves to other people. I’m still learning how to do that,” she said.
To learn more about Julia Rahm’s many artistic pursuits and achievements visit her website at www.
juliarahm.com. Her book is available at: Amazon.com: “Wild Heart: Poetic Musings of a Queer Mystic.”