By Daniel J. Vance
For years, Ann Farris of San Francisco, California, tried keeping a secret hidden: she wasn't particularly gifted in comprehending what she read.
“You can fool a heck of a lot of people when you're smart,” said 73-year-old Farris in a telephone interview. “I gravitated towards opera beginning at age 11 because I found out that classical music and opera allowed my brain to rest. My mother took me to the symphony as a child. I could float with the music. By the end the concert I was a happy kid. I really wanted to be around it a lot because afterwards I could read and understand what I was reading. It made my life better.”
Eventually, Farris learned she had a learning disability in reading comprehension.
Yet she has succeeded in her chosen profession. She worked in musical theater from ages 18-24 before entering the world of opera. Her first big break came as the production manager for the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal, and while there worked with the Bolshoi Opera, Hamburg State Opera, and Royal Swedish Opera, among others. Later, she was on staff with the San Francisco Opera and managed Opera America, the international service organization of professional opera companies. Ultimately, she became program director of the Opera-Musical Theater Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, and produced the Expo 86 Royal Bank World Festival.
At the National Endowment for the Arts, her learning disability became all too apparent. “It was a desk job,” said Farris. “Suddenly, I was sitting there reading applications. It was all paper and reading and writing, and I was plenty unhappy. I had faked my way through the Yale School of Drama with this.”
How? In college, she had “hung out” with people who talked all the time about what they were reading for classes. She listened intently, and listened to class lecturers. And she had learned from an early age to write everything down she heard.
“I was never a brilliant student, but a B student,” she said. “I wasn't comprehending the big words, but I would get concepts.”
Five years ago, she tested at a grade 3 reading comprehension level, but claims to have improved that to grade 9 using certain imaging techniques. “The reason I couldn't comprehend was because I wasn't imaging,” she said. You can learn more about her personal story at dyslexiadiscovery.com.
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