Dawn Avery has been called “a daring cellist” by the New York Times and “indefatigable in drawing out a colorful menagerie of sounds” by The Washington Post. Her performances have been raved as “magical, passionate, and virtuosic exploration of ethnic song and extended technique” (Kitty Brazelton, Real Music).
On Saturday, October 18, audiences will be able to enjoy Avery’s talents in 50 Shades of Red at the Montgomery College, Department of Visual and Performing Arts, Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus as part of the college’s Performing Arts Showcase Series.
Calling on her Mohawk heritage, Dawn’s soaring cello lines, sultry voice, and powerful stories allow audiences to ride waves of passion and peace. Dance, film, vocals, guitar, piano, and Avery’s iconic cello travel in moments of harmony and heartbreak sung in both Mohawk and English.
50 Shades of Red is all about love – from the sensual to the spiritual. Fifty kinds of love envelope the audience much like the blanketed figure of Dawn Avery as she circles the stage in a traditional dance to the Down Tempo Native American music in this new one-hour show.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I used to have dreams of playing my cello like a saxophone and then I saw David Darling hook his cello behind his neck, walking and singing while playing cello. This inspired me to find my own voice and my own way of being with the instrument!
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I Love Music! and as well as connecting with all kinds of people – bringing love, hope, enjoyment and spirit to audiences.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
My parents gave me private music lessons, then I continued with a Bachelor’s Degree in Cello performance from Manhattan School of Music, a Masters of Arts in Cello and Composition from NYU, and most recently I completed my PhD in Ethnomusicology specializing in Native American Classical Music. Some of my most important training has been that in spirituality as it has deeply affected my music.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I started cello late, so at my first cello lesson at Manhattan School of Music I was told I’d never be a cellist and I should consider changing my career. In my heart, I knew I was there to learn and that I could work hard to catch up.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
When I was about three years old I was told that I used to sleep against my father’s drums while he played. I was always in love with music. I never felt I had a choice to do anything else, but I suppose I am not your typical musician. I run a world music program at Montgomery College, teach meditation, compose, am an ethnomusicologist specializing in Native American music and Polyphonic music of Central Africa, and I record and concertize in many genres of music. Oftentimes musicians have to do many things to keep their career going and to keep it enriched and subsidized.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
There are three moments that come to mind, one was my first commission as a composer/ performer for a choreographer/ dancer. I was about 21 years old and we went to Mexico City and performed for 6000 people on top of volcanic rock for the Day of the Dead festival. People were seated on pyramids and the volcanic rock decorated with altars, candles and flowers for the Day of the Dead ritual. It was a time that brought together compositional creativity, performance and collaboration, spirituality and connection with an audience.
The second was when I was in a zone, touring Europe with a Persian Funk Sufi Band, and an alternative String Quartet in which we played delta blues, jazz, electronic and punk rock, and I performed on a Grammy nominated album with Grover Washington, I got to play all kinds of music, meet all kinds of interesting people, and learned so much through all my experiences!
The third was this summer when I was awarded a Hermitage Residency at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies and I decided that I wanted to fall in love my cello and deepen my meditation practice. Somehow this experience of really spending time with my self and regrouping, allowed me to deepen my connection to music and life, and become more expanded. This brought me back to playing Sufi music and has intensified the interest in my newest project 50 Shades of Red a downtempo Native American recording and multi-media performance consisting of songs about love from the sensual to the spiritual, including the first Mohawk Erotica song! It’s produced by Grammy winning artist and absolutely awesome guitarist, Larry Mitchell and the concert show includes film, dance, story. I get to incorporate all the sides of me from singer/ songwriter/ storyteller to cellist, to dancer, to pianist, while connecting to spirituality and sensuality.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
I couldn’t afford a good cello (they can cost as much as a condo in Montgomery County), so I stopped playing for a year and got a job as a bookkeeper to allow me to get a loan to buy a good instrument. I still use that cello today – it’s from 1780 and is just beautiful – like an extension of my own body. When I perform I am wrapped around it and literally dance with my cello.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
A musician needs so much more than a single skill – talent, technique, passion, compassion, organization and a business sense, to name a few.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Native American Composer Project in which I help train Native students to compose songs in their original languages and styles. They are then recorded in traditional style, as contemporary pop arrangements, and as string quartets. These are important language revitalization projects that are dear to my heart.
North American Indian Cello Project in which I commissioned several Native American composers and have performed and recorded their compositions. Any of the works that connect with spirituality and culture.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Persevere in the business of music, Practice hard and collaborate/ perform with as many people as you can, don’t lose sight of what you Love in life and in music, treat everyone with kindness.
50 Shades of Red
7 p.m. Saturday, October 18, 2014
Cultural Arts Center
7995 Georgia Avenue
Silver Spring, Maryland
Tickets available at the Montgomery College website
Box office phone 240-567-5775
Admission will be $5 for all students and $10 non-students