With a performance set for Wednesday, July 16 at Kinnaird Park, part of the ongoing Concerts in the Park summer series, Robson entertainer Dawn Graham is demonstrating a sizable talent she’s worked many years to develop.
She’ll be serving up a loving and credible tribute to the one and only Barbra Streisand. Dawn knows how to deliver a vocal, in any number of genres, and the story of how she got here is a compelling one.
“We always had music playing and although I sang constantly around the house with a hairbrush, I never took it seriously,” says the Lower Mainland native of her early days. “I was a dancer. Ballet was my life. I would dance five or six days a week through the school year and then in the summers go to various places like San Francisco or Parksville to attend dance programs and master classes.”
Dawn was actually accepted into the Royal Winnipeg Ballet program but in the end, her knees weren’t up to the workload and she had to quit ballet.
Moving on to contemporary dance, and being serious enough to earn an SFU degree in it, Dawn would then move to the Kootenays with her husband with designs on starting a family. Since 2003 she’s primarily been a stay-at-home mom.
She dabbled with instrumental music as a youngster, putting a fair bit of effort into the violin and sax, but it was a number of popular singers that really captured her interest.
“I was addicted to Barbra Streisand, Karen Carpenter, Carole King, Neil Diamond,” she recalls. “I loved lyrical music and would stage little concerts in my backyard with my best friend and we would make sets out of cardboard boxes and perform for the adults. My biggest loves have always been musicals.”
Dawn did her first solo, singing Pie Jesu by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“I had seen Phantom of the Opera in Vancouver and it fueled a desire to learn to sing like that. I had no training, but I worked like crazy… drove my family nuts, I’m sure.”
Steady recorded practice and self-critiques paid off for Graham who fully believes confidence is 90 per cent of the battle.
“I’m not nervous when I sing,” she says. “It’s just something I do. But then, I’m an extrovert with years of public speaking and stage experience, so that probably helps my comfort level!”
Dawn can and does break into song at any given moment when she’s at home, but she is never informal enough to slough through something. She craves control.
“It wasn’t until I started taking lessons from Laura Landsberg (at Selkirk College) that I learned how to breathe properly and use my diaphragm while singing,” she explains, “so I can trust my voice more now. It’s very liberating to be able to let go and know you can trust what will come out, for the most part!”
Always keen on self improvement, Dawn (who now teaches singing, as well) has made the commitment to add keyboards to her arsenal.
“I was just determined to be able to accompany myself. My friend, Monique and I love to jam and she plays guitar beautifully but wanted me to bring the keyboard into our sets. So, between her and my schooling… I’m well on my way.”
A particular episode stands out for Dawn in terms of realizing the stage was where she felt she truly belongs.
“I would say, my first role with the Rossland Light Opera Players…I played the Mother Abbess in the Sound of Music and it was then that I first began to consider the idea that I might be proficient enough to do more with my voice. I got my first standing ovation as a singer. It was pretty powerful.”
Exhibiting methodical ambition, Graham is now making a serious foray into songwriting.
“I’ve written a ton of songs in my head,” she relates,” but I had never put them onto paper because I didn’t know how to write musical notation. I’ve wanted to go to the Selkirk College music program for years now and I’m finally getting the chance now that my kids are getting older and more self sufficient.”
An orderly plan and the energy and self-discipline to carry it out – these make up a lot of what Dawn Graham is about. Add to that an obvious love of people and the desire to please, and her odds of success look very good.
“I want to continue to teach voice privately and I would love to continue to teach musical theatre and dance at Turning Pointe in Castlegar. Thanks to my teachers at Selkirk, I’m exploring jazz and the blues. They’re confident that these genres will teach me to let go more. So far, it’s working!”
Along with the Kinnaird Park show on the 16th, the hardworking Dawn Graham may be seen and heard in Rossland on the 17th and at the Kootenay Festival on July 26.
Things are going well for the singer, who concludes,
“I’m pretty confident that my voice will last a lot longer than my knees did!”