Music professor and Grammy nominee Dr. Dawn Avery is used to having a busy schedule. In addition to teaching classes, the cellist, vocalist, and composer organizes the College’s World Music Festival and travels around the country performing. But even she admits the deadline for her latest project “was so fast! We recorded and composed music in two months, right up to the preview of the show. I imagine a show of this scope would usually take six months to a year!”
The show, Crane: On Earth, In Sky, was created by Heather Henson, daughter of Muppet creators Jim and Jane Henson; it premiered earlier this month at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska, and plans are in the works for a national tour.
Crane incorporates puppetry, indoor kite flying, video projections, and over 50 pieces of music composed by Professor Avery and her music partner, Larry Mitchell. Avery also performs in the show on cello and voice.
“The music consists of lush string and percussion, along with many songs in Native languages, particularly Mohawk since that is my language. The tracks have been co-written and produced by me and Larry Mitchell—many are in a down-tempo, or contemporary Native American style, scored for strings, Native and Western flutes, cello, electric guitar, percussion, and electronic back tracks,” Dr. Avery said. “Another important musical feature is Native Pow Wow drummer/singer Kevin Tarrante, who plays traditional drum songs for several dances that are part of the show.”
The show addresses the dangers cranes face around the world. According to the International Crane Foundation, 11 of the world’s 15 crane species face extinction. Avery praised show creator Heather Henson for her dedication to saving cranes and grasslands around the world, her knowledge and respect for Native culture, and of course her “phenomenal puppeteering.”
Dr. Avery met Henson through Oneida/Ojibwe artist and activist and playwright Ty Defoe, who helped to create the show with the famous puppeteer. Defoe and Avery have worked together for several years, and he has led workshops at Montgomery College as part of the World Music Festival held each year.
The festival—which has run for over 15 years—is just one reason Professor Avery was named Maryland Professor of the Year in 2011. Jazz trumpeter Alvin Trask, chair of the performing arts department, says, “Dawn is a gift to our students. She brings a fresh approach in introducing our students to music beyond their own personal cultures and backgrounds. In addition, as a performer/composer she is able to deliver a real-time perspective of the music industry.”
Indeed, Dr. Avery’s productiveness is impressive. She has worked with musical luminaries Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, John Cale, John Cage, R. Carlos Nakai, and Phillip Glass. Each experience and performance informs her classroom teaching, including her work on this latest show.
“Music is hard work but is so inspiring! Especially for MC students and for all people during these challenging times—it is a special and important time to share our cultures with pride and beauty and in a way which people can hear it!”