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Volume 24, Number 5 — May 2017

Arts for Youth Spotlight: Bethany Dawson

Bethany Dawson, 17, is from Abingdon, Va.
Bethany Dawson, 17, is from Abingdon, Va.

Musician, filmmaker, actor, singer

By Leslie Grace / A! Magazine for the Arts | August 29, 2012

At the age of 17 Bethany Dawson of Abingdon, Va., is an accomplished musician who recently branched out into filmmaking and acting.

Much of her work involves her family. Her recent 15-minute film My Dear Ralph, was directed by her brother, Benjamin. Bethany co-produced and served as production designer. The movie premiered Aug. 3 in Abingdon at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center. It is about a professional safecracker who finds his business challenged when he falls in love with the banker's daughter. They plan to make the movie available on Amazon and to enter it in a film competition.

August was a busy month, like so many of hers are. In addition to finishing the movie and getting ready for its premiere, she played the role of Dorothy in Barter Youth Academy's Thoroughly Modern Millie.

While acting and filmmaking are rewarding, Bethany's true passion is for music, in particular the cello.

She says she has always been interested in making music. "My family is very musical, I was immersed in music even before I was born," she says. "I can't remember not being able to play the piano."

She began studying the piano with her mother whose degrees are in music. Her father played the viola when he was in school but always wanted to play the cello. "When I was six, he decided he was going to learn to play the cello," she says. "I wanted to play cello, too, because he was doing it, although I don't think I even knew what a cello was at the time."

They began taking lessons together. Her father stopped after a year when their teacher moved, but didn't let Bethany quit. "I appreciate that he never allowed me to quit, even when practicing was not easy."

Her brother started to play violin around the same time, so their parents mentioned the idea of the brother and sister duo playing ensemble music. Several years later, Bethany also began to study the violin with her brother's teacher, Jane MacMorran.

In addition to studying piano with her mother and violin with MacMorran, Bethany has studied cello with Dr. Beth Cantrell, Kathleen Bowman, Tim Mutschlechner, and Dee Cao. She has taken master classes with Zuill Bailey, Moises Molina, Pam Davenport and Alicia Randisi-Hooker. She was accepted to the Advanced Suzuki Cello camp in Chicago and has participated in Tennessee cello workshops at the University of Tennessee.

Bethany says that when she played for Bailey, a world-class cellist, "If I'd realized how famous he is, I probably would have been more nervous."

She loves to perform, "It is great to make music with others, to be with other musicians, to produce sounds that would not be possible alone, and to contribute to the amazing sound that a choir or orchestra can make. I'm glad to play both solo and ensemble for the enjoyment of others as well as for just plain fun."

Her first ensemble work was with her brother. Their duo, The Dawson Family Strings, primarily plays for weddings and in church. She also played the cello in the Rolling Piano Trio with her brother (violin) and Zachary Hughes (piano). Hughes is at Julliard. The trio's name originated after a concert during which the piano started to roll toward the cello.

She and several friends started the Neapolitan Quartet, which they named when they dressed in matching pinks, browns and vanilla. She also plays for weddings as a soloist, plays in various piano trios, string trios and string quartet groups. She has served as principal cellist of the Symphony of the Mountains Youth Orchestra, under the direction of Ross Bader, since her freshman year. She also plays fiddle and guitar in the Dawson Family Band, a group that includes her uncle, aunt, cousins and brother. In this group, Bethany plays old-time, bluegrass and gospel music. She plays the piano, cello and violin at Abingdon Presbyterian Church.

Her musical talents are not just instrumental. She sings in the Highlands Youth Ensemble under the direction of Jane Morison. She sang in OAKE national honors choirs in Washington, D.C, and Dallas, Texas.

Yet, with all this experience performing, she says she still gets nervous before playing in a competition. "Competing is a really great motivator for practicing," she says. "It also can be a good learning experience. I enjoy competing but still get nervous before playing. My goal is to perform to the best of my ability not to play "better' than someone else. It's neat to win but important to remember that judging is subjective."

She says she chooses her competition pieces with her teacher. They consider what she is studying, the competition requirements and the room's acoustics. She is a four-time winner of Bristol Music Club scholarships and has received Sonata Festival awards for solo and ensemble work. She is the winner of a Bristol Lions Club Bland music scholarship and has received several scholarships from the Symphony of the Mountains Women's Symphony Committee.

The Women's Symphony Committee provided a partial scholarship to help her make the trip to the Chicago Suzuki Institute.

"The teachers were really great, she says. "It was awesome to be with so many other students who love cello. My favorite part was playing in a cello quartet."

Bethany's teachers use the Suzuki method, and she wants to be trained and certified in that method for her career as a music teacher. She plans to major in music in college and has completed three college music theory classes and two music history classes.

"My teachers always seem to know the right time to introduce a new concept or technique, teaching me how to express musical ideas in new ways. Music is not merely notes on a piece of paper, and they have taught me to identify what the composer wants to express in a piece of music. They are very affirming and supportive, and they encourage my progress. There is so much I need to learn. They are also talented performers, which inspires me to continue to learn and improve my performance."

She hopes to help her future students grow in the same ways that her teachers have inspired her.

Between practicing multiple instruments, rehearsals, filmmaking and acting, she also finds time for her hobbies: reading, participating in Bright Lights (a girls discipleship group) and the music ministry at her church. She also enjoys playing soccer and basketball.

Bethany is a high school senior and is home-schooled. Her parents are David and Regina Dawson.