Musician Linda Dowdell is one of the major players — pun intended — on the Olympic Peninsula. Photo by Rebecca Redshaw
To quote former President Calvin Coolidge, “Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.”
Linda Dowdell is a relative newcomer to Sequim, moving here from New York City a little over a year and a half ago. Not only is she a successful, talented musician, her subtle persistence (re: Coolidge) already has helped establish her as a vital part of the music scene on the peninsula.
A graduate of Bennington College in Vermont with a degree in music, Dowdell was busy in Manhattan composing songs for a musical with her writing partner and playing keyboards in various venues when she and her husband of 10 years, Ron Thomson, decided to relocate in Sequim.
Does she miss New York City? When that question is posed, the response was anything but predictable.
“It’s not that different here (than in NYC) except that it’s as different as it could possibly be. The trouble with a place like New York is that it’s overpopulated so you have a circle of friends that you never see anyway. I really love where we live now. We were lucky to meet interesting people from the beginning. I enjoy growing vegetables, particularly garlic, and we now have 15 chickens that keep us in fresh eggs. And, of course, there’s Riley.”
Their rescue dog Riley is a border collie/Australian shepherd mix that keeps the deer at bay and greets the school bus every day. He never would have done well in a city environment.
One thing Dowdell does miss is the depth of talent on the East Coast that was willing to volunteer their talent for other artists.
“Because of that industry, there is ‘trickle down’ work for which there are way too many brilliantly talented people for the amount of work available. That means there is a bedrock of talent to work on your musical or your new song or make a demo for you. There are a few of those people here on the peninsula but not knee deep like there are in NYC.”
That being said, she has performed in a multiplicity of musical venues in recent months that give her freedom to prove her expertise in the world of music.
Linda Dowdell takes a break from her music to play with Riley. Photo by Rebecca Redshaw
Connecting with all age groups At last year’s second annual WomenSing event in Port Angeles, Dowdell happened to sit next to Port Townsend’s Leslie Lewis, who in previous years was involved with the high school productions. When Dowdell heard that Lewis would not be available for the upcoming production and that “Oliver!” was scheduled, she asked for contact information.
“I’d done “Oliver!” before and a musical is such a big, cumbersome item that if you can ever do one twice, it becomes something you can get back on your time investment. I asked Leslie who to get in touch with and e-mailed Jennifer Nielsen last spring. I forgot about it until she contacted me in the fall.”
For someone who had worked with Broadway caliber talent over the years, working with teens and preteens was a unique experience. The pit orchestra consisted of four players, two of whom would disappear on occasion to act on stage and then return to the pit.
“I had never worked on anything that was only kids. Jennifer had chosen the show to match her talent pool and she included 10 preteens to participate. It turns out that the antidote to teenagers’ texting is the ‘can do’ attitude of 11-year-olds. ‘An octave higher?’ ‘Sure!’ ‘You want a cartwheel?’ ‘I can do that!’ The age groups got on well and I felt I made a difference with some of the kids in being able to sing a few more notes,” Dowdell said.
The experience was so positive, she’s already thinking about next year, recommending an Off-Broadway musical — “Batboy: The Musical,” a pop/rock show that carries an important message.
“I wish I’d been writing musicals for high schools all my life ’cause boy do they need them. The requirements of a musical for a high school are exactly the opposite of a regional theater. A regional theater is looking for seven in the cast tops and a high school is looking for 30! You like to find material that doesn’t involve prostitutes, gangsters and whatever else. It’s theater, it’s tragedy, it’s tough.
Most important is that it’s a great learning experience for kids and, unfortunately most school management doesn’t recognize the positive influence of theater.”
Making it work Working on the peninsula requires two things; an electric keyboard (not Dowdell’s favorite, she prefers an acoustic piano) and a car with lots of “stuff” (she’s become one of those people who keeps everything she might need in her car!).
Recently, Dowdell agreed to accompany singers Kathleen and Dan Wayne for a benefit for the Dungeness River Audubon Center. They were living in Alaska but last year while visiting Sequim they had read an item about Dowdell in the paper and gave her a call. They hired her to accompany and she offered to share some original material.
More than 90 people attended the event at the Old Dungeness Schoolhouse and heard composers as diverse as Menotti, Sondheim, Verdi, Dowdell and Stevie Wonder.
The program was so well-received there’s talk of an encore performance, this time in the Waynes’ home of Juneau, Alaska.
Also on Dowdell’s docket is a production of “Here’s to the Ladies! The Women of Tin Pan Alley” scheduled to open Oct. 8 at Key City Public Theatre in Port Townsend. Vocals from female songwriters from that era were arranged by Dowdell and the work debuted in Washington, D.C., in 2009.
A woman about town As the keyboardist for The Blue Notes jazz quartet, you can hear Dowdell playing at a variety of venues. This summer, Kokopelli Grill in Port Angeles features the group the last Saturday of every month at 9 p.m. She frequently performs at Wine on the Waterfront (also in P.A.) with the quartet as well as singer Lynne Peterson. Dowdell’s also scheduled to play with vocalist Jenny Davis in Port Townsend at Manresa Castle on Saturday, Aug. 14.
But her favorite thing to do? “I really enjoy working with singers under the umbrella of musical theater, coaching them in various repertoires in dramatic storytelling in song. When I work with a singer who has a lovely voice and is the kind of performer who is open to coaching and is able to change (or try), that’s the best. Whether they adopt my suggestions or not, it is really fun. Some singers or semiprofessionals can’t do that. Starting June 29, I’ll teach ‘Acting a Song’ through The Chameleon Theater in Port Townsend. I’ll select music depending on the age groups of youth.”
What spare time? In her spare time, Dowdell teaches at Olympic Music School and arranges vocal tunes. At a recent concert at Fort Worden Youth Music Festival, she heard the Campbell River Children’s Choir based in British Columbia. Not long after moving to Sequim she arranged “Shiver Me Timbers,” a medley of songs of the sea for the Northwest Women’s Chorale. She approached the director, sent her the arrangement and now they’re going to perform the piece.
Living in Sequim, Dowdell states she sometimes feel “like a country doctor,” doing a little bit of everything but definitely having an impact on the community in a good way. She is busy, which causes her to pause and reflect.
“I think I need an assistant. In New York I’d look for a 20-year-old who wants to be involved in the business. Then I realized the demographic where I live and I think I should be looking for a retiree who wants to be busy.”
Linda Dowdell is a working musician, doing what she loves because she is talented and, yes, she exemplifies the two qualities President Coolidge so aptly stated as necessary for success. “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Rebecca Redshaw is an author and playwright and can be reached at email@example.com.
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