Dawn Landes is a singer and songwriter living in Nashville, TN whose latest musical, ROW follows the journey of a real-life heroine with enough passion and true grit to chase her dreams.
In attendance: a guitar, bass, piano, violin, pedal steel, possibly harmonium, and drums of course. Five women, four men… Let the musical begin.
ROW (book by Daniel Goldstein, music and lyrics by Dawn Landes) is a theatrical adaptation of the memoir “A Pearl in the Storm” by Tori Murden McClure who, in 1998, attempted to row solo 3,000 miles from North Carolina to France in a boat she had built herself. She made it two thirds of the way there when, in the middle of the Atlantic, she unknowingly rowed straight into the heart of a hurricane.
Her boat capsized more than sixteen times. Tori nearly lost her life, but she held on, picked up the pieces and eventually tried again. In 1999 she became the first woman and the first American to row solo across the Atlantic. ROW is a story about having heart, finding heart.
Tori’s pursuit of her passion, against all odds, drew singer and songwriter Dawn Landes to write a musical about her. She knew Tori’s story could inspire others to go after their own dreams.
Dawn’s dream was always to write and perform songs. She grew up listening to singers like Linda Ronstadt and Tom Petty, the music of her parents. When she started playing music herself, other influences emerged:
“Early on, Lucinda Williams, Ani Di Franco and Gillian Welch were all great teachers to me through their songs. All incredible writers and such strong performers.”
Songs marked milestones along Dawn’s childhood and helped shape the person she would become. Music is the backdrop to people’s stories and a platform for shared experience.
“I think of songs as little vignettes. I like to imagine the lives of others and have sung songs through the lens of different characters before.”
From an extra on a film set, to a French hair dresser, to a woman who risks her life to fulfill a dream, Dawn’s songs are about living fully and heroically every day. In her compositions, she shares dreams and emotions with her audience, hoping they resonate with her listeners, connecting on a personal level.
In Straight Lines, for instance, she sings about childhood and the nostalgia of growing up.
“I had a kite
You had a trampoline
and a BMX bike you didn’t even like… I miss the straight, straight lines, The old times.”
In Dear Heart, a powerful song in ROW, she sings of solitude, and in Tori’s voice, the devastation of failure.
“Listen, dear heart.
Just pay attention, you’re right from the start.
Listen, dear heart.
You can fall off the map but don’t fall apart.”
Her own adventure as a singer and composer is still unfolding. She is on her own journey and is relishing it. In fact, the bio on her official page does not contain dates or facts. Instead, an excerpt by T.S. Eliot:
“Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children, hidden excitedly, containing laughter. Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”
If Dawn could be transformed into an instrument, she says she would be the flute in “Peter and the Wolf”, by Sergei Prokofiev. It represents a bird. Perhaps a petrel, a seabird Tori encounters in the middle of the Atlantic who she names Amelia Earhart. Amelia then sings a song, of course, it’s a musical after all.
Dawn is currently at work recording songs from ROW to be released as her next album. Be on the lookout for that and more by visiting her official website and listen to her sing a song from ROW on the TED Main Stage.