Dawn Culbertson Tribute Page

Dawn Culbertson Memorial CD -- For more information Click here


ArtWorks This Week is made possible by the members of MPT. Thank you for your generous support!

Featured on December 10th, 2003

Dawn Culbertson, a Baltimore native, received a bachelor's degree from Towson State University and a master's degree from the Peabody Conservatory, both in music composition. She studied lute with Roger Harmon at Peabody and with Paul O'Dette, Cathy Liddell, Karen Neyers and Pat O'Brien at Lute Society of America seminars and master classes.

Culbertson is especially interested in studying and performing repertoire most lutenists ignore, particularly early Renaissance music (written before 1550) from Germany, France and Italy. Since she is a composer, she is also interested in playing contemporary lute music as well, and has written several pieces for both solo lute and lute with voice.

During the 2001-2002 season, Culbertson presented a recital of music from Elizabethan England as part of the Midday Concert Series sponsored by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (her second appearance on that series), a concert of music for Lent at historic Old Otterbein Methodist in Baltimore, and at St. Augustine's Church in Washington, DC. She has also performed several times on the Tuesday Noon series at Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore, under the auspices of the Washington Guitar Society, with soprano Elizabeth Schaum as part of the concert series at the Evensong Recital Series at St. John's Huntingdon in Baltimore, at Washington's Church of the Epiphany, for the " Tea and Music" series at Harmony Hall in Prince Georges' County, and presented Christmas-themed recitals at St. Mark's Lutheran and Brown Memorial Woodbrook churches.

In 1999, she also presented a concert of sacred music with countertenor Richard McCready at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen which included world premieres of pieces by both Culbertson and McCready. Culbertson has also presented programs of her own music at Philadelphia's Highwire Gallery as part of the city's annual Fringe Festival, and at Baltimore's 14 Karat Caberet and The Lodge.

In June 2000, she was selected for placement on the Kennedy Center's Approved Artists Roster. In addition to, she has also performed at a variety of retirement communities and schools, and plays regularly for Sunday brunch at the Admiral Fell Inn in downtown Baltimore.

In addition to her work as a lutenist, Culbertson is also a professional recorder player who has played with the baroque music groups Squire Western's Fancy and Musica Antiqua, a singer who has perfomed with the Municipal Opera of Baltimore, and a prize-winning journalist whose articles have appeared ina wide variety of local and national publications. She also played electric bass in the avant-garde PDTTBA Big Band, is an aspiring choreographer, and can occasionally be found calling and playing for English country dancing in Baltimore and Washington.

On Dec. 21st, Dawn Culbertson will be performing at Madam's Organ (2461 18th Street NW, DC) as part of "Lobster Boy's Revue", an exhibit of eclectic performance art.


Baltimore Sun, December 1, 2004

Dawn C. Culbertson, 53, composer and musical performer

By Jacques Kelly
Sun Staff

December 1, 2004

Dawn C. Culbertson, a composer and performer who had been the overnight host of a classical music radio program in Baltimore, died of an apparent heart attack Thursday after an evening of English country dancing at a Pikesville church. The Charles Village resident was 53.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Glenkirk Road, Ms. Culbertson was a 1969 graduate of Towson High School and earned a bachelor's degree from what is now Towson University. She had a master's degree in composition from the Peabody Conservatory.

She had been a member of the choirs of Grace and St. Peter's and the old Christ Episcopal churches, both in Mount Vernon and more recently performed as a soloist at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Old St. Paul's Episcopal and Old Otterbein United Methodist churches and the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

For about a decade, she was the overnight disc jockey on the former WJHU-FM, operated by the Johns Hopkins University, and had a weekly 4 a.m. hourlong program, "Exploring Early Music." She was also the station's music librarian.

"She had an abiding love of classical music and devoted herself body and soul to that hour," said Andy Bienstock, program director for WYPR-FM, the successor station.

Ms. Culbertson's job ended in 1995 when the station gave up the classical music format.

"It was a good job for her because she could work alone. She had a lot of friends but was still something of lonely genius," said Paul Schlitz, a friend who accompanied her on the harpsichord while she played the recorder at wedding receptions and social events.

Ms. Culbertson studied and performed early Renaissance music from Germany, France and Italy. She also played the lute, an instrument related to the guitar, and wrote music for it.

She played the lute at area restaurants including the old Louie's Café, the Admiral Fell Inn and Ze Mean Bean Café.

More recently, she played her own version of rock classics. "She liked to play something she called 'punk lute,'" Mr. Schlitz said.

In 1993, she founded the Baltimore Composers Forum, a group to showcase local musical compositions. This year, she founded Vox Asylum, a group of singers who performed anti-war music from various periods.

In October, local groups performed two of her compositions - one entitled Antietam at Immanuel Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon, the other Balulalow at Messiah Lutheran Church in Canton. She also played Renaissance lute music in the downtown B&O Building lobby as part of a noontime city concert series.

She played electric bass in an avant-garde big band and was a caller for English country dancing.

She was a member of the National Organization for Women.

Plans for a memorial service at North Baltimore Mennonite Church in Roland Park are incomplete.

Survivors include her mother, Ruth Snell Culbertson of Baltimore; two sisters, Terry Culbertson of Syracuse, N.Y., and Nancy L. Geesey of Lutherville; and nieces and nephews.

Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun

Memories of a punk lutenist, 'Evil Pappy Twin'

Versatile Dawn Culbertson, omnipresent on the local music scene,
was 'doggedly cultural' to the end

By Stephanie Shapiro
Sun Staff

December 5, 2004

Enigmatic, inescapable, ferociously gifted yet chronically insecure, musician Dawn C. Culbertson astounded and confounded those who knew her as one of the Baltimore arts scene's most outlandish figures.

She was a punk lutenist known as the "Evil Pappy Twin," a singer of Sacred Harp hymns, an avant-garde composer and a caller for English country dances. A member of the American Recorder Society and a founder of Vox Asylum, a group specializing in anti-war music, Culbertson performed as readily in Immanuel Episcopal Church as at Tattoo, the Ottobar and at "I Hate the '80s Night" at Frazier's on the Avenue in Hampden.

A regular at 14-Karat Cabaret, the Red Room, poetry readings, art shows and theatrical events, she seemed to be everywhere at once. And yet, Culbertson, stolid and self-deprecating, often seemed to recede into nonexistence.

On Thanksgiving, Culbertson, 53, collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack after an evening of English Country dancing in a Pikesville church. Stunned friends and admirers took measure of her uncommon genius and idiosyncratic nature.

"I'll never forget the first time I saw Dawn perform," musician Scott Wallace Brown recalled on Artmobile, a lively Baltimore online forum often frequented by Culbertson. "It was about five years ago at the old Creative Alliance space at the Lodge in Highlandtown. She performed a few authentic Renaissance tunes on the lute, and then all of a sudden she broke into the Sex Pistols song, 'Submission.' I was awed."

For awhile, there were two Evil Pappy Twins: Culbertson and Mark Hossfeld. "Dawn, being an actual musician, would learn quickly the licks of an Iggy song or a Ramones song on the lute and I would 'sing' the lyrics in as dismal a fashion as possible," Hossfeld says by e-mail. "We both agreed [the act] had the same charm as reading Bazooka Joe comics - so damn dumb, but entertaining (in limited doses)."

As comfortable with punk and jazz as she was with Renaissance music, Culbertson was able to identify and exploit the structural threads that link seemingly disparate genres, and that allowed her to flow seamlessly from a 15th-century ballad to "Hot for Teacher" by Van Halen. Once host of an all-night classical music show on the former WJHU-FM, Culbertson, who had a master's degree in composition from the Peabody Conservatory, also performed the abstract music of John Cage, and composed her own contemporary work.

Baltimore jazz pianist and composer George Spicka first encountered Culbertson when he read her jazz column in what is now Music Monthly. After establishing the Baltimore Composers Forum in 1993, Culbertson and member Spicka worked closely together to provide better exposure for contemporary composers in Baltimore, he says.

Spicka remembers Culbertson "just talking about music and composers she liked."

"I can hear her voice in my head still; sometimes she's laughing." he says. "I'd always come up with these stupid jokes on the spur of moment; she would always laugh."

When she wasn't creating her own art, Culbertson was exploring the work of others. "No one in Baltimore's art scene was more doggedly cultural than she was," says Hossfeld, who now lives in North Carolina. "I have no idea how many aspects of the local scene she was involved in except that it was practically all of them."

During an interview with Fluid Movement founder Keri Burneston for the Baltimore Alternative in 1999, Culbertson spent most of the time regretting that it was too late to be part of the group's first water ballet in the Patterson Park pool.

Burneston remembers thinking, "God, this woman is so weird. The next year, she came and she was in it." Culbertson took several roles in Cleopatra: Life on the Nile, including that of a baboon and of a dead, floating Egyptian. She performed in high-camp mode, "with such earnestness," Burneston says. "She always really got it in a big sense."

Chris Mason, a Baltimore musician and a Culbertson acquaintance, welcomed her generosity. "At the same time she was a very creative, talented person, she was also a very active member of a lot of audiences. She was a great appreciater of other people's works, which is rare today," he says.

Culbertson lived in the thick of the arts community, and yet was a loner. After a performance at the 14-Karat Cabaret one night, Burneston helped close the club and left around 2 a.m. Outside in the bitter cold, she found Culbertson "leaning against the wall alone, almost as if she were waiting for someone to talk to her."

Burneston spent some time with Culbertson. "She talked about her ill-fated love life. It was just so heartbreaking," she says."

Her sense of isolation was troubling to those who have planned tributes and a memorial CD in Culbertson's name. At times, though, her shaky sense of self and needy aura gave way to a social grace that surprised her companions.

Often, her laughter came to the emotional rescue.

"I have a fond memory of Dawn falling down laughing to my slide-whistle solo during our version of Lou Reed's 'Kill Your Sons,' " Hossfeld says. "I like to think our relatively harmless idiocies are making her laugh right now."

Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun


Dawn Culbertson


Cuurtesy Mike Franch
BUTTERFLY KISS: Dawn Culbertson at a Baltimore Folk Music Society Halloween English Country Dance in October 2002 (hence the costume)

By Gadi Dechter
The sudden death of local musician, composer, and arts journalist Dawn Christine Culbertson has united in mourning friends and admirers from far-flung corners of the Baltimore arts community—much as the 53-year-old Charles Villager brought them together when she was alive.

Culbertson collapsed and died late Thanksgiving day while chatting with friends after an English country dance at a Pikesville church. The medical examiner ruled her death an apparent heart attack brought on by arteriosclerosis, her sister Terry Culbertson says.

“She seemed a little quiet that night, but she often does,” says Mike Franch of the Baltimore Folk Music Society, which hosted the dance. “She had a good time, we had a nice dance, gave each other a hug afterward, then I turned to cleaning up and that was the last contact I had with her.”

Culbertson had no known history of heart disease, her sister says. Friends who had recently seen her also say she had appeared healthy and in good spirits.

Word of Culbertson’s death appeared Thanksgiving night on Artmobile, and the local online arts-oriented discussion group quickly became a gathering point of emotional tributes and reminiscences from people of disparate parts of the local art community—itself a tribute to the eclecticism of Culbertson’s interests and diversity of her fans.

Childhood friend David Beaudouin wrote in to Artmobile on Saturday, “We’d always wave from our little orange boats to each other. But Dawn paddled harder than just about anyone else I’ve known. If summed up over the last three decades, her contributions to the city’s music and arts scene are simply enormous. And right now, I am torn in two by the thought that her toughness, joy, and talent are gone. Yep, I’m crying.”

Though the suddenness of Culbertson’s death was a shock, many also found comfort in it.

“I think the thing that was touching to me is that the last afternoon and evening of her life seemed to be one of doing enjoyable activities with friends, and she seemed to die without any pain [or] more than momentary distress,” Franch says. “It’s clearly too young, but it was a nice way to go.”

“She was a performer,” Terry Culbertson says. “And she went out with that sense of being a performer, of finishing a dance.”

A classically trained lutenist, Culbertson performed the traditional early French, German, and Italian repertoire of the Renaissance-era instrument but also rocked “punk lute” renditions of popular music in the persona of her doppelgänger, Evil Pappy Twin. She sang both sacred music in church choirs and profane anti-war tunes in Vox Asylum, a group she founded this year. She worked as a caller at English country dances and performed with Fluid Movement, a local performance-art outfit.

Culbertson was as eclectic in her compositions as she was in performance, says Paul Schlitz, a friend of 20 years and fellow member of Vox Asylum.

“She was very into avant-garde music,” he says. “She once wrote a piece for trombone and television set. She also played in this thing called the Big Band. They used flags to direct themselves.”

The Towson native had a master’s degree in music composition from the Peabody Conservatory and in 1993 founded the Baltimore Composers Forum, a group created to support local composers.

Schlitz says he believes Culbertson’s interest in obscure and neglected music was a function of her personality.

“Dawn didn’t fit in a lot of places in life. She was one of these people who was so quirky that people could find her standoffish, or kind of scary, and a lot of times she had a lot of melancholy,” he says. “She didn’t mix well in a crowd. But in [Vox Asylum] she really fit in well, maybe because we were all crazy.”

A lifelong sense of being a misfit made Culbertson a natural advocate of myriad alternative scenes, her sister says.

“That’s why she founded the Baltimore Composers Forum. I think there was this sense of advocacy or justice, of promoting things that got left behind, because I think that’s how she experienced herself,” Terry Culbertson says. “Sort of left behind or not understood.”

Her empathy for fellow struggling artists found expression in her art and music criticism. She contributed to Baltimore OUTLoud, the Afro-American, the now-defunct Alternative, Link, Radar, and City Paper, among others.

“Musicians can be pretty catty about each other, but Dawn as a critic was very honest and generous,” Schlitz recalls. “She never felt like she had the right to crush somebody. She was a very kind critic, although critics by nature are not always kind.”

Culbertson’s ubiquity at events around town will be particularly missed, says David Crandall, who worked with Culbertson while he was an editor at Link and Radar.

“My reading of Baltimore is that people tend to stick to their own social groupings,” he says, “but she was everywhere. I can’t think of another individual in Baltimore who bridged more communities than she did.”

Though she celebrated the alternative in art and music, Beaudouin describes Culbertson as an essentially central figure. “She really was the kind of axis or point of intersection for all these groups,” he says. “Their edges would not have touched had it not been for Dawn’s presence.”

Baltimore artists and audiences will have another opportunity to be brought together by Culbertson at a memorial service Dec. 12 at the North Baltimore Mennonite Church in Roland Park. The 4 p.m. service will be followed by a potluck and an English country dance.

A new recording of her music will also be available there, with proceeds going to establish the D.C. Culbertson Memorial Fund, which will underwrite performances by local composers, as well as provide financial support to struggling artists.

In Memory of

Dawn C. Culbertson

Member, Dawn Culbertson, died of an apparent heart attack on Thanksgiving night after an evening of English country dancing at a Pikesville church.

A long-time member of the Baltimore Chapter, Dawn frequently attended chapter meetings, events and rallies. In June, Dawn served as a panelist at our annual “Pride Panel” discussion, sharing her perspective of lesbian history in Baltimore through the eyes of a journalist. Stating she was “straight but not narrow,” Dawn offered an informative and eyewitness accounting, offering newspaper article from her 1970’s archive.

In 2000, Dawn joined BNOW board members to travel to Philadelphia for the National NOW conference. This year was an important year at the conference, as we were to elect a new National president, following Patricia Ireland’s long run as leader of our organization. Dawn was a welcome addition to our delegation, providing conversation, humor, and poignant commentary on the internal politics of NOW.

Most notable was Dawn’s annual attendance at our Solstice Celebration and open reading in December. We always counted on Dawn participation in the open mike portion, often playing a holiday song on her lute. Just last month, Dawn joined us at our November “Post Election” meeting and was a welcome addition as we “Monday morning quarter-backed” the election. In closing, she said that she would see us next month at the Solstice celebration and would offer a poem or song. We were all very shocked to learn that we would not see Dawn at the Solstice meeting, and we are all so very sorry to have lost our sister, member and friend.

We’ll miss you, hon!

Dawn Culbertson: Farewell To A Special Lady
By Jane Lamar-Spicka

When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snow.
Lies the seed that with the sun's love in the spring becomes the rose

The Rose, 3rd Verse

Life can be complicated when you're in this business and Dawn definitely paid her dues. She was like the song, The Rose and somehow, some way, no matter what, she'd always bloom again.

I knew Dawn for a number of years, but we had our longest conversation when she was the jazz writer for this very publication, at the time called Maryland Musician. She interviewed me back in 1991 in reference to my group, Jazz Street Station, and at that time her article helped us to become more accessible to the club and concert scene in the Baltimore-Washington area. When my husband, George Spicka and I got involved in the Baltimore Composers Forum, well, what can I say; she's the one who started it back in 1993. Our friendship with her grew musically and personally as we discovered we had basically the same goals in mind - to write and perform our own music. She would perform, in concert with that organization, examples of her own work, which was inspired by Renaissance era music. As for that, she was also a member of the Baltimore Folk Music Society, and had her own program featuring Renaissance music on what was then WJHU.

She came to our studio, among others in town, to record her "Punk Lute" CD as well as a project of Renaissance. This not only showed her innovative skills on her instrument but her off-the-wall sense of humor as well. The session included her own version of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" and it kicked arse too! She received her Master's Degree in Music from Peabody but performed Black Sabbath…on the lute! Awesome.

The last time I saw her, she and I took a trip to the Mall and lunch in spite of her having deadlines and other work related commitments. She took the time out of her life to do this for me. The on-line forum, artmobile posted many tributes to Dawn that showed how outreaching was her influence and how many lives she touched. Now she's gone but never, ever forgotten.

Dawn Culbertson

Dawn Culbertson, a current member of the Board of Directors of the Lute Society of America, died suddenly and unexpectedly the evening of Thanksgiving day, the 25th of November, 2004, while attending a dance sponsored by the Baltimore Folk Music Society. She was 53.

Dawn had been a member of the LSA since 1976. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors since 1998, she was a frequent contributor of record reviews as well as some longer articles to the Quarterly and had served as guest editor of several recent issues. She also played the recorder and was active in English country dancing.

It is ironic that at the LSA Lute Festival 2004 last July, during the Participants’ Recital (when the picture above was taken) Dawn dedicated her performance of “Mille Regretz” to the memory of Karl-Ernst Schröder, who died just over a year ago.

City Mourns Loss of Talented Performer, Composer and Writer
OUTloud Editor Dawn Culbertson Dead at 53

Musician, composer, performance artist, and writer and critic – the work of Dawn Culbertson touched us all. From her punk lutenist persona as The Evil Pappy Twin to her performance art as a member of Fluid Movement, a water ballet troupe that performed at the Patterson Park pool, Culbertson was an enigma who wasn’t afraid to try new things often to the amazement of audiences and friends alike. Ms Culbertson died Thanksgiving night of an apparent heart attack, while attending a Thanksgiving party of English Country dancing after a quiet evening dinner with friends. She was 53-years-old.

A native Baltimorean, Culbertson attended Towson University before earning a Masters Degree in music composition at the Peabody Institute. She had been a fixture of Baltimore’s art scene for more than three decades. Often described by friends and other artists as “reserved” off stage, she was anything but when performing. “Audiences gave her life. Whether she was playing the lute for the brunch crowd at the Admiral Fells Inn or tricking out at TheOttobar or Frazier’s, Dawn could sense what an audience wanted,” commented one close friend.

Culbertson maintained many close relationships with local musicians and performers. She was a regular of the Baltimore art scene who could be found attending a performance at the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown one night and a performance of the Washington Opera the next. Her appreciation of all forms of art made her a well-known, if often misunderstood, member of the arts community.

She was an accomplished lutenist who took the instrument places no one else had ever gone. She once described herself as the “world’s only punk lutenist.” From scared hymns to Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” nothing seemed too extreme. Once part of a duo with Mark Hossfeld called The Evil Pappy Twins, Culbertson reveled in the attention their unusual performances attracted. Culbertson continued to perform as The Evil Pappy Twin after Hossfeld moved out of the area.

Culbertson also played the bass guitar and the recorder. She was a member of the American Recorder Society and a founder of both the Baltimore Composer’s Forum and Vox Asylum, an anti-war music group. Both groups provided composers and performers the opportunity to perform original material that otherwise may never have been heard.

After graduating college, Culbertson hosted an all-night classical music show on WJHU. It suited her personality and allowed her to explore and expand her love of classical music.

An often overlooked contribution Culbertson made to the local arts community was the coverage she provided as a writer for several local papers, including serving as Baltimore OUTloud’s Arts and Entertainment Editor for 18 months. She wrote for several national arts publications and joined the staff of the Baltimore Alternative as a music and dance critic. After the Alternative closed in November 2000, she wrote for Gay Life, the GLCCB’s newsletter.

“At that time we were publishing a bi-weekly newspaper and Dawn was the very first person I called after the Alternative ceased publishing,” commented former Gay Life managing editor Mike Chase. “When we decided to start Baltimore OUTloud, Dawn was eager to be a part of this new venture. She added a dimension to our coverage that no one else could.”

Culbertson wrote under the byline D.C. Culbertson and was recognized for her art reviews in 2000 winning a “Vice-Versa Award” from a national lesbian and gay press association.

“One of the things that amazed me most about Dawn was her extensive knowledge of local and national performers. She was just so in touch with her artistic self, and so unselfish in recognizing talent in others, that it made our arts coverage an integral part of the paper.”

“Her contacts and breadth of knowledge of the arts were invaluable to Baltimore OUTloud and its readers. She will be missed by all art lovers and her colleagues at the paper,” commented Pride Media President Jim Williams.

Publisher Chase added, “She was truly a Baltimore treasure. I don’t think a lot of people realize just how much she will be missed,” Chase said.

“Dawn loved the arts in all their forms, and she did more to promote them in the public eye than anyone else I know. Many people who never met her will feel they have lost a dear friend, and they will be right. Like the fine composer she was, she turned even the discords of her life into heartfelt music, and we are all richer for having heard it,” commented theater critic and co-worker Bill Kamberger.

Ms. Culbertson is survived by her mother, two sisters and several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her father in 2002 and a younger brother in 1994.

A celebration of her life will be held this Sunday, December 12 at 4:30 p.m. at the North Baltimore Mennonite Church, located at 4615 Roland Avenue. A potluck dinner and English Country dancing will follow. A fund to honor Ms. Culbertson has been established by the Baltimore Composer’s Forum. Contributions can be sent to: The Dawn Culbertson Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 5844, Baltimore MD 21282.