Who do you know who can draw gorgeous music from the strings of a violin and can press 600 pounds with her legs? Who do you know who can understand a five-year old’s mind as well as a long-dead composer’s musical thinking? Do you know Dawn Douthit, Concertmaster of the Boise Baroque Orchestra? Capable of intense focus and great passion, this lady manages to do these things and more.
An Early Start
When Dawn’s family moved from Kuna to Boise, they just happened to purchase a house near the home of Maestro Daniel Stern and his family. And the Sterns just happened to have kids of similar ages to Dawn. And in the Stern’s home there was something else. Music. Lots of it. Classical music. And lots of it. And five-year old Dawn absorbed it as she played in her neighbor’s home. By the time she was in 4th grade, she knew what instrument she wanted to learn to play with the elementary school orchestra and was begging for private lessons. Her parents didn’t fully understand their musically inclined daughter’s passion. Her dad, a policeman, was hoping Dawn would come to enjoy walking the hills with him as a hunting partner, but Dawn was not willing to pull the trigger of a gun aimed at an animal. Consequently, her parents acceded to her interests and arranged lessons with violinist Leah Telford for their daughter.
Becoming a Professional Musician
All the musical training and hours of practice paid off. By the time she was 17, her teacher had asked her to begin teaching younger students. And Dawn, now an aspiring musician and teacher, won a spot in an elite orchestra, the Congress of Strings. The young orchestral musicians, selected from across the nation, gathered in Detroit for several weeks of intensive rehearsal and study as they prepared for performances. Then it was off to the University of Louisville on a full-tuition scholarship to study under the tutelage of performing artist Peter McHugh. Louisville also offered the chance to become part of the orchestra for a performance of Hello, Dolly! that sparked a love of musical theater in Dawn.
Back to Boise
Fortunately, Dawn found her way back to the west and won a seat in the Boise Philharmonic and then became the principal second violin in the Boise Baroque Orchestra. After one season, she became the Concertmaster. In that position, her responsibilities reach well beyond simply learning the music. She must study the music deeply and come to understand the composer’s intent. Then she must determine how the string players in the orchestra will use their bows to meet that intent and place instruction into the musicians’ musical scores.
The BBO and the Boise Phil are not the only orchestras in Dawn’s life. She also has served as Concertmaster for Boise’s annual Music Week performances, violinist for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival for 11 seasons, and plays in Opera Idaho’s orchestra as well. She continues to teach, taking on student after student, sparking the careers of eager aspiring young musicians. Currently, she has 32 students. And like the best of teachers, she is still learning. Last year she was awarded a grant through the Alexa Rose Foundation to study with Tafelmusik, a world-renowned baroque orchestra in Toronto, Canada. Covid 19 canceled that opportunity last year, but the Alexa Rose Foundation has allowed Dawn to keep the grant until next year when she can attend safely.
A Full Life
Somehow Dawn balances her life as a wife, a grandparent turned parent, and musician, yet still finds time to pursue other interests. She loves hiking and is intensely focused on overall fitness. Remember that 600 pound leg press? She can do ten of them in a row, which won the admiration of trainer Rick Hess and earned her the accolade of “athlete of the month” at her gym.
Dawn says, “It’s when the music begins on the stage that the adrenaline flows. I’ve never taken a sabbatical in my 27 years of performance with professional orchestras, and I love teaching. I understand how music opens neural pathways and encourages new ways of thinking.” She recognizes and values the social aspects of music as well. She enjoys that she brings joy to herself and others through her musical strings and with her singing heart.
Ellie McKinnon is a fan of the orchestra and a dog lover. She served as founding director of Boise State’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Currently she is a freelance writer and offers memoir writing workshops.