The Pen Woman, Spring 2020:
Vinnie Ream Music Competition Winner Dawna Hammers
By Kathy Pate, Music Editor
Dawna Hammers (member-at-large, Falmouth, Massachusetts), a prolific singer-songwriter, was chosen as the winner of this year’s Vinnie Ream Music Competition by Deen Entsminger, PhD, professor of music composition at the Belmont University School of Music.
Hammers’ well-written song, “Deep Inside,” begins with a line that came to her during a meditation and chant one evening, as she was struggling with a heart-wrenching decision:
“Deep inside there is a fire that is very old,
a golden flame that flickers from your heart and fills your soul”
Hammers had recently traded her spinet and keyboard for a beautiful parlor grand piano, whose rich, vibrant sound helped inspire her while writing “Deep Inside,” one of her masterpieces.
For the 2021 Vinnie Ream competition, entrants were asked to state the emotion their work was intended to evoke in the viewer or listener. “I was moved by the honesty of emotion in the composition,” Entsminger wrote. “The performance was most impressive and communicated the lyric.”
Hammers grew up in a very musical household. Her father, a pharmacist by day and a working Dixieland and jazz musician, exposed her to the music of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others of that era. Her Irish mother was always singing Irish songs around the house. Hammers learned songwriting, theory, and harmony while in high school, and began writing songs.
She found wonderful mentors within the community who exposed her to meditation, dancing, and art, giving her a wholesome and creative beginning.
In 1980, Hammers and her husband saw Carly Simon perform in her own nightclub (The Hot Tin Roof) on Martha’s Vineyard. A year later when they returned, she won a songwriting contest sponsored by the club.
Around 2005 in New York City, artistically painted pianos were placed in parks (“Make Music New York”), and Hammers played in Central Park and Times Square (filmed and televised by the local news), and played a gig beside St. John the Divine.
Hammers studied and worked with Paul Winter (a Grammy award-winning saxophonist whose workshops were called “Living Music Village”) and master African drummer Babatunde Olatunji. She says the overall feeling among many cultures around the world for the past 30 years has been that now is the time to share the teachings from all cultures. We are a sacred hoop, and it’s time to share our wisdom; it’s time for new dances and new songs.
According to her spiritual teacher, the Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo, “Dancing on the land is like acupuncture for the Earth.” Hammers wants to start leading dances outdoors in the parks, as we are all musical, rhythmic beings. Many cultures around the world dance on the earth — they believe that is where the music comes from.
“All ancient, native people knew how important it is to sing and drum and dance on the earth every day to give thanks to the elements and directions, unify, purify, and heal individually and collectively,” she says.
She is hoping there will be a renaissance of live music.
Hammers’ mission in life is to bring music to people of all ages and walks of life. She uses music therapy to help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients revitalize through the music of their younger days. She works as a caregiver for a dear friend who is also a musician.
Hammers created a children’s chorus called Dawna and the Dreamers (to further the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr.), which rehearses in her living room — wherever she happens to be living — and performs at parades, nursing homes, and community functions.
She is currently working on a musical to weave many different elements together, including intergenerational and interactive elements. Additionally, she has two CDs underway, one a chant CD with African and Native American drums and flutes, and the other with guitar music featuring songs about codependency and death with dignity, called “The Last Lullaby.”
Currently, Hammers is cataloging her music and has preserved the recordings of her 200-plus songs onto more permanent media. Previously the winner of the NLAPW Mature Women’s Grant, she created a video for her song “I’m Alive” with the funds received from NLAPW.
Her music is available at dawnahammers.com, where you can also learn about her current events.