Dawn C. Culbertson, 53, composer and musical performer

December 01, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

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 CafM-i, the Admiral Fell Inn and Ze Mean Bean CafM-i.

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.

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