Camryn Dewar

June 2, 2023

Opera singer brings her Red River Métis voice to the big stage

Red River Métis opera singer Camryn Dewar has dedicated her career to showcasing
Red River Métis and Indigenous composers.

The Red River Métis are known for being lively, festive, and celebratory people. Our love of dance and song is shown through our traditional stylings of music. Red River Métis musicians are known for honouring our cultural identity through their performances, regardless of the genre.

For Camryn Dewar, the 22-year-old classically trained opera singer has dedicated herself to showcasing amazing Red River Métis and Indigenous composers who tell the stories of our rich history, giving a voice to those who have been previously silenced.

"I had never really considered that every single performance I do of these works about Indigenous history is a work of education just in and of itself," she said.

Dewar was born and raised in Stony Mountain, Manitoba. Her family owns and operates the Stony Mountain Ski Area. A natural educator, Dewar has been teaching skiing since she was 11 years old.

Along with her family's love of skiing, music has always been a prevalent part of the young performer's family life. Some of her earliest memories have her playing Red River Métis folk songs at the piano with her grandmother, Kaye Dewar. Camryn connected to her cultural identity through her family's love of music.

"She was a really talented pianist and church organist and she literally played piano right until a few days before she died, which was just a testament to her true love of music," Dewar said.

Many of the opera singer's family members took inspiration from her grandmother, becoming musicians themselves. The family home was filled with music, dancing, and love, traits that Dewar associates with her identity today.

As her talents grew, Dewar's training only continued from there. She learned how to play guitar and saxophone following her piano and vocal training. The wide range of her musical profile is impressive to say the least, from classical training to school jazz performances. She later joined various female rock bands. With such diversity under her belt, the world of music was open to the young performer.

At the age of 13, Dewar auditioned for the children's chorus in the Manitoba Opera. This was her first taste of a major opera production. The enchanting music of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, beautifully crafted costumes, and professional stage make-up only enhanced her desire to perform professionally.

"Especially Puccini, like the music is so beautiful and just like the heart wrenching, and it just really like, stays with you," she said. "Manitoba Opera, they're so big and I got to be in a costume, and I got to have my stage makeup professionally done and I really just got the bug for it and ever since then, I knew that I wanted to do opera as a career."

During her undergrad in vocal performance at the University of Manitoba, Dewar was encouraged by her professor, Dr. Colette Simonot-Maiello, to pursue a style of opera that spoke to her personally. This led to the performer's discovery of Indigenous opera - a subgenre with diverse compositions dating back to the 19th century. Dewar could see her career path changing as her studies continued and knew this was something she wanted to fully explore.

"I went from wanting to study the greats like Puccini and Verdi and stuff like that to actually realizing that there's an entire canon of Indigenous opera that's needing to be explored and performed and given voice to," she said.

When asked to speak about her relationship with the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF), Dewar had nothing but appreciation for her Red River Métis Government and its role in her career.

"I have been very supported by the MMF and they're one of the reasons why I say all the time that I would not be where I am today in my career or even personally if it were not for the MMF," she said.

The MMF supported Dewar through her post-secondary education. Her final year of school was fully funded, allowing her to focus on her courses, musical development, and plans following graduation.

"I was able to practice every single day, which was something I had never done before, because in the past I used to have to work on weekends all the time," she said. "Because of the MMF's support, I was able to again just really focus on my career."

In addition to the funding for her education, Dewar was supported by the MMF's Believe Athletic and Artistic Support Program, which provides funding for Red River Métis athletes and artists to pursue additional development opportunities. This allowed her to participate in the classical training program, Bel Canto, in Tuscany, Italy, where she spent a month studying with Italian opera experts last summer.

"I got to perform on this mountain in Italy, which was crazy," Dewar said. "I never even would have thought that I would get the opportunity to do any of those things and that was all because of the Believe sponsorship from the MMF."

The young performer has since completed her bachelor's degree at the University of Manitoba and has started her master's at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Dewar has deferred her studies, making her return to the Manitoba Opera stage to perform in Li Keur: Riel's Heart of the North. The major dramatic work by Métis poet Suzanne Steele and composers Neil Weisensel and Alex Kusturok will premiere in November 2023.

Dewar performed at the Canadian Human Museum for Human Rights in May 2023. Her concert, Living Music, where she was accompanied by pianist Paul Williamson, paid tribute to North America's living composers.

Dewar performed at the Garden of Contemplation in the Canadian Human Museum for Human Rights this past May. When choosing the location of her concert, she wanted a space that was inspiring to herself, the music, and her heritage. The museum is located near the Forks, which is historically known as the heart of the Red River Métis Homeland, making it the perfect venue for her performance.

Her concert, Living Music, paid tribute to North America's living composers. Dewar was accompanied by pianist Paul Williamson.

Through her studies, Dewar was immersed in the world of contemporary music and has had many opportunities to bring the works of these composers to life.

Working with composer Ian Cusson, Dewar has been able to explore historical works that depict the history of the Red River Métis.

Cusson has composed five orchestral pieces based on A Really Good Brown Girl, a collection of poems written by Marilyn Dumont, a descendent of Red River Métis leader Gabriel Dumont.

"(Cusson) writes such amazing music," Dewar said. "He was one of the first people when I researched Métis classical music composers to come up. He has such a wide range of repertoire."

As for Dewar, her Living Music performance included four arrangements:

  • "Sir John A. MacDonald" - a passionate letter to John A. MacDonald addressing the harms done to Indigenous people through the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
  • "The Red and White" - a song that discusses the lack of mental health resources for First Nations on reserves and the impact that has.
  • "Helen Betty Osborne" - the story of an Indigenous girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered in The Pas. This piece honours the life she could have had, as well as addressing the way Indigenous women have often been seen as expendable.
  • "The Devil's Language" - this piece depicts how Indigenous languages were seen as the devil's language in residential schools.

The Red River Métis vocalist puts as much passion and care into her understanding of these stories as she does her performances.

"I think that it's such an impactful message and every time I perform these works, it just really fills my soul up and I really feel the presence of my ancestors with me," she said.

Dewar will be performing at the Agassiz Chamber Music Festival on Monday, June 5 at 12 pm. Her performance will be held at the Laudamus Auditorium on the Canadian Mennonite University campus in Winnipeg. She is the only vocalist performing at the festival. She will be singing the same setlist as performed in her Living Music concert.

"I'm really excited through these performances to just really show Canadians again how much talent we have that's just right here," Dewar said. "And Canadian musicians, I think, should know that there's so much music that is yet to be discovered. That's just so amazing and worth performing and worth supporting."

As her career continues to gain momentum, Dewar offers advice to Red River Métis Youth interested in pursuing a career in the arts.

"I would say absolutely go for it. There's this perception if you pursue a career in music that you're going to be broke, that you're going to fail and there's no way you can do it, which I think is a horrible way to inspire anybody," she said. "Especially because in times of struggle, everybody turns to the arts, which we really saw with the pandemic. And we will always need artists. We'll always need musicians, and we'll always need composers."

Dewar credits asking for help from others to propel her career and encourages young Red River Métis artists to do the same.

"There's always resources, and there's always people that are willing and wanting to help you with your career, even if it doesn't really feel like it," she said. "You just have to ask for it and if you want to, if you are considering doing it, I say go for it because we need more Indigenous artists in every capacity."


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