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Dixie Jade gives Camden students lesson on songwriting, performing

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Andrea Crisalli (left) and Dominique Ruiz, of the country music duo Dixie Jade, perform for music students in the band room at Camden County High School, Friday morning. Dixie Jade will be performing tonight at Arts of the Albemarle.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Saturday, September 22, 2018

CAMDEN — The self-styled “up and coming” country music duo Dixie Jade brought their songs, stories and brass-tacks insider knowledge about the music business to a class of music students at Camden County High School on Friday.

The duo of Andrea Crisalli and Dominique Ruiz talked to the students about songwriting, performing and the ups and downs of a life as professional musicians. They also performed a couple of their songs, including one, “Grit and Amazing Grace,” that describes their journey to Nashville.

“This is our story,” Crisalli said as Ruiz pulled her guitar out of the case to perform the song.

Clarence Munden’s Mooney Toonz Productions brought Dixie Jade to the area in April and brought them back this week. The visit is being sponsored with a grant from the N.C. Arts Council.

The duo also will perform today at 7:30 p.m. at the Maguire Theater of Arts of The Albemarle, Tickets are still available for the performance.

Ruiz said Dixie Jade has done a couple of school visits before but presenting to a high school group is a fairly new experience. She said she and Crisalli have met with groups at a couple of colleges and also spoke to students in Los Angeles as part of the Grammy U program.

“We love it,” Ruiz said of the opportunity to speak to students. “We both were really passionate about (music) in high school. We’re really passionate about music education.”

Chris Whitehurst, band director at Camden High School, said Dixie Jade’s presentation “shows the real importance of music education.”

It was a wonderful learning experience for the students, Whitehurst said. “Our kids walked out of here with so much information,” he said.

Indeed, near the end of the session Crisalli led the students in a breathing exercise that she said they could use as a great warm-up. The exercise starts with what she called a “bubble nose breath” and proceeds through adopting a “Wonder Woman stance” and slowly exhaling.

Student Burriell Osborne said in an interview after the session that he found the breathing exercise helpful but challenging.

“Their exercise they did, that was kind of hard for me,” Osborne said.

But he said he thinks it will be helpful for him as a trumpet player. He said he would like to be a professional musician and likes nearly all kinds of music — except country.

Nevertheless, lessons from the country duo struck a meaningful chord with him. It was interesting to hear about the music business from people he described as “middle famous,” who are beginning to get recognized but haven’t yet become household names, he said.

Osborne said he probably will major in music when he attends Elizabeth City State University.

When Ruiz and Crisalli asked the class how many were interested in studying music in college, seven or eight raised their hands. About the same number — but not exactly the same students — had raised their hands earlier when Crisalli asked who writes their own songs.

Both Ruiz and Crisalli started experimenting with songwriting fairly early. Ruiz recalled writing lyrics in the cafeteria when she was in high school. She said when she would get home in the afternoon she would begin setting the lyrics to music.

Crisalli said Ruiz inspired her to take songwriting more seriously when she heard Ruiz say during a class at the University of Southern California that she wrote a song nearly every day. Both women are California natives who attended USC. Although acquaintances in college, they didn’t really become friends until they came across each other after both had moved to Nashville.

Although Crisalli and Ruiz both studied classical music and Ruiz has a soft spot for classic rock, they also grew up listening to country music. They say they came to appreciate the genre even more as they became adults.

Both said being in the music business brings a lot of opportunities their way “but it’s also a lot of hard work.”

Crisalli said a turning point for Dixie Jade came when the duo really found its own voice.

“You have to come back to your roots and you have to realize who you are at your core,” Crisalli said.

People start listening to you once you discover your unique voice and have something to say, she said.

Crisalli said that even though she has been comfortable singing in front of audiences since childhood, playing and singing at the same time is something that still makes her a bit nervous.

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