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Carleen Surrena


When you want to express the way you feel about what is going on in your life, there are different ways this can be done. You may internalize what you are feeling.  You may want to talk to a counselor. Sometimes a friend is there for you to talk to. Sometimes you can write those feelings down on paper.

Richard Dry, an English professor at Las Positas College has had the opportunity with his 13-year-old daughter Dakota to explore their feelings through songwriting as one outlet to describe some of life’s lessons. A father and daughter duo, Richard and Dakota Dry both have gone through moments that presented them with questions on how to proceed in life.

Dakota was barely a year old when Richard’s mother (Dakota’s grandmother) Vale passed away from ovarian cancer. This was one of the saddest days Richard endured. Coping with his mother’s death and also dedicating himself to being a father to a young child was a lot for Richard to take on. Songs off the duo’s EP album “Snowflake Circus,” such as “Pacific Coast Highway” and “Little Girl,” directly address his mother’s death and the feelings he was experiencing in trying to be there for his daughter while grieving for his mother.

“Songwriting is a great outlet to explore the feelings you are having while going through them,” Richard said.

There are four other songs on the album Richard and Dakota made: “Snowflake Circus,” “All Too Much,” “Butterfly” and “Circle Around.”

“Snowflake Circus” is a song with a meaning of a quiet desperation. It is a metaphor for climbing in a ring and doing your thing. You have this life and enjoy it. It will be over before you know it and while you’re here enjoy it.

“All Too Much” is about a folk jazz singer, Susannah McCorkle, who committed suicide. Richard had heard an interview of McCorkle’s husband speaking about McCorkle’s depression and it was a time in Richard’s life when he was grieving. He identified with the feelings and the details from the interview and put it in the song. He dedicated it to McCorkle and later on when the album was released Richard rededicated it to Robin Williams.

“Circle Around” and “Butterfly” were contributed by Dakota. “Circle Around” is a theme song about time passing by quickly and Dakota’s idea of her feeling that she was growing up really fast and how to deal with that.

“She’s a real sensitive kid,” said Richard.  “We’ve always been really open about life. Life includes death. She is aware and in some ways I think it helps her appreciate the moment and what we have in our lives while we have it.”

Dakota_2 final

Dakota, 13, pictured in San Francisco Classical Voice article.

She is also an actor for many shows played in Berkeley in Oakland.

Her song “Butterfly” is about the difficulty of making decisions, their consequences that may have a ripple effect and not knowing how to make those decisions. Dakota had a choice to make when she got to junior high school whether or not to attend a charter school or the Oakland School of Arts. She chose the OSA and has felt at home ever since. She is in the eighth grade and continues to learn.

Dakota is a very talented performer. She has participated in several musicals with the Berkeley Playhouse, including playing an orphan in “Oliver,” Molly in “Annie,” Lucy in “The Chronicles of Narnia” and Charlie in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” She just recently landed the part of Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the first non-musical play put on by the Berkeley Playhouse.

She won a contest with the Westcoast Songwriters in San Francisco and also recently won a scholarship to the Far West Folk Alliance Conference, a group of mostly folk musicians that network and play for people who put on house concerts and other shows so that you can get your music out there.

In 2014, Richard and Dakota toured the Southwest singing and playing in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. This year, they were able to tour along the California coast, including stops at San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, Pasadena, San Diego, Ventura and Los Angeles.  By then their CD had been recorded.

It was an exciting but stressful time for Richard and Dakota. A lot of things had to be put together in a short period of time while also touring. Once the CD was out, though, Richard said he felt a tremendous amount of release and was very proud of the music they had made.

“I want people to move past hardships in their lives that are similar to what we are singing about in our songs, to relive and see experiences in a different perspective and be able to reflect on that experience through music, make it fit their own story,” Dakota said.

Feelings are expressed in all types of ways, and through songwriting Richard and Dakota have been able to share their hardships. By coming together on stage they both feel closeness to each other. It blows Richard away to watch the passion and power his daughter has, while Dakota loves feeling the buzz of harmonizing and being able to just be next to her dad. They continue to write songs and perform them for local crowds. Their album, show times and venues where the two will be performing can be found online at:

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