Alison Graham has been a mainstay in the Dade City musical community for more than two decades.
She operates Graham Music Studios, which offers private lessons and group music lessons.
The 50 girls that she coaches are broken into three age groups, and they’re widely known locally, from their appearances at The Pasco County Fair, Church Street Christmas, The Kumquat Festival, Dade City Christmas Stroll and the holiday stroll at The Shops at Wiregrass, among others.
This year, Graham began coaching a group of 10 boys, who range in age from sixth grade to seniors.
As a mentor, she uses humor, kindness, encouragement and constructive criticism to coax her singers to develop their individual voices, and to blend in with their group.
She also celebrates with her singers — when they perform their best, no matter what the judges might say.
It turns out, though, that the judges have found much to like.
Graham’s groups and individual singers have been successful — garnering awards at Spotlight on Talent, a local showcase and at Access Broadway in Orlando, where they’ve won regional and national awards.
So, when Graham announced that she was leaving Dade City, the news hit the community hard.
She is moving to Fairburn, Georgia, to join her husband, Phil, who landed a plant manager job at Duracell.
Susan Bowling said her 11-year-old daughter has been under Graham’s tutelage for six years.
“I was sad. That was the last thing I expected to hear,” Bowling said.
“Her moving is a tremendous loss to us, here in this area,” Bowling said. “I do feel that she’s going to do her best though, to stay in contact and help the kids.”
Bowling said that her daughter tends to be naturally shy, but opens up when she’s on stage with Miss Alison’s group.
She said Graham has been an excellent influence in her daughter’s life.
“She’s encouraged her. She’s pushed her to succeed. She’s a great combination of everything,” Bowling said. She also called Graham “a great role model” for Carly.
Graham said she made the announcement before this year’s program began, to give parents a chance to change their plans.
“I wanted to be upfront with them,” she said. “Nobody moved.”
For Graham’s part, the decision to leave Dade City — a community that has been very supportive of her groups — wasn’t easy.
It’s hard to step away from deep, personal connections she’s formed with families she’s worked with for years, she said.
It’s especially hard to leave the singers, she said.
“Being a vocal coach — it’s a very personal relationship,” Graham said. “The whole person is the instrument, so you have to treat the whole person, not just the vocal cords.”
Recently, she said, one of her girls sat down and said: “Miss Alison, can I just tell you what’s going on in my life right now?”
And, once the girl had finished, she told Graham: “Now, I can sing.”
Not long ago, she was in the middle of a private lesson and she glanced away to look at her computer. Then, she noticed the singer had stopped singing.
“I turned around and I looked at her, and she was sobbing, (saying), ‘I don’t want you to leave.’”
That part, Graham said, “has been really, really difficult.”
It’s been a busy time for Graham, getting her house on the market and preparing for upcoming shows.
“I believe we have 11 shows in December,” she said, including a show at The Shops at Wiregrass on the second Monday of December, which involves all of her singers.
The groups are also preparing for this year’s competitions.
“Each group will do their own competition number, like normal. But, this year, the boys and the oldest groups are going to combine to do, ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,’ from Guys and Dolls.
“I’m super excited,” she said.
After moving, she plans to fly back and forth, to continue coaching. She also plans to bring in Diana Maness, a vocal coach she met at “Camp Rock,” to help.
She wants to give that a try to see how that goes before making any future commitments.
She has great confidence in Maness.
She’s also looking forward to starting her new life in Georgia.
“Both my husband and I have been self-employed for 23 years, and to work for a company that has retirement and insurance and you’re not dealing with that yourself — it’s lovely,” she said.
Overall, however, her emotions remain mixed.
“I’m excited, and then I cry. And then I’m excited, and then I cry,” Graham said.
Published November 27, 2019