(Why not listen to some of my classical music while you read? You can click on the titles to view the scores.)
One summer afternoon I ran into the kitchen for a snack and my mother asked, “David, would you like to take guitar lessons?”
“Sure,” I said, not really caring either way. Then Mom said, “What kind of guitar would you like to play, electric or classical?”
I thought for a moment. I had only just turned eight, I still had no idea of rock music; of Jerry Garcia or Jimmy Hendrix--in fact, my two greatest heros were Beethoven and The Man of La Mancha, and yes, I thought they were both real people. So it was with the blissful confidence of youth that I said, “Classical, electric is just dumb strumming and stuff.”
My first teacher (I would stay with him ‘till college) was José Franco, a crazy-haired old-school Spaniard, a former pupil of Andrés Segovia. He was hard to understand at first, partly because of his thick accent, and partly because of the distracting tufts of hair extruding from his Lee Van Cleef-esque nostrils, but I took to the guitar right away, displaying exceptional dexterity and uncanny aural memory, and before long I was concluding all of the master’s recitals.
AtHampshire College I continued my guitar studies with Phillip
de Fremeryanother guitarist closely tied to Segovia (he transcribed most of his recordings), but I was already tired with the limitations of playing a solo instrument. I took a world music course with Randall McClellan and when I heard the Balinesian Monkey Chant, my ears were changed forever. I had to learn how they made that sound, that polyrhythmic cacophony, that controlled chaos!
At the same time, I began studying experimental film making with Abraham Ravett and that’s when it all came together; I made an experimental film (something bizarre with dolls) and I wrote a trio for guitar, cello and alto saxophone to accompany the film and boom--I had found my calling!
I was able to broaden my studies through the five college interchange available to Hampshire students. Thus. I had the great honor to study composition with Dr. Robert Sutton--former president of Juilliard--at U Mass; and electronic music with Dr. Charles Bestor--who studied under Hindemith at Yale, and Vincent Persichetti at Juilliard--also at U Mass. In my final project for these two great musicians, I combined grinding blenders, glass harmonicas, blood-curdling screams and the sound of the Northampton Press starting up, with the old three panel moog, to bring to life my “Battle of the Gargantuans” a thirty-minute electronic torment which was used as the underscore for an experimental dance performance incorporating naked dancers, huge panes of spinning glass, and buckets of blood. Yes, it was college.
When I won a scholarship to spend my junior summer in Siena, Italy, at the Accademia Senese per la musica e l’arté, I didn’t hesitate. In fact, I stayed through the fall, spending a semester in Firenze, studying Italian and writing my dissertation--called a division three at hampshire--my first full length composition; a forty minute, four movement quartet for guitar, cello, and two violins; “Spleen.”
After Hampshire, I travelled to Baltimore, MD, and took my Masters degree at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins, studying under Morris Cotel. It was there that I met my lovely wife, the great pianist
Seung-Un Ha. She moved to Manhattan to take her Master's at Juilliard and I followed once I had completed my degree at Peabody.
I scored NYU and Columbia student films, and I worked in the kitchen of some of the finest restaurants in Manhattan as an expediter--the fellow who yells at the cooks and tries to pace everyone’s meal evenly. I think I learned more about working under pressure as an expediter than I did in graduate school.
One day I heard the score to “The Planet of the Apes” on the radio and, upon realizing that it was a film score--and that the composer, Jerry Goldsmith, taught film scoring at the USC Thornton School of Music-- I applied right away. I was lucky to be admitted (at the time I had no idea how competitive the small program was). Here, finally, I had teachers who didn’t shy away from melody, who taught the real nuts and bolts of orchestration and composition. I learned more useful information from my teachers; Elmer Bernstein, Buddy Baker, Bruce Broughton, Christopher Young, David Raksin and Joe Harnell in that one year program, than I received in all the previous years of my eduction combined! Alas, that was the first year that Jerry Goldsmith did not teach.
It was through Buddy Baker that I was introduced to Marc Shaiman. We hit it off right away; Marc has an affable, familial quality, and we shared a natural rapport. He is one of the most amazingly gifted musicians I have ever met. In the six years that I worked with him, I transcribed, orchestrated and supervised the scoring of over twenty studio features and yet to this day he still surprises me with his incredible versatility.
Finally, I could no longer juggle working full time for Marc and managing an increasingly demanding composing career, so, after scoring Density, I set out on my own.