The album SPARKS VOL. II couldn’t be more aptly named, as bows bend and sparks fly in this vibrant collection of pieces for string orchestra. Bound to please modernists and traditionalists alike, this eclectic collection features Hiraeth by composer Dave Dexter. With a title meaning “homesickness” in Welsh, the work is a tone poem for Dave’s old homes and haunts, trees and rivers – places he’s walked and never will again.
Today, Dave is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about his affinity for inclement weather as a backdrop while composing, and an unorthodox gig in a bar’s bowling alley…
What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?
Most of my performances were as a student, playing in a cover band at weddings and bars. Over the years you get a lot of strange gigs, but probably the oddest of all was when we were told to set up and play in a bar’s bowling alley, completely hidden from everyone down a corridor — like being booked for a festival but told you have to play from your dressing room. A few people poked their heads in, but it was mainly three hours of playing to an empty doorway.
Who was your first favorite artist growing up?
That’s a tough one! I loved a lot of different genres from childhood to my teens. The first single I bought was Aqua’s “Doctor Jones”, and the first soundtrack album was James Horner’s “Braveheart.” I listened to classical music and Hank Marvin and Mike Oldfield and early 2000’s dance music. Probably my favorite single artist from that time was Queen – I liked other artists and songs individually, but Queen was the first band whose albums I avidly chased and collected after first hearing them. They were my motivation to take up guitar and start recording instrumental music.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Pragmatically speaking, it would be somewhere with a really good orchestra nearby. I recorded in Prague in 2018 and it’s such a beautiful city, somehow it just feels like somewhere a composer should live; friendly to classical music and a little old-fashioned in its tastes, like me. If I was just composing though, then it would be Scotland – overlooking a loch, somewhere with dramatically violent weather, dense forests and huge scenery.
If you could instantly have expertise performing one instrument, what instrument would that be?
Piano. My instrument is guitar and anything else with frets, but while I’d love to have some skill on cello or oboe – on any conventional orchestral instrument, frankly – piano is the most practically useful. Everything I’ve ever composed is input note by note with a mouse and computer keyboard; if I could record ideas directly into notation, it would be such freedom. It would also allow me to play celesta, my favourite keyboard instrument, and the huge range of synths and keyed oddities available to pianists. I get so jealous looking at all the toys they have access to.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
Is anyone honestly going to say that someone else’s music was their favourite moment? Maybe when I’m better-known and I can afford not to promote myself. For now, it’s in my piece that Stanislav Vavřínek and the Janáček Philharmonic interpreted Hiraeth wonderfully throughout, but specifically the moment when the ominous opening low strings subside into silence and then the soaring unison upper strings play the melody. While strings are incredibly diverse in their strengths, it was important for me to get at least one moment of unsupported unison; one of the most powerful things a massed string orchestra can achieve.
What does this album mean to you personally?
SPARKS VOL II marks the first time any of my music has been published officially. It’s something I can point to as a: “See that? That’s my recording and name on there.” Being published by a record label shouldn’t, of course, be needed to make a work’s quality official, but I can’t help being a little more proud of it than some of my self-recorded pieces. Maybe I just like having a physical album to my name, as being published in any sense can be hard to achieve in today’s industry.