Santa Cruz Good Times

Friday
May 22nd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Odd Man Out

music_DJSparrElectric guitarist D.J. Sparr mixes things up at The Cabrillo Festival
Imagine a musician showing up to a symphony rehearsal with a Marshall amplifier in tow, and an electric guitar strapped to his back—the string players brace themselves, the violist covers her ears. It’s hard to be a rocker in a classical environment—but it’s just another day in the life of D.J. Sparr.

The guitarist/composer loves a good riff, but he also has a doctorate in composition and is well-versed in symphony rehearsal etiquette. After all, no classically-trained musician wants to be blown off stage by a guy who sounds like he belongs at Lollapalooza.

From outside Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, Colo., Sparr reflects, “You have to know how to adjust your volume, and it sounds silly, but there aren’t many electric guitarists who could come to a symphonic rehearsal and know how to deal with that—outside a couple of guys in New York, Chicago and LA.”

While the rest of the orchestra is studying music notes, contemplating the tone and sound delivery, and adjusting their bows—Sparr slams the Bigsby vibrato bar on his handmade Finnish JHS Rocktor: a  Les Paul Double Cut that features three Lindy Fralin humbuckers and custom wiring.

It was early in Sparr’s life that he attended his first big arena concert, AC/DC. “I grew up with the hair bands,” says the musician, who eventually became enamored with Van Halen. But, after realizing that classical music would afford him opportunities as a musician that he could never have on the bar circuit, Sparr spent the next 15 years working toward degrees and receiving accolades for his work.

“When I play the guitar in front of people at the symphony, I’m fulfilling every kid’s dream of playing for a couple thousand people,” he says. “When you’re younger, you think that it wouldn’t be hard to fulfill that dream.”

The young maestro says he believes he wouldn’t be where he is today without the guidance of composer Michael Daugherty, whom he studied with in graduate school. Considered a maverick in American concert music, Daugherty was the perfect mentor to Sparr’s wild side. “When I went to the University of Michigan and studied with Michael Daugherty, I began thinking that I liked the idea of the old guy composers: Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Mozart,” he says. “Paganini is a great example because he was kind of crazy like a rock guitarist.” And like the legendary “old guys,” Sparr splits his time between his two loves: playing and composing.

These days, it is not unusual to see rock icons partner up with a symphony—from Metallica to the Grateful Dead—and Sparr has not given up the dream of working with one his heroes. “I’m writing a guitar concerto for myself,” he says. “I told the executive director at the California Symphony, Walter Collins, we should try and see if Eddie Van Halen will do it.”

Named the next Young American Composer-in-Residence with the California Symphony, Sparr’s work has been performed across the country and overseas with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Band. Next week, he heads to Santa Cruz for two performances as part of The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.

On Thursday, August 11, Sparr shares the stage with Concertmaster Justin Bruns and members of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, for “Music in the Mountains,” an intimate redwoods performance in Nestldown, Los Gatos. Just two days later, on Saturday, August 13, he will lend his guitar expertise to the west coast premiere of his mentor Daugherty’s work, “Gee’s Bend” at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.

Sparr is confident that attendees at both performances will enjoy his genre-bending classical-rock fusion. After all, “with classical players now, everyone grew up going to rock concerts,” he says. “Even the older generation is used to hearing rock integrated into pop concerts.”


D.J. Sparr plays at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11, at Nestldown, 22420 Old Santa Cruz Hwy, Los Gatos. $150. He also plays at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. $32-50. For tickets, call 420-5260 or visit santacruztickets.com.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Gate Openers

Up-and-coming artists like Ryan Bingham are a great reason to show up early to the Santa Cruz American Music Festival

 

Gemini Sun, Pentecost, Shavuot—Enlightenment and Gladness

As the sun enters Gemini on Sunday, sign of speaking, communication, thinking, inter-relations, writing and understanding languages, the feast days of Pentecost & Shavuot (Catholic and Jewish festivals) occur. During Pentecost’s 50 days after Easter, tongues of fire appear above the heads of the disciples, providing them with the ability to understand all languages and all feelings hidden in the minds and hearts of humanity. It’s recorded that Pentecost began with a loud noise, which happened in an upper room (signifying the mind). The Christ (World Teacher) told his disciples (after his ascension) when encountering a man at a well carrying a water pot (signs for Age of Aquarius) to follow him to an upper room. There, the Holy Spirit (Ray 3 of Divine Intelligence) would overshadow them, expand their minds, give them courage and enable them to teach throughout the world, speaking all languages and thus able to minister to the true needs of a “seeking” humanity. Pentecost (50 days, pentagram, Ray 5, Venus, concrete and scientific knowledge, the Ray of Aquarius) sounds dramatic, impressive and scary: The loud noise, a thunderous rush of wind and then “tongues of fire” above the heads of each disciple (men and women). Fire has purpose. It purifies, disintegrates, purges, transforms and liberates (frees) us from the past. This was the Holy Spirit (Ray 3, love and wisdom) being received by the disciples, so they would teach in the world and inform humanity of the Messiah (Christ), who initiated the new age (Pisces) and gave humanity the new law (adding to the 10 Commandments of the Aries Age) to Love (Ray 2) one another. Note: Gemini is also Ray 2. Shavuot is the Jewish Festival of Gladness, the First Fruits Festival celebrating the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses as the Aries Age was initiated. Thus, we have two developmental stages here, Jewish festival of the Old Testament. Pentecost of the New Testament. We have gladness, integrating both.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Off Her Meds

Kristin Wiig runs wild—and transcends her sketch comedy roots—as a truly strange character ‘Welcome to Me’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Flats Bistro

Pizza with an artisan twist comes to Aptos Beach

 

What’s your take on Santa Cruz locals?

Santa Cruz locals are really friendly once you know them. I think a lot of them have a hard time leaving, and I would too. Ryan Carle, Santa Cruz, Biologist

 

Soquel Vineyards

If Soquel Vineyards partners Peter and Paul Bargetto and Jon Morgan were walking down the street wearing their winning wine competition medals, you’d hear them coming from a mile away. This year was particularly rewarding for the Bargettos and Morgan—they won two Double Gold Medals and five Gold Medals at January’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

 

Enlightened Flavors

Squash & Blossom’s artisanal alternative-flour delights, beet kvass from Cafe Ivéta, and the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival