Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Sep 03rd
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

 

You Are What You Post

Online personality algorithms put astrological profiles to shame, but UCSC psychologists are raising questions about sharing personal data

 

Venus Direct, Mercury Retro Soon, Honoring Our Labors

As Burning Man (nine days, Aug. 30-Sept. 7 in the sign of Virgo) burns in the hot white desert sands, a petal of the rose created by retrograde Venus and the twelve-petaled Sun in Virgo’s petals unfold. All of us are on the burning ground (Leo) in the womb (cave of the heart) of the mother (Virgo), gestating for humanity once again (each year) a new state of consciousness. Both Virgo and Cancer, feminine (receptive energies) signs, are from our last solar system (Pleiades). When humanity first appeared on Earth we were nurtured by the mother, a matriarchy of energies (on islands in the Pacific). Eve, Isis and Mary are part of the lineages of our ancient Mother. Overseen by the Pleiades, the Earth (matter, mater, the mother) in that last solar system was imbued with intelligence (Ray 3). As we move toward autumn, another mother, Ceres realizes she has mere weeks left with her beloved daughter, Persephone. Persimmon and pomegranate trees prepare for autumn, their colors signs of hope as the light each day continues to dim. Sunday, Venus in Leo turns stationary direct, yet continues in her shadow until Oct. 9 (when retrograde Mercury turns direct). Slowly our newly assessed values emerge from the Venus retrograde. We thought in Venus retro how to use our resources more effectively. Mercury retrogrades Sept. 17. Monday is Labor Day. Let us honor the labor of everyone, all life a “labor.” Let us honor Labor Day and all those who have “served” (labored for) us this past year. We honor their labors. We honor the labor of our parents, those who have loved us. We honor our own labors, too. We are all in service, we are all laboring. We are all valuable.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Girl Gone Wild

’70s SF recalled in raw, poignant ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Sushi Garden

Local sushi empire expands to Scotts Valley

 

Do you overshare online?

I don’t think so. I just post things about my life, like successful things. Sometimes I just like sharing different news that I find interesting, or favorite artists, clothes, music. I like to post photos. Natalia Delgado, Santa Cruz, Server

 

McIntyre Vineyards

I recently met up with three friends for dinner at Sanderlings at Seascape Beach Resort. We chose to eat outside so we could watch the sun set over the ocean, but the Aptos fog rolled in and swallowed it up.

 

Sustainable Supper

The Homeless Garden Project’s Sustain Supper series supports its award-winning programs