From athlete to guitarist to composer, David Stovall, formerly of Fairfax, has gone a long way from keeping his brother up at night.
Stovall was recently named a winner of the ASCAP Foundation’s Morton Gould Young Composer Award for an original musical composition, one of 25 composers honored for their work and chosen from 500 submissions of American concert music.
“I started playing electric guitar at age 13 and started to write my own music around 16,” Stovall said from his home in New York, where he moved after graduating with a master's degree from the Yale School of Music. “I’d been in sports year-round until then, but I decided to play the violin instead,” he said.
After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Texas at Austin as a violin performance major, where he studied composition.
“I went to Yale to focus on composition,” he said, “but I found myself making music in New York City as a performer, producer and composer.”
Stovall entered the contest for “name recognition,” as he’s trying to pursue a career in producing and performing music.
“Everything’s changed a lot in the past three or four years, I’ve been put through the classical instrument world and made it through breathing,” he said. “But I want to write what I want to write from what I’ve learned.”
CLASSICAL MUSIC has been focused more on being impressive and academic in the past, as has been the teaching of composition, Stovall said. “Now it’s more about the instruments and working with a freer approach.”
Currently, Stovall is in New York City, working on a CD and “seeking out dance companies, video artists” to accompany, and performing his music, he said. He has also stopped playing the violin to focus on guitar.
“You can improvise more on a guitar," he said. "It’s much more natural on a guitar than a violin. It was hard to keep up with the violin when I was spending two hours a day on guitar, and composing takes up 10 hours of my day."
Stovall is a bit jaded about the composition contest he’s just won, however.
“You submit the piece in the mail and a panel judges it,” he said. “Some of the winners may have been chosen by name recognition, but I didn’t know any of the judges … but there’s a panel deciding [who wins]. How can you reward something like that?
“I don’t regret it, but it’s not where I’m at now,” Stovall said.
Daniel Trahey, a friend and colleague of Stovall’s from Yale, said he’s seen Stovall’s musical interests and talents evolve through the past few years.
“People tried to dissuade him from studying composition at Yale, but the school likes to take people out of their element to make them more well-rounded people,” Trahey said.
“He came to Yale and into the classical music world, which was a weird environment for him, and he didn’t want to make music for a typical ensemble, so he kind of rebelled and started playing guitar,” he said.
Stovall has always been “more about improvisation than written music,” Trahey said. “After a while, he decided to bring together the guitar with his compositions, so now he’s composing music and playing as a guitar soloist with it,” he said.
The musical selections playing at Stovall’s house indicate his range of musical interests, he said.
“One day it’ll be Miles Davis, the next it’ll be Bob Marley or Beethoven,” Trahey said. “True musicians always keep exploring.”
Stovall’s music is “very accessible,” which Trahey attributed to Stovall’s Southern upbringing.
“He’s this Southern, pie-eating guy coming north and being an artsy, Greenwich Village-living guy, which is something I think people can relate to,” he said. “The music is very accessible, but there’s something new about it as well.”
Stovall’s younger brother, Nate Stovall, said he remembers his brother playing guitar into the early morning hours.
“Then he switched to violin and it was worse, because the sound of a violin is much more piercing,” he said.
“I don’t remember him as always being a musician because he played a lot of sports when we were younger, but he’s always been incredibly driven,” Nate Stovall said.
He thinks his brother’s choice of career in composing music suits him well.
“He was definitely not the type to follow what other people were doing,” he said. “Composing was a natural fit for him.”
Nate Stovall isn’t surprised his brother won this competition, either.
“I think he’s incredibly talented,” he said. “This is right up his alley.”