Biography of David Hicken
David Hicken’s life has been full of adventures (musical and otherwise) from the time he was born. Never content with the status quo, he has occasionally veered in directions that some would consider risky, but all of these experiences are reflected in his music and who he is today.
David was born into a musical family in Shropshire, England. His mother was a well-known piano teacher who was trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She was also the headmistress of a large high school and often accompanied David’s father when he sang in local venues. The youngest of three children, David began his musical training at the age of three with piano lessons with his mother. Piano practice and the study of music theory were part of his daily life even as a very young child, guided by his mother. David attended private boarding schools near his hometown of Wolverhampton and began clarinet lessons at the age of nine. He also joined the schools’ choirs and orchestra.
A turning point in young David’s life came when an organ recital was given at the dedication ceremony for the school’s refurbished organ. Transfixed by the organist’s playing and the incredible sounds that poured out of the instrument, David asked his parents for organ lessons. He arrived at school early every morning to practice on the chapel organ. He also practiced during his lunch break and stayed late after school to practice some more. He read everything he could find about the organ and music in general, and made frequent trips to the local library to borrow recordings of classical music to study.
The school’s chapel choir toured and performed at cathedrals in Scotland and England, including Westminster Abbey, broadening David’s knowledge of organ and choral music. His training included preparation for examinations given by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, and he achieved the highest level (grade 8) in piano, organ, clarinet and theory, all with distinction.
Although David wasn’t aware of how quickly he was advancing, people around him were starting to notice. He treasured a hand-written note from the school’s headmaster congratulating him on his performance of a Bach prelude and fugue. Often winning local competitions in both piano and organ, he received the mayor's award for the most outstanding young student. At fourteen, he started playing the organ for local church services. At fifteen, he was featured in concerts as the guest artist of a well-known organist. He gave his first solo organ recital on his sixteenth birthday, a ninety-minute program performed at Ellesmere College.
David was awarded a full scholarship to Stowe School, a prestigious boarding school with alumni such as Sir Richard Branson and David Niven. While he was there, David discovered synthesisers and used multi-track tape machines to sequence works by Bach. The organ at Stowe School was one of the largest in the country and David continued to give solo recitals there.
At sixteen, he began working toward two diplomas - Associate of the Royal College of Organists and Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music. Preparation was extremely challenging and included transposing hymns at sight, score reading, writing two-part vocals in the style of Palestrina, harmonising chorales in the style of Bach and writing string quartets in the style of Mozart and Haydn. Although he had already trained with some of the finest teachers England, David chose to travel to the Royal College of Music in London once a week to take lessons from Nicholas Danby, a Baroque music specialist.
During the summers, David attended International Organ Festivals where he met professors from all over the world. Attending one of the colleges at Cambridge University or the Royal Academy of Music would have likely led to a position as director of music at a cathedral, which did not interest David. After meeting an American professor, he knew that his next step was to travel to the United States.
At seventeen, David left England to attend Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, having accepted one of the largest scholarships ever awarded. It was a wonderful opportunity, but David was disappointed to discover that he already knew much of what was being taught in his classes.
The following year, he briefly returned to England to present organ recitals at St. Paul’s and Westminster Cathedrals in London, as well as in Windsor Castle while the queen was in residence.
Back in Baltimore, David began composing using synthesisers and sequencers. He made a few demo recordings and sent them to record companies in England. He was offered contracts by three different companies and chose to sign with President Records. His first album, The Final Toccata, was released in 1990 when he was nineteen. Thinking that he was finished playing the organ, the title of the album was a "farewell" of sorts.
It was suggested that David move to Los Angeles to pursue film scoring. Film work didn't appeal to him, but moving to Los Angeles did, so he headed west to seek other opportunities in music. Once he arrived in LA, David accepted organist and Director of Music positions. In addition to playing for church services and functions, he trained adult, children’s and handbell choirs. He continued to give organ and piano recitals along with teaching piano privately.
Although David was completely immersed in classical music, he began meeting musicians from other genres. He worked with a drummer writing and recording pop songs for a year. He also met Patrick Moraz of Yes and The Moody Blues, who taught David about jazz, blues and improvisation. David learned all that he could about recording, mixing and mastering, and soon had his own recording studio which included a three-manual digital church organ. He signed with Prestige Records in London and released his second album, The Shadow of Youth, in 1993, which he mixed and mastered himself.
David became the director of music at Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, a church known for celebrity weddings and funerals. He performed as the soloist with several orchestras, which led to a two-record contract with LaserLight Records. A Christmas Pastorale and Symphony Gothique (1998) were recorded on the organ at Loyola Marymount University.
As word spread about David’s abilities as a piano teacher, he found himself taking on more students than he could comfortably handle. His students included the children of film composer James Horner, music producer David Foster, television composers Snuffy Walden and David Kurz, and other prominent Hollywood celebrities. Along with teaching in multi-million dollar mansions in Malibu and Beverly Hills, David was hired to perform in the homes of David Foster, Cher and others.
Although he had very little free time, David decided to pursue a lifelong passion: learning to scuba dive. He fell in love with diving and took one course after another. He soon reached the instructor level and realised that he was having a lot more fun teaching diving than teaching piano or playing the organ, so he abruptly ended his lucrative music career to become a full-time dive instructor.
After teaching diving in Southern California for a while, David decided to move to Thailand. When he arrived, the SARS virus was spreading, negatively affecting tourism. His next move was to Sri Lanka, partly because of his interest in Theravada Buddhism. He worked for a dive company founded by science-fiction author, Sir Arthur C. Clarke who had discovered a number of famous shipwrecks off the coast. David lived in a small house in the jungle that Clarke owned and worked in a luxury hotel teaching wealthy tourists to dive.
One day, while teaching diving skills in the hotel swimming pool, several locals started frantically calling for David. A hotel guest had gone swimming in the ocean after eating and drinking more than he should have and was drowning. David performed CPR on the man for more than 40 minutes while en route to a hospital. The man died and the experience made David realise that he no longer wanted that level of responsibility. He ended his career as a dive instructor and returned to Thailand for a while, eventually moving back to Southern California. After living in tropical climates, a California winter was too chilly, so he moved to Hawaii.
David accepted an organist position on the island of O’ahu and started taking private piano students again. His teaching studio flourished and his organist position evolved into Director of Music. He also became the choir director at a private girls’ school. He bought a house on the north shore of O’ahu where his studio overlooked the ocean. Inspired to compose, music flowed freely and David completed three solo piano albums in a short period of time: Goddess, Angels and Faeries were released on his own Enchanting Music label in 2007 and 2008. He also wrote a choral piece called "Adoramus te" which has been performed worldwide including Carnegie Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral, The Vatican, and Canterbury Cathedral.
With the success of his three piano albums, David decided to create a solo piano Christmas album. Carols of Christmas was released in 2013 and David’s arrangement of “Carol of the Bells” (“The Bell Carol”) was an immediate hit. He decided to make a music video telling a story and scheduled the mostly outdoor shoot for a day that turned stormy. The crew filmed for a few hours, and although they were unable to film the whole story, the video became very popular with well over seven million views on YouTube.
The enthusiastic response to the driving rhythms and drama of “The Bell Carol” encouraged David to write more piano music in a style reminiscent of the organ repertoire that he loves. He started releasing a YouTube video for each new piece as it was completed along with the sheet music and music downloads. He released two albums in 2016, the bold and upbeat The Art of Piano and the gentler, more romantic Stories of You, which was nominated for Album of the Year by Whisperings Solo Piano Radio. 2017 saw the release of Portrait of A Pianist and Momentum, both of which contain a wonderful variety of pieces; each has a companion sheet music book. 2018 saw the release of Transitions followed by Inner Sanctum, Sounds of Christmas and Sagas in 2019 and 2020. His latest release is Tales From Siam.
People all over the world have been discovering David’s music, leading to the realisation that he is reaching and inspiring a much larger audience than he ever could as a piano teacher or by performing. He no longer teaches and rarely performs concerts, but he enjoys sharing his knowledge through books and blog posts. He has written and published a series of five tutorial books that are available on his website.
David lives in the mountains of northern Thailand, and enjoys creating new music while deriving great satisfaction from knowing that people enjoy his work.