A Piano-Heaven Interview With:

David Hicken




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David Hicken is a classically-trained pianist, originally from Wolverhampton in England, but now living in Hawaii. He has given solo performances at major Cathedrals in Europe, and has been the featured soloist with symphony orchestras. A piano teacher for almost 20 years, David has also directed choirs and orchestras, and has been the Director of Music at several prestigious churches. A world traveller, David lived for a while in Thailand and Sri Lanka. Now settled in Hawaii, David teachers music in an all-girls school. The release of Faeries completes the trilogy of themed recordings (the others being Goddess and Angels) all of which have been met with critical acclaim, including Piano-Heaven awards. David kindly took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us.

Enjoy the interview...


S.C. Congratulations, David, on your trilogy of recordings which I am enjoying very much. Faeries, Angels and Goddess- it's very much a trilogy with a common theme. Is this an area which holds some fascination to you? What started your interest?

D.H. A few years ago, I took a break from music to pursue another passion - scuba diving. I became an instructor and went to teach in Thailand and Sri Lanka. It was a marvellous experience for me, and I learned a lot about Buddhism and Hinduism. I visited some amazing temples and I think that the idea for Goddess was born there. Last summer, as I began writing this trilogy, I decided to create a theme for each CD and I chose the names of Goddesses that “spoke” to me and then allowed the music to write itself. I was so pleased with Goddess that I just kept writing, and Angels seemed to be the next logical step as well as Faeries.

As well as being very beautiful, your music is consistently relaxing and calming. Even when you are composing music to represent one of the more "lively" Goddesses, for instance, you never stray from your gentle approach. I am wondering if your style of music reflects your own personality? I know you are a teacher- do you find that music such as your own helps your students to de-stress? Does a calm approach to a problem facilitate it being resolved in class and beyond? And I must ask you- with every piece of yours that I have heard being "gentle" and "soothing" do you ever "let-rip" on the piano- i.e. is there another side to David Hicken's piano-playing that perhaps the listener does not get to hear?

I am an easy-going individual and I enjoy a stress-free and simple life which I think is reflected in my music. I meditate daily and I really do live a blissful life. I work at an all-girls school in Honolulu and many of the elementary school teachers play my CDs to their students at the beginning of class. They have all commented on how it calms the students, even after they come in from recess. Many of the older students listen to the CDs while they do their homework and they all comment on how it helps them. One teacher at the school has suffered from insomnia for years, but after listening to Goddess, she claims that she has found her cure, as it always puts her to sleep immediately. I certainly do “let-rip” on the piano and the organ, but with classical pieces rather than my own. A couple of weeks ago, I was the soloist with an orchestra and played Bach’s fifth Brandenburg concerto, which is quite a workout with many fast runs. I love playing Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin as well as many composers of organ music whom most people would never have heard of.

I notice that you're originally from my own country of England. Apart from the stunning scenery, glorious weather and beautiful women, what first attracted you to Hawaii? Does your local environment inspire you creatively? Are there any tracks which have originated as a result of some natural source on the Island?

I think you’ve hit on all the points that attracted me to Hawaii. It really is like living in paradise and I feel very fortunate to live here. I was also drawn to the laid-back lifestyle, and the kindness of the local people. There is something called the “Aloha Spirit” which is hard to describe, but it is a beautiful energy that is inherent in all who live here. My studio overlooks a beautiful park with views of the ocean and the mountains. The park was once the site of the most important ancient temple on Oahu and although nothing remains today, it has a wonderful energy that has certainly influenced a number of my compositions - particularly for Faeries. The magic of this site can be heard in many of those pieces, as I could imagine Faeries dancing in this area in ancient times.


Let's go back to the beginning. When did you start piano lessons? Did you come from a musical background? Were you formally trained? At what stage did you "break-out" into composing your own music?

I began piano lessons with my mother when I was three years old. She was a piano teacher as well as headmistress at a local school, and she put me in for examinations as soon as I was capable. Her goal was for me to get all of my grade 8 diplomas with distinction and she succeeded, because at the age of 15, I had five with distinction. This carried a lot of weight later on and I was offered many scholarships to major private schools. I attended Stowe School in Buckinghamshire when I was sixteen and I took lessons with Nicholas Danby at the Royal College of Music in London when I was seventeen. I left for America at seventeen to attend Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. My father was a singer with a fine tenor voice, although he never received formal training. My grandparents were also musical - my grandfather played piano and my grandmother had a wonderful voice. They performed regularly in local clubs. When I was eighteen, I purchased my first synthesizer and I started composing right away. Less than a year later, I signed my first record contract.

I notice from your web-site that a portion of your sales go to an organisation entitled "The Sole of Africa", which I gather aims to remove land-mines and helps teach the local population life-skills to become financially independent. How did you get interested in this worthy cause, and what can readers do to help?

I have been very blessed, and every day I realize just how lucky I am to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world and to be creating music every day. I felt that I needed to give back in some way and after coming across the website www.soleofafrica.org, I was saddened by what was going on over there as well as relieved to see that something was being done about it. Children are being killed and maimed by land mines every day and yet with advances in technology, it doesn’t cost much to detect these mines and safely dispose of them. I encourage all readers to check out the website and find out more about this wonderful organization that is really making a difference. Many Hollywood stars such as Brad Pitt are making a significant contribution to the organization which also helps a lot. My daughter is able to run around outside in complete safety and I wish the same for other children in the world.

I believe you also play the organ and the clarinet. Your three current releases are all solo-piano. Have you considered using other instruments in your recordings in addition to / instead of the piano, or do you feel that solo-piano works best for you and the listener with your chosen subject matter and aim?

I haven’t played the clarinet in a few years, but I am also an organist and in fact, that is my primary instrument. I have recorded two CDs of organ music, although not my own compositions, but I may write some organ music in the future. I have also recorded two CDs of my own compositions using many instruments, although they were all synthesized. The current trilogy of CDs worked perfectly for solo piano, but much of what I am writing now is very “symphonic” in scope. It is a lot more time-consuming to write such large scores, but it is even more rewarding in the long run. I average about two minutes of music per day when scoring for orchestra versus about six to eight minutes of solo piano music. I am currently working on a Requiem which is dedicated to the memory of my father. It will feature full choir, full orchestra and organ, as well as soloists. It will be performed in the Cathedral in Honolulu next year.

Let's talk about the composing process. Are you someone who tinkers with a melody until you are happy with it, or do you have a more improvisational approach? I notice that your three albums were composed within a very short time-frame. Would it be fair to say you are a prolific composer? Do you compose most days? Are you like Vangelis, and the audience only gets to hear a tiny fraction of what you actually write?

I will constantly revise a melody until it is to my liking. I do improvise at first, but then I will find portions of of the improvisation to work with and very often, the end result is quite different from what I started with. For me, the problem with an improvisational approach is that the composition suffers from lack of form. So much music that I hear is pleasant, but meanders and seems to go nowhere. I think it is difficult for people who mainly improvise to dissect what they’ve done and reconstruct it in a better way. I did write these albums in a very short period of time - about six weeks and I don’t really know how it happened. I was really in the “zone” and the music just kept coming. This is not always the case for me, but yes, I think I am fairly prolific. I keep busy with many other things which prevent me from composing as much as I would like. I work as an accompanist at a school, I have a very busy piano teaching schedule as well as being organist at a church and a director of a children’s choir.


I'm interested in the role of technology in music and how you feel about it. You've moved away from using synthesisers with this trilogy, but do you see software and hardware as a useful tool for composing? How would you respond to purists who would frown at the use of technology in the process of making music? Do you use software such as Sibelius? People say that the Internet is responsible for falling sales and closures of record shops, etc. but do you consider the Internet to be a friend or foe?

I absolutely love technology and I always want the latest and greatest gadgets. Software and hardware are extremely useful tools for composing, but they can’t replace the real thing. A “real” composer should still be able to use only a pencil and paper, but technology can really complement their work. It’s so nice to be able to hear all of the instruments in your composition played back simultaneously, even if the sounds aren’t that authentic. What a luxury that would have been for great composers of the past.

Samples are getting better all the time, but will they ever truly replace an orchestra? I don’t think so, but they certainly have their place. There are many excellent documentaries with great music scores which are all done electronically and many people don’t even realize that it’s not a real orchestra. The only problem that I have with technology is that it is making it so much easier for more people to create inferior music. I have met people who consider themselves to be composers who only put looped samples together in programs such as Garage Band. I use Sibelius for music notation and I used it to produce all of the accompanying songbooks for this trilogy of CDs. I also use Apple’s Logic Pro software and the piano was recorded using that software.

The internet is definitely a friend rather than foe. The major record labels have run the music world for so long and they have influenced what the consumer listens to as well as paying the artist very little for their efforts. The internet allows the consumer to have access to more music from more artists which is all accessible instantly. They are now able to buy directly from the artist who in turn can continue to create better music. It is a win-win for all concerned and although it has affected record shops and sales, it is really just a shift that is taking place and musicians and salespeople will still benefit. Even though illegal downloading of music files is very prevalent, at the end of the day, I don’t believe it hurts the artist or the record company as much as they would have us believe.


Are you enjoying the challenges presented by releasing your music independently? Are you happy with the response (both in terms of sales and reviews) to your albums? I believe you are planning to tour in Asia. There seems to be a real market for your style of music over there- why do you think this is? How have you gone about setting up a tour over there? Any plans to visit your homeland again?

I am enjoying marketing my own music very much. I have had record contracts with three relatively large companies, but I realised that nobody will put as much effort into marketing me as myself. It is a lot of work and VERY time-consuming, but it is all worth it. I am delighted with all of the reviews that I have received and I’m happy to say that I haven’t received a negative one yet. I am pleased with sales also, both from downloads and physical CD sales. My songbooks could be selling a little better, but of course, not everyone plays the piano, and I must admit that some of the pieces are very challenging. They are ideal pieces for advanced students. I’m not sure why this type of music is so popular in Asia, but maybe it’s something to do with the whole “Zen” experience. I have contacts in Japan, Korea, Singapore and Thailand and I’m looking forward to performing in those countries. I don’t have any immediate plans to visit England, but I would love to take my daughter when she’s a little older. She’s now three and a half. I do miss England very much and oh what I’d give for a good Shepherd’s Pie!

Finally, three mini-questions rolled into one. (a) Who, if any, are your musical influences? (b) In twenty or so years of recording, how do you think you have changed as a composer? (style, approach, etc.) and (c) Aside from the tour, what next for David Hicken?

I have so many musical influences, but top of the list would be Bach followed by Saint-Saens, Durufle and Rachmaninov. I also love the film scores of Hans Zimmer, John Williams and Alan Silvestri. When I first started composing, I really didn’t know what I was doing and just put together snippets of music that I thought sounded good. I have learned a lot over the course of twenty years and although I will never stop learning, I am so much better than I used to be. Simply gathering life experiences makes one a better composer. My approach to composing has improved in that I can now sit at the piano with pencil and paper rather than relying on technology. My style has become gentler and yet deeper. As far as what’s next? I will finish my Requiem as well as several choral pieces which are being published by Hal Leonard. I will then be pursuing film and television work.


Thank you, David, for giving this wonderful interview.
















Read the review of Goddess here


Read the review of Faeries here




David performs every Sunday from 12 - 5.00pm at ‘Byodo In Temple‘ in Kaneohe, Hawaii.


























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David Hicken's Website


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David Hicken's music is available to buy from

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