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David Frank, the captivating violinist

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Tobago-born David Frank with his violin, the instrument he loves passionately. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

He drew the bow across his violin seamlessly, with quick, intense movements. His eyes never left the crowd as his fingers danced over the strings, drawing the audience closer. David Frank received encore after encore at Jazz on the Esplanade in Scarborough, one of the events in the recently-concluded Tobago Jazz Experience.


On his Cecilio violin, Frank played an eclectic mix of songs, including like Minnie-Riperton’s Loving You, John Legend’s All of Me, Beyonce’s If I were a Boy, Machel Montano’s Fog and Forget about Dre, by rappers Dr Dre and Eminem. 


The 27-year-old described the hip hop piece as his most challenging to date. This was also the piece the violinist entered in the Tobago Jazz Experience’s online auditions, which enabled locals who wanted to be perform during the Festival to submit short performance videos via YouTube.


With his violin in hand, the Tobago-born musician who now lives in St Augustine, sat down with the T&T Guardian to reflect on the experience which he called the highlight of his career and to talk about how it all started for the boy from Mason Hall with a passion for music.


“It was really a blessing how I got this opportunity,” he said. “I was playing at a wedding in Tobago and this guy came up to me after and asked me if I was a Tobagonian. When I said yes, he told me about the jazz festival and told me about the YouTube submission opened for entertainers and musicians to submit their pieces to get an opportunity to perform at the event this year.” explained Frank.


The violinist admitted he was a little unenthusiastic about the whole idea at first, but the guy was so adamant that Frank eventually submitted a video of himself playing Forget about Dre. He said he never thought that video would give him the opportunity to play at such a high profile musical event.


Looking back, Frank said he was nervous about performing at the festival because he felt it was a make-or-break moment for his career. 


“This was not some backyard jam or an ordinary gig, it was the Tobago Jazz Festival where each event is being attended by thousands of people from all over the islands and internationally as well. You never know who is in that crowd…who is looking at you.” Frank said.


“I am happy but it’s also still so surreal. I am still receiving calls from so many people who attended the event,” he said.


Asked what he thought set him apart as a musician, Frank said when it comes to playing the violin he tries to imitate the sound of a saxophone.


“I might get some flak for saying this, but I believe no matter what instrument a musician is playing, the sound should not only be unique and difficult to imitate, but the way you play an instrument should naturally interpret and reflect the way you hear a song, and how well you connect with your audience,” Frank said.


He explained this was important, as a musician never plays for himself but for an audience and he must find ways in which he can enhance the sound of an instrument by using of different techniques. For example, adding staccatos, glissandos, double stops etc, gives life to the music which makes it more creative for the musician and more enjoyable for the audience. 


He said when he plays the violin, it is just like making love—ensuring the moment is fulfilling and everlasting.


How it all started


Frank got his start with the violin at 17, when he enrolled in a course offered by the department of culture in Tobago in the early 2000s. 


“When I entered the programme there were many instruments available for participants but when I saw the violin, it was like wow, because I had only seen it on television before,” said Frank.


He participated in the programme for a year before it came to an abrupt halt over monetary issues between the department and the facilitator of the programme. Not letting this faze him, Frank continued practicing and joined a group called the Three Strings which included two of his childhood friends Khaydon Chapman and Kern Johnson. The trio’s first public performance was at Harmon’s High School in Tobago where Frank got to show his talent on the violin for a Christmas concert.


With a chuckle he said: “It was very funny. We got mixed reviews. We did make a few mistakes, but it had been less than a year since we started the group and performed together,” said Frank.


After their public debut, the group did a couple of gigs together before splitting up to concentrate on their own career paths. Frank however, resolved to stick with the violin. 


To hone his skill, he participated in a two-week workshop in the mid 2000s, organised by Tobago Department of Culture and facilitated by some Canadian musicians, whom he says, taught participants how to really interpret and master the instrument. 


At the end of the workshop, each participant had to demonstrate their skills and what they learned by playing a solo piece which would earn them a certificate. But Frank was not able to perform, as the facilitators felt the piece he prepared was not ready.


This was a huge disappointment for him but also the moment that he realised he needed to buckle down and really put his all into mastering this instrument. He began to practice harder, challenging himself through finding difficult pieces to play, researching online for more information on the instrument, listening to experienced violinists—anything that would give him an edge.


Like the old adage says, practice makes perfect. Frank began getting small gigs at weddings, graduations, fashion events and other small functions. These gigs began to open doors for Frank and before he knew it, he had built up a clientele.


“Every event I performed at, at least two or three other performances would come out of it because someone would always walk up to me after I performed and ask me to play at their event,” said Frank.


In addition to his musical qualifications, Frank holds a BSc in Biology from the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC) and is now completing a BSc in medical lab technology at Costaatt. But his first love is the violin and he is thankful he stuck with his gut instinct and never gave up, because now he is doing something he truly loves.


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