It’s in the times of adversity and struggle that we find our inner strength to push forward and prove to ourselves just what we can do. With David Gerald Sutton, the violinist set out to prove others wrong, but in his path, he encountered a lot of growth and found that perfectionism is not the ultimate goal, but rather the connections he made through his music.

Set in the style of Andrew Bird and Martin Dosh, Sutton creates large, grandiose worlds when performing, but it all draws from this one person and his violin. He pulls you in with his performance, meandering through sun-drenched beauty with sounds that grow and organically makes its way into your head  and soul.

David Gerald Sutton will share his music at the MSP Airport for Arts@MSP on June 12 from 11:00 AM-12:30 PM in the North Rotunda.

A@M – How did you get started with the violin?

DGS – I was mainly an orchestra kid in high school. I was taking classical lessons, and I was getting burned out on it. The honest answer is that I was just a teenager, and there were many other things at my disposal. I had to ask myself, “Do I really want to be doing the violin?” I was debating what I wanted to pursue.

My orchestra teacher was a fairly new addition to the high school, and she wanted to bring in more eclectic views of the music industry, and she brought in this guy, Randy Sabien. He was a blues/jazz fiddle player that started the Berklee College of Music strings program back in the ‘80s. He was touring around and doing his own music, and he came in and did this Jimmy Hendrix thing on his acoustic violin. It made me realize that you don’t have to just do classical music with the violin. It had never really registered to me before. That gave me this new life, not only for classical music, but for this new avenue of music.  When I was in college, Randy had gotten a job offer at McNally Smith for the strings program to create something like he had done for Berklee. When it came down to choosing Berklee or other schools, I thought, “Well, I could go to all of these other places, or I can learn from the person who inspired me to really give this another shot.” It made perfect sense to me, and I went to the audition. It took about 45 minutes. At the end of it, he said, “I knew you were in after five minutes, but I wanted you to play and see what else you knew.” It was a no-brainer to me that McNally was the right school, and when he said that, it felt amazing.

The other part of it was I was talking to other people about making a career in music. A lot of my peers and some of my private instructors would say, “I don’t know if that’s a good idea for you.” Some said it in a nice way and others in a more condescending way. That gave me a newfound energy into a different style of music. It pushed me to want to be better, and it got me to this point where I wanted to do this as a career. The moment Randy said I was in helped me realize I was able to prove some of these people wrong, and I could actually do it if I tried hard enough.

A@M – Did they naysayers drive you, as well?

DGS – They were only being kind and telling me how they got burnt in the industry. In that way, there was some realism. In high school, I auditioned for the top orchestra and got in – but just barely. I had a lot of catching up to do. I went to audition with another private teacher. When we were in the audition process, she asked, “What do you want out of this?” I said, “I really want to pursue this as a career.” She said, “Okay, if you really want to pursue this, you need to look at me and say this is what you want to do – that you’re willing to put in the work and effort.” I did, and in that moment she agreed to teach me. 

It took a lot for me to do it, but if someone tells me I can’t do it, I’m going to try even harder. It started as wanting to prove them wrong, but as it went along, it was me trying to make myself happy, because in that process, I realized how much I enjoyed this thing and how much I really wanted it.  

That’s one of the best things of growing up in public school where you have so many extracurricular activities and music is available. You try a bunch of things, and you’ll come to a crossroads of did you enjoy or not. In those moments, it evolved very quickly from “I’ll show them” to “I want to do this.” I am a huge perfectionist. In school, getting a B was like getting an F. It helped me get past that perfectionist bubble. If really want to do this, there is no perfect. I still struggle with this a lot. I’m never going to achieve perfect, but I need to put in competent work, and I need to enjoy it as I’m doing it, otherwise it won’t be viable for me to do this as a career.

A@M – Does hard work or luck play more into success?

DGS – One of the most exciting things I got to do last year was go out and tour for almost 100 days with Sucré. This connection was from an email I sent eight years ago to this string arranger I know. I sent him a random email telling them I was in Minnesota, but that I wanted to come down and play. We did a Skype audition, and he said yes. I came down a day early to rehearse with him, and in through the door came the members of Sucré. Darren King [Mutemath] and Stacy King [Eisley] were my biggest musical heroes in high school.

Through that random email, I got to go play with a string arranger and meet my favorite musicians. We kept in touch over the years, and they asked me to tour with them in 2014. When that tour was over, they said, “If we ever do this again, would you be our violinist?” So I got to do it again in 2018.

All of this came from a random email. It wouldn’t have started this chain of events, so luck is one of the biggest parts of it. It’s usually downplayed as putting yourself out there and maybe something will happen. Yeah, that’s true, but at the same time, the hard work is what pushes me.

For talent, I’ve been getting better as the years go on, but all it takes is to look on YouTube for five seconds and watch a 12-year-old slay a competition. I’m not the best there is. It’s doing the work and enjoying the process of getting better and getting to see it happen tangibly and one day someone say, “Hey, I think that will work for our thing.” There’s something so special about that.

The thing that pushes me is when someone comes up afterwards and says, “Your playing was inspiring and emotional and it brought me peace.” I played a senior home a couple of years ago, and this one lady was sitting by herself. Afterward, she called me over and said, “This was so beautiful, and it reminded me of my husband. He passed a couple years ago, and he loved the violin. When you were playing, it felt as if he was sitting here holding me hand.” Those are the things that keep me going and push me forward. It’s not just the music, it’s how it makes people feel – that there’s a chance for people’s hearts to be changed by what I do. 

Arts@MSP 2019 AFTACON Schedule

North Rotunda

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM – David Gerald Sutton

1:00 PM – 2:30 PM – Annie Mack

3:00 PM – 4:30 PM – Cameron Kinghorn

North Mall Performance Space

11:00 AM – 1:00 PM – Holly Nelson (Live Illustrations)