A CalArts graduate and artistic director of the SCV Youth Orchestra will premiere his most recent composition at two concerts this month. The name Derrick Spiva Jr. will appear next to names like Vivaldi and Mozart when his newest work, “From Here A Path” is performed by the L.A. Chamber Orchestra on May 19 at The Alex Theatre in Glendale and on May 20 at UCLA’s Royce Hall Auditorium.
Spiva grew up in Fresno in a family of musicians. From years as a member of the marching band and orchestra, and with the influence of gospel music he heard in church, he produces a unique combination when he composes.
“I really love rhythm, I love dance, so my music tends to have grooves to it,” he said.
Spiva said he loves all sides of music – performing and composition, as well as teaching. Formerly the conductor of the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Orchestra, now that he’s artistic director he oversees the organization’s overall philosophy, or method.
Before earning an MFA at CalArts, Spiva graduated from UCLA, where he got a classical music education, including a lot of West African and North Indian classical music.
“(It was) definitely more of a traditional approach to creating music, which I personally needed,” he said. “I needed that structure when I was young. At CalArts it was understood you learned the traditional way, then could branch out and experiment.”
Spiva’s uncle works in the entertainment industry as a film editor, and Spiva has always loved movies, especially attentive to the work of film composers.
“For movie soundtracks they’ll break all the rules. They’ll do anything to make the music complement the film,” he explained. “I had this huge pile of soundtracks I’d keep collecting that had examples of composers trying to find ways to bridge cultural music together with classical music.”
Spiva cites John Williams as a genius in the industry, and one of his favorite film scores is from “The Ghost and the Darkness.”
“The film score for that film was like something I’d never heard before, other than ‘Lion King,’ but ‘Lion King’ wasn’t as dramatic,” he said. “The film centered around a railroad being built and people were from all different parts of the continent of Africa. … You can hear influences from that score in ‘Black Panther.’”
The continent’s rhythm influence comes into Spiva’s classes at West Creek Academy, where he teaches West African drumming. It enables students to experience music differently, including an understanding of “rhythm and pulse,” he said.
At the upcoming L.A. Chamber Orchestra concerts the public will hear “From Here a Path” for the first time. The work is the second part in a series of pieces. The first in Spiva’s trilogy premiered in 2015 and the third part will be completed in 2021, he said.
“It’s all centered around different ways of perceiving the same thing,” he said. “It’s kind of three-dimensional music in a way. I like to take these rhythms and these phrases and with different influences from regions like West Africa and Eastern Europe, and of course the diaspora of what American music is, which is pretty much everything.”
The L.A. Chamber Orchestra concerts are Saturday, May 19 at 8 p.m. at The Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand in Glendale; and Sunday, May 20 at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall Auditorium, 340 Royce Drive on the UCLA campus. Tickets may be purchased online at laco.org or by calling LACO at 213 622 7001 x 1.