Inspiration for his Compositions Comes from the Heart
As a young man, composer and pianist, David Tolk, had rock star dreams. Posters of 80’s big-hair bands decorated the bedroom walls of his suburban New Jersey home, and he jammed with friends in a band. Later, after serving an LDS mission in Wisconsin, he longed to be “discovered” and played in a Provo-based band named Ali Ali Oxen Free, which received significant radio play on Utah radio stations.
“I had a mullet for years,” jokes the Draper resident. “I even got married in it; I tell my kids it was cool back then.”
At the same time he was cranking out heavy metal on his synthesizer, he was composing mellow instrumentals on the piano, which he’s played since age six. When a famous band sought him out to play keyboard, he had to choose between a solo piano career path or the nomadic rock star route.
“It was a turning point for me,” he says. Luckily, for his fans, he selected the former and at the same time received a law degree from the University of Utah. Both choices flourished and provided him with a good sense of balance.
“Music is a blessing in my life,” he says. “I feel honored and grateful to share it with others.”
Tolk composes his pieces—mostly spiritual and contemporary instrumentals—at night when the house is quiet. He’s produced 10 CDs, most recently a compilation of self-titled piano hymns, which arrive at Deseret Book and other independent bookstores this month. Since 1994 he has been part of the Peter Breinholt ensemble and regularly performs at concerts throughout Utah.
Inspiration comes from his heart. “I write music about things that mean the most to me.” Topping that list is his family—Lisa, his wife of 25 years, and their four children, Mackenzie (21), Brendan (18), Julia (15) and Jeffrey (11), all of whom inherited their father’s musical ability. He met Lisa while studying English Literature at BYU. Even before they started dating, he composed “Pretty Girl,” one of many songs dedicated to her. Besides serving as his muse, Lisa provides the needed encouragement for getting his work from piano to CD.
The two oldest children influenced songs on his latest CD, Solo Piano Hymns. In “Scotland the Brave,” Tolk pays tribute to Brendan, a graduate of Corner Canyon High School, who is currently there on an LDS mission. “Homeward Bound” is dedicated to Mackenzie who recently returned from a Chilean mission. She often sings with her father and has her own CD titled “Believe.” They will be performing together at the Homestead Resort on August 6, along with Draper violinist, Jessica Davis.
Tolk’s first CD produced in 1994 is dedicated to another important influence, his hometown of Mendham. It’s a small town in north-central New Jersey, a place of colonial-style homes framed by unfenced lawns and woodland. Tolk, the middle of five children, spent his youth building forts and playing in streams. He attended a tiny brick schoolhouse atop a hill and practiced piano with the encouragement of his mother, a Juilliard School graduate, and his father, a physicist. His parents structured their home around music, faith, family and education.
“So much of life is influenced by the formative years when everything is new, exciting and we are impressionable,” he says. “It still impacts what I do artistically.”
Draper is much like Mendham and the reason he chose to raise his family here. The song “Sacred” on his CD, Impressions, reflects his experiences of life in Draper—playing football in the front yard and watching his daughter, Mackenzie, crowned Draper Idol.
Tolk feels fortunate for his success because things haven’t always been easy. During law school he recalls playing his keyboard in Barnes and Noble, hoping customers would hear and feel some connection to his music. Now, thanks to the internet, he has some 110 million listens on Pandora, a billboard charting Christmas album and best-selling albums on iTunes. He hopes one day to hear his music in a major motion picture.
While the internet has propelled his popularity, Tolk’s greatest reward comes from his listeners–people around the world who report that his music has helped them during difficult times.
Instrumental music, he says, transcends cultural and religious lines to touch the heart. “It has been such a blessing to know that the music that I compose here in Draper has resonated with and brings peace and healing to people close to home and on the other side of the world.”