The Music of David Darling


"...and you walk with steady feet calm on a bottomless sea." Ralph Mills, Jr., Sky Above Clouds

Cello players. Pablo Casals, Yo Yo Ma, Carter Brey. These names might come to mind. Or Eugene Friesen with the Paul Winter Consort and Erik Friedlander with the Joe Lovano Septet.

Yet for the past decade-and-a-half, one cello player, more than any other, has touched me deeply. David Darling. His music is emerald fire on a midnight sea, an arctic exhalation amidst stifling summer heat, a northwest wind driving out a confusion of fog. It is archaic, intense and yet almost always calming. And thus far it has not ceased to carry me wherever it travels, however mysterious such places might be. Born 56 years ago in Elkhart, Indiana, Darling picked up the cello at age 10.

During high school he led dance bands, and took up the cello seriously when he enrolled at Indiana University. This was followed by teaching stints at high schools and then Western Kentucky University.

The bend in the road of normalcy to uniquedom may have been when Darling joined the Paul Winter Consort in 1970. In 1979 he set foot on ECM soil when he recorded with Ralph Towner on the latterŐs exquisite Old Friends, New Friends. It was just a short time thereafter that an overseer, Manfred Eicher, beckoned Darling to leave his own footprints on the Norwegian/German label. And he has, depositing Jolmal, October, Cycles, Cello, and Darkwood, like gems, in the sands of 1980, ‘82, ‘92 and ‘95.

Darling is no stranger to Maine, having visited the edge-of-the-earth wildlands of Trescott, along the Bold Coast, in the early Eighties. On the evening of September 7, 1983, I was privileged to meet David Darling at the now defunct 5 Water Street restaurant in Machias. He was gracious, humble, and fascinating. A man whom I would dearly love to meet again, and to hear in performance. I was introduced to Darling by his friend, photographer and artist, John J. Domont. It is how Domont met Darling that serves up a wondrous little story... Sometime back in the Baja region of California, John Domont was out, in search of elusive shorebirds to capture on film, but what he found instead made an indelible impression on his life. Sitting in a chair atop a sand dune and playing cello for none but the passing winds, was Darling. Friendship was inevitable.

The fact that David Darling still remains not well- known troubles me only a mite. He is a man true to his music and those who love his music will somehow find what he has played. When I mentioned Darling to cellist Erik Friedlander after the Joe Lovano show in Lewiston last January, Friedlander responded "Pioneer." As a musician and composer, that’s what Darling has been... and may always be.
Kris Larson
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