Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Continuing to carry a tune

June 28, 2006

MORRIS TWP. –Across the street from the Morris Plains train station is a quant little restaurant one might miss if looking both ways instead of straight ahead where it placidly sits. It’s a steakhouse called Arthur’s, and it’s also the restaurant of choice for musician David Sampson, a Morris Township resident who recently has been awarded a $9,000 grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for his achievements and to continue his career in musical compositions. This is the fourth time he’s been awarded in this category in the past 23 years.

“David was awarded because of his skills,” says Marguerite d’ Aprile-Smith, the director of external affairs for the NJSCA, which also is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the state-legislated group. “The program is highly competitive.”

As he steps into the restaurant, wearing glasses and all black—back T-shirt and black windbreaker pants that the breeze rustles through as he steps through the door—he walks over to the bar with a pile of papers under his arm and takes a seat. He’s obviously no stranger to this building.

When he sits at the high barstool, he strokes his wispy, white beard with one hand and digs his knuckle into his knee with the other. He claims his favorite steak is the filet mignon but that is not what he’s craving this afternoon. Without even looking at the menu, he already knows what he is going to order: the chili. The chili and an iced tea.

He recommends the burger and makes a circle in the air with his finger like a propeller on a helicopter: “It comes with an onion they put on top,” he says with a gregarious smile that makes his eyes squint a bit behind his fitting glasses.

A young waiter walks over and immediately recognizes Sampson. So Sampson politely asks, “What do I want?”

“The chili?” the waiter asks skeptically with a raised eyebrow.

“The chili,” Mr. Sampson agrees with a nod and a grin.

The waiter behind the bar walks over to the other side and places the order.

For being such a small place, it is very crowded at 1 p.m. and a loud din of voices collapses on the area like a tsunami as people in the back raise their beer mugs to the television screen saluting the World Cup.

But even with all the noise, Sampson can still be heard; his sturdy, calm voice a force of its own, which just may be another talent to add to his already stunning array of abilities.
At age 55, Sampson already has a repertoire of classical pieces that would make most accomplished musicians swoon. With composition credits for more than 15songs and 13 recordings under his belt, including a concept piece based entirely on Anne Taylor’s novel, “Breathing Lessons,” this musician raconteur also has modesty as a strong suit.

Small Percentage

“Even though a small percentage of the population is involved in classical music, there are still enough out there to sustain it, and it’s something I don’t think I could live without,” he says.

Born in 1951 in Charlottesville, Va., and spending a portion of his youth in South Carolina, Sampson moved to Morristown in 1978 where his wife got into the New Jersey Symphony.

“I love Morristown,” Sampson says while using his straw to push about a bobbing lemon in the iced tea the waiter just brought over. “Everything except the traffic.”

As a youth, Sampson said his parents didn’t push music but supported his decision to become a classical musician. They sent him to a community where his talents could flourish, and there he learned about harmony, counterpoint and other such things that musicians need to know to fully grasp music. His weapon of choice is the trumpet, and even as he sits at the bar while he speaks, he scratches his name and drums on the back of his neck with his finely shaped fingers as if he already were composing a song right there in his head.

Besides composing pieces, he also has performed with The Temptations and progressive rock group YES, but he always comes back to his classical roots.

A man of many traits, when he’s not riding his BMW 1200 LT motorcycle or listening to the Harry Potter series on audiotape, he’s spending time as a composer-in-residence at the Colonial Symphony Orchestra in Morristown where he provides input to aspiring teenagers wanting to be musicians. And as he waits for his food, he taps on the large pile of papers that rest in the bar that he carried in the door.

Food arrives

Just then, the waiter comes back with one hamburger (with an onion) and a bowl of chili. Sampson mashes up his crackers and twitters his fingers above his steaming bowl, dropping the remnants and crumbs into his cheese-topped meal like a long-robed magician sprinkling pixie dust into a caldron.

After he finishes eating, he asks, “So what’s this article for? For the concert on Thursday?” he says as he sweeps his expansive arm to the sheets of paper again.

When he learns that it’s mostly about his achievements and the grant money he received from the NJSCA, he laughs.

“Oh, that’s what it’s about?”

He hunches forward, chuckles a bit, puts his lips to his straw and takes a sip from his cup. The finished chili by his side does smell quite good, and when he finishes off the last of his drink, the people in the back raise their glasses to the TV for a second time, saluting.

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