David Hamilton ’86
Words: Grace Kenyon ’22
Photos: Tony Hughes
David Hamilton ’86
Picture a dim, high-ceilinged rehearsal room where the members of Metallica stand in a semicircle around a grand piano. David Hamilton ’86 turns pages for celebrity classical pianist Lang Lang as he plays bombastic chords in a cadenza that Hamilton composed.
They are rehearsing the opening arrangement of the band’s popular number “One,” which would be performed for the 2014 GRAMMY Awards. Hamilton nods emphatically with the pulses of the chords. At some point during the rehearsal, the manager steps over and reveals some details of the staging to Lang Lang. There’s going to be fire.
Hamilton, by this point a well-established, Nashville-based arranger and composer, was connected to Lang Lang through a friend who was hired to produce that segment of the GRAMMYs. Hamilton didn’t start out with GRAMMY-sized gigs, though. After graduating from Wheaton with a degree in piano performance, he returned home to Florida to earn a master’s degree in studio writing and production from the University of Miami. When he first arrived in Nashville in 1989 with dreams of producing music, he took every odd job he could, like copying orchestra parts or playing in demo recordings. He took every opportunity to sit on couches in the backs of studios and learn from the artists around him.
“If you do a good job with a small thing, then people will talk, and someone’s gonna hear about that,” Hamilton said.
He gets asked all the time about how to make it in an industry that is notoriously competitive. His answer? Grit and humility. One job at a time, be faithful with what you are given.
Hamilton said this is one of the things he picked up at Wheaton. He recalled hearing former Dean of the Conservatory Dr. Harold Best give a talk at a Gospel Music Association conference in Nashville. Best gave a piece of advice that Hamilton has never forgotten: “Shine where God plants you.”
At Wheaton, Hamilton says he also adopted an ethic of continually learning new things.
Most recently, this has meant an opportunity to work on some of his own music. In June of 2022, he released his first album, Good Things, a 10-track venture into the world of contemporary instrumental jazz. This genre shift can be traced to his time in graduate school, where he received training and inspiration from the strong jazz program at the University of Miami. As someone who has spent most of his career writing and arranging for other artists, he said he is relishing the opportunity to work on his own music.
“It was really good for my soul to make this music myself,” he said.
Hamilton will keep creating and learning, straddling the space between secular and sacred artists. He hopes that his faith is evident simply in the way he does his work and in small moments where he gets to share a bit of truth.
“I’m trying my best to be salt and light,” he said. “I’m trying to show people a little glimpse of who Jesus is.”