If you have been a frequent visitor of the Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade, or Universal City Walk in recent years, you might have experienced being drawn to those sweet, hopeful viola sounds. Daniel Morris, a Los Angeles artist, originally from Arkansas, started playing viola when he was 13 years old, and, after detours in the construction business of his family, re-united with his passion for the instrument in his mid-20’s. Daniel played the viola on the streets of Washington D.C. before his move to Los Angeles in 2014, where he continued his journey. Daniel Morris offers private serenades in an intimate setting and has been featured in the 2020 Dodge Superbowl Commercial.
We asked the musician about finding his personal style, the choice of space for his musical performances, and future projects.
Is music art? Elaborate.
Absolutely. Music makes people feel emotions and reaches into the soul. It is such a powerful form of art. I really believe it can change the world.
How do you personalize your musical interpretation with your viola? How does the process of producing original music differ from adapting music?
I listen to a song and think how to make it sound great on viola, and then I the take years and years of developing my own style and way of playing and fit the song into that. Producing original music is so much more freeing, but it can be overwhelming, too, because with a song you’re adapting, there’s already a structure to work with.
With original music, it’s like a blank canvas. It’s awesome because I think my true style and soul comes out more. And I love it.
You often choose busy outdoor areas for your public performances. In your opinion – how much does the space you play in influence your art?
Yes, I have definitely played in so many non-traditional spaces throughout my time here in LA, I do think I really affects it. Like an incredible sunset on the beach with birds
flying overhead would make me choose and play and feel certain songs. Or a super-hip crowd of people stopping by at Universal City Walk might put me in a totally different vibe.
But maybe more than the space it’s the people. I really have learned to tune in to the vibe and read the space/people. Especially in my experience street performing —
it really forces you to learn to really be in tune. Because a lot of times, that’s the difference between getting a nice tip or people just passing on by.
The spaces like Santa Monica Beach or Universal City Walk or the mall or on the beach.... it’s cool because people are not really expecting music.
So, it really affects them differently. It really meets them right where they’re at. Whatever they’re going through, it’s like the music can speak to them — to their soul — in a different way than even going to a concert or something.
Please tell us a little bit about your upbringing. How did you get to where you are now?
So, I was born in Arkansas and grew up in Oklahoma on a 28-acre farm. I have 12 siblings. My twin and I are the oldest. My parents got us a piano when we were like 6 years old, and my brother and I taught ourselves to play using the beginner books. We had a passion for music right from the start. Never ever had to be told to practice. I just loved it, every free moment I was always playing music. I started Viola at 13 years old and had private lessons for six years from professor Dr Hong Zhu at UCO Edmond OK. He heard my twin and I a couple weeks after getting our instruments and immediately agreed to teach us because he saw so much potential. He rarely took students outside of college, much less two 13 year-old home schoolers! I’m just so grateful to have had that opportunity.
I ended up doing construction for many years right out of high school with the family business, so music got pushed to the back burner. And then, in my mid 20’s,
I really started to get tired of the construction work. I knew music was my true passion but never thought I could do it as a career.
I finally decided to give it a shot and just see what would happen, I moved to the D.C. area and started playing on street corners, and pretty much living out of my truck sometimes.
I saw people respond and connect and be blessed by the music and it have me hope! So little by little, it’s grown from starting like that. I moved to LA to date my wife and pursue
music out here in 2014. Started playing on Santa Monica Pier which was exponentially better than street corners in D.C. and made my first album “California Dream” not long after moving.
Erin my wife now (then girlfriend) helped me produce and design and and release it all independently on our own. That was huge. Honestly, Santa Monica Pier and Universal City walk are where I got my real start.
That is how I built a fan base. I’m incredibly grateful for all the support and people I’ve met from there! What a journey it’s been. And it’s just getting started!!
If you think of the art scene in Los Angeles, where do you position yourself? Is there a specific artist you would love to collaborate with?
Honestly when I think of the art scene in LA I try not to fit into it. And that makes me stand out, I think. I’ve done things in such an untraditional way and it’s really worked. I’ve done things most people are not willing to do, I think. And it’s really paid off! Hard work and being humble enough to not care what people think or what it looks like are sooo important. And slowly over time, it’s taken root.
What is planned for the future? Are you working on your own compositions?
So, one of my dreams for the future is to do outdoor concerts in epic none traditional places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon. Joshua Tree Etc... I’ve started small with a couple mountain top serenades in Malibu and it was incredible. So, definitely growing and doing more of that. Also been doing concerts online for people all over the world and that’s been growing, definitely something I’ll be putting more time into.
And definitely working on original music. Hope to release an original album this year!!