The early signs of Daniel Davis' bent as a composer, and an overachiever, were hard to miss.
Davis began piano lessons at age 5, and by the time he was 9, he was arranging and performing music for Sunday services at his family church. Still in his single digits, Davis fashioned his own home recording studio--a $12.99 tape recorder and a microphone bound with masking tape to a music stand, set atop the family piano. By 13 Davis was composing music, and at the still tender age of 18 he founded a contemporary classical music series back home in North Carolina.
Since arriving at Johns Hopkins, Davis has hardly slowed his frenetic pace. The junior is one of a select handful enrolled in the double-degree program, pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in history from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and a bachelor of music in composition from the Peabody Institute. Despite the program's great demands, Davis somehow manages both to squeeze in a host of extracurricular activities and to be a prolific composer, with one opera already under his belt. He does all this while maintaining a near perfect GPA.
His accomplishments haven't gone unnoticed.
Davis was named on Feb. 27 to USA Today's 2002 All-USA College Academic First Team. Only 20 students from around the nation were selected by the newspaper for this team, which recognizes young people for academic excellence and community service. Each team member received a $2,500 cash award during ceremonies conducted in Arlington, Va., where the newspaper is based. This year, a panel of judges selected the 20 First Team members from 600 students nominated by colleges across the country. Receiving an honorable mention from the newspaper was Eric Leslie, a senior political science major at Hopkins.
For Davis, the honor is just now sinking in.
"I certainly wasn't expecting it," he says. "I don't think I even realized what it was until after the fact. I did know the cash prize was nice."
Davis says that in his world, there is little time to dwell on things.
In between shuttling back and forth from Peabody to Homewood for classes, Davis spends a majority of his time writing music and practicing both the piano and the tuba. A member of the Peabody Wind Ensemble and Peabody Camerata, Davis also is an adviser for incoming students and tutors at Peabody.
"I'm constantly trying to fit 36 hours into 24," he says.
Davis says the importance of an education was stressed to him from an early age. While the grades he received in high school could have gotten him into any number of top universities, Davis says he chose to come to Hopkins because of the double-degree program.
"I knew coming here meant the opportunity of attending two great schools. There are not too many chances to study in a premier university and a very well-respected music conservatory at the same time," Davis says. "I also like the fact that I have the opportunity to merge my academic interests."
In fact, Davis merges history and literature with music every chance he gets. He says the inspiration for much of his music comes from the courses he takes in the History Department. Among his musical works are "Deep and Dreamless Sleep," a piece based on James Agee's novel A Death in the Family, and "From the Diary of Mary Chestnut," based on the Civil War writings of the feminist and abolitionist. His opera, From Obscure People, draws from his interest and research in the cultural history of the American South.
Davis grew up outside Charlotte, N.C., in the small town of Waxhaw, where in 1999 he put together a music program now called Carolina NewMusic. The series, which Davis says has grown in size and popularity each year, is designed to attract broader audiences to contemporary classical music. To that same end, Davis is also a faculty member at Charlotte's summer Brightstar Music Festival, where he teaches composition and general music to students ages 7 to 17.
As for his own music, Davis says he is very conscious of his audience when he writes.
"I want people to enjoy my music, for them to get as much, or as little, from it as they want," he says. "I'm not about writing a fanfare for the common man, but I see myself as an educator in a lot of ways."
One of his most ardent fans is Jeffrey Brooks, a history professor who nominated Davis for the All-USA College Academic First Team and who often listens to his music. Brooks, who has taught Davis in three classes, says it's hard to ignore the young man's talents.
"He is one of those students that the higher the bar, the higher he leaps," Brooks says. "He takes advantage of the very nature of Hopkins in that the possibility is there to reach as far as you can reach--and for a student like Daniel, every reach is farther than his last. It is just outstanding to work with someone like that."
Davis, in turn, has nothing but praise for Brooks and his colleagues.
"Hopkins has a fantastic History Department," he says. "I've had some tremendous teachers."
Following graduate study, Davis says he wants to become a composer, professor and writer, in no particular order.
"Ideally, a joint appointment somewhere would be nice," he says.
Christopher Theofanidis, a professor of composition at Peabody, says he foresees a great future ahead for his star pupil.
"He is following in the great tradition of American literary composers. He has a real independent and unique voice," Theofanidis says. "I sense he has a real potential for the stage, especially dramatic works. It will be interesting to see how things come together for him."
As for how Davis finds time for all his pursuits, Theofanidis says he is simply amazed.
"He is remarkably organized and good-natured--that helps," Theofanidis says. "But balancing all that he does in his life is still kind of miraculous."