At this same piano three years ago, he first played the chords that helped him find his way back.
Day is a 23-year-old composer and multi-instrumentalist from Arlington who has earned considerable success. He received an award from the prestigious Broadcast Music Incorporated Foundation in May and recently became the first composer-in-residence at the Mesquite Symphony Orchestra.
Day has overcome much adversity to get to this point. For three years while attending TCU, he battled depression and anxiety.
"There were times when I didn't want to go to rehearsals, write or even leave my room,” says Day, who graduated in May. “I didn't want to feel like I was a burden.”
Still, he always had people he could call on. He confided in his fraternity brothers about what he was experiencing and hung out with them when he needed to get out of his room.
The trigger for his most-difficult years, Day says, was the death of Davion Moulton, his closest friend from childhood. Moulton, age 20, was killed in a shooting outside a house party in Lancaster, according to court documents. Five other people were wounded. Police collected 15 shell casings from the scene. A 17-year-old man was later convicted for the murder.
“Davion had aspirations to be a film director, and I had aspirations to be a film composer,” Day says. When they were in elementary school, they wore capes and played with lightsabers outside. Kevin was Obi-Wan Kenobi; Davion, Darth Maul. They also made beats on the production software FruityLoops and listened to hip-hop together. “He was like my brother. Everything I do now is keeping our journey alive.”
Sometime after Moulton’s death in March 2015, Day thought about giving up music. He turned to his two sisters for support.
“No pressure, No diamonds,” Aliyah Day told her older brother. She had these words tattooed on her wrist, one of the places where the needle would hurt the most. “I told him you know how diamonds are formed. [They] have to go through pressure and heat and ... all these different horrible things,” Aliyah says. "Our journey is going to become beautiful after a while. You just have to get through the process.”
“This is who you are, this is your life,” Kiana Day remembers saying to her brother. “Why would you give that up?”
In his lowest moment, he even considered taking his own life. He sought professional help and reached out to family and friends. And, of course, he had music.
He’s always had music.
Day's parents, who are both gospel singers and ministers, brought him to many of their performances. “[Our children] would be right there on the stage with us if we couldn't find anybody to watch them,” says Darrell Day, Kevin’s dad. Mom Enora Day says, “Singing, music, and writing is who we are.”
Day, who has perfect pitch and plays euphonium, tuba, jazz piano, bass guitar and drums, has devoted himself to his passion for years.
“Instead of going to parties,” Aliyah says about her brother, “he would be at home playing his instrument."
“Kevin is a self-motivator,” says Enora. “[He] practiced because he loved it."
When Day was in high school, his family lost a car and their home. His mother once almost died because of a workplace accident and his father has been on disability since 2006. “We went some days without electricity or water,” Day says. “We struggled through childhood to have things we needed.”
Since his parents spent much of their income on the essentials, they couldn’t afford piano lessons. Naturally, Day taught himself. He’s never used a method or exercise book, but he played in TCU’s jazz band for four and a half years.
“I think something divine took place,” he says.
His proficiency on the piano and strong ear illustrate his remarkable talent. After listening to a recording, Day can play what he heard.
“I still can’t explain how,” he says.
Music has always been his most-natural form of expression. Growing up, he grappled with a severe stutter. “I was afraid to talk.”
He spoke most comfortably through his instruments. “Whenever I would play music or sing, I forgot about [the stutter]. It was almost like it wasn't even there.”
Day’s hardships have never defined him. Or, as his mother says emphatically: “Struggle does not defeat you.”
One evening during his dark times, Day walked into classroom 132. The lights were dim in the empty space and small black desks were lined up in orderly rows.
He sat at the piano and began to improvise.
“I hit this weird chord, and I was just like, OK, I never played that before.” From there, he played a rising progression that he repeated “over and over again.”
“It's one of those moments where I felt really at peace. It was almost like meditation.”
Maybe the repetition allowed him to disconnect from the world. “[The music] helped me realize that everything was going to be OK,” he says.
What Day played eventually turned into a piece called Breathe, which he dedicated to his sisters.
And today on this quiet summer morning, he is is back in room 132. The bells on TCU's campus toll eight measures of the school's alma mater exactly on the hour. Day pauses, then gently plays some of Breathe.
Beneath the tenderness of the undulating chords lies a backdrop of deep pain. The music seems to come not from his fingers, but from the rawest part of his heart.
Day takes the next step in his journey this fall, when he begins a master’s degree in composition at the University of Georgia.
His 19-year-old Grand Marquis should make the trip just fine; it’ll be filled with clothes, stacks of scores, his laptop and, above all else, hope.
Tim Diovanni is reporting on classical music as part of a fellowship supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. The News makes all editorial decisions.
If you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety or depression, you can get help by calling Dallas Metrocare Services at 1-877-283-2121.
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