R&R Hero of the Week - Wheeler Sparks

by Martha Elaine Belden on May 5, 2010 at 1:18 AM
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Braden Wheeler Sparks - Live Sara Kerens

“The creation of music is a rare right of passage binding impression to melody, flesh to soul, the tangible to the intangible. For the next twelve months, I seek to write, play and experience music with people in the context of other cultures I do not know as intimately as my own.” Four years ago, Wheeler Sparks submitted these words to the Watson Foundation in what proved to be a successful endeavor to obtain a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. He then embarked upon a trek across the globe to study the distinct musical cultures of Ireland, Spain, Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, India, China (Tibet) and Mongolia.

Wheeler began his love affair with music at a very young age. And just as with any passionate relationship, it’s been a tumultuous affair. His life has been largely shaped by the music that inspires him and the music he can’t help but make. Currently a member of several Dallas-based bands (The Fox & The Bird, Jacob Metcalf, Dry Creek) and a music collective (The Dallas Family Band), Wheeler also heralds a project he has been working on for a few years based on the life and stories of his grandfather who himself was a burgeoning musician. With so many musical commitments and a profession in music production, it’s not a stretch to say that Wheeler quite literally lives and breathes music. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that he often finds himself reevaluating things.

When asked what made him decide to take this journey around the world, Wheeler quotes his father: “It’s easy to know what to do with your life if you only love one thing. But those who love life the most will have the hardest time figuring it out.” Wheeler is passionate not only about music but also writing, politics, anthropology, nature… you name it. It seems to me, if it exists, Wheeler Sparks is intrigued by it. But because music has become the driving force of his life, he’s growing (understandably) apathetic towards it.

Four years ago, Wheeler was studying music composition at Washington and Lee when he decided to apply for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. He wanted to experience new things, new sounds, new cultures. He wanted to fall in love again. And in 2006, he saw that goal become a reality as he traveled around the world immersing himself in the musical traditions of places he didn’t “know as intimately as [his] own.” Braden Wheeler Sparks - Jungle Guns

Through these experiences, Wheeler was able to reconfigure the way he listened to and appreciated music. And now, as he finds himself growing disillusioned with the whole process and lifestyle once again, he has decided to set out on a new adventure to learn about an entirely different culture and the music they make. [And, as an avid fan of the role Wheeler plays in the Dallas music scene, I sincerely hope this trip brings him back reinvigorated and ready to share even more of his immense talent… but enough about me…]

On June 1, Wheeler will depart for Afghanistan/Tajikistan and will once again immerse himself in a culture largely unknown to him. He’s planning to travel the area for two months… letting go of his overwhelming musical obligations here and embracing something entirely new. And when he's finished… we can only hope he’ll come back with a clearer understanding of what comes next.

To read more about Wheeler's musical journey, check out his personal blog: www.wheelersparks.com.

Top photo credit: Sara Kerens

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