Local musician transmits musical experience to new generation

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David Lichten plays the violin. Although the guitar is his specialty, Lichten plays several instruments, including the oud, sitar and flute. He also sings. Nira Lichten/TMT

Topanga resident David Lichten has had a lifetime of musical experiences and accomplishments. But he says he takes the most satisfaction from teaching music.

By Michelle Salzman/Special to The Malibu Times

Local musician Dave Lichten has had a lifelong love affair with music, and he passes on his passion to others through teaching and performing. Primarily a guitarist, Lichten also plays the violin, oud, sitar and flute, and he sings. Lichten’s style crosses culture and genre, incorporating flamenco, Middle Eastern, classical and steel guitar techniques into his work. He has composed music for projects in the United States and Israel, and is a co-founder of the Israel-France Flamenco Trust. Lichten lives in Topanga with his wife, Nira.

Growing up in the Hollywood area, Lichten’s home nurtured his musical creativity. He drew on the influence of French, Russian and contemporary British composers in his parents’ music collection. At age 10, he began playing the guitar. Lichten’s first guitar was bought from the Candelas family, a Los Angeles family of guitar makers originally from Mexico. He began playing on his own, and later attended classes at the Burbank Conservatory of Music and Arts.

In his early teens, Lichten’s family moved to Israel, where he worked as a port worker. The physical exertion was too much, so he moved to a kibbutz, an Israeli communal settlement, where he received special guidance from a music mentor.

“There was a music teacher who got ahold of me and decided to organize my life for me, which was a good thing,” Lichten said.

Their friendship lead to a scholarship from the American Israel Cultural Foundation, which took Lichten to Tel Aviv to study classical guitar.

In 1965, Lichten was part of a street singing group, traveling all over Israel performing street shows. Drawing large crowds, as well as attention from the authorities, people quickly learned of the group’s talent. As a result, they received offers to play in nightclubs and on radio broadcasts. Eventually, theatres turned to them to compose musical scores. The first was a production “Blues for Mr. Charley” by James Baldwin, staged by “HaBimah,” Israel National Theater.

Later, Lichten became involved in the university system, working with special education teachers and art therapists to get them more in tune to the creative process. His seminars stressed the importance of writing, singing, dancing, composing and painting as educational tools. He also introduced yoga and meditation techniques into the educational system, having studied them extensively for years.

Lichten later returned to the United States, where he recorded a number of albums under the moniker, Neptune Blew, an association between himself and Topanga local, Sarah Vaughn. Over a two-year period they produced roughly six albums of their music.

Recently, Lichten leant his music to the Prim8 Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at protecting endangered primates and ensuring the welfare of indigenous African people by education through music and art. His album, “Prim8, the Evolution,” is composed of music Lichten composed and recorded over the years. The music on the album mixes Latin, Indian and Middle Eastern sounds.

Overall, Lichten’s work draws on his passion for the work of flamenco and classical guitarists

such as AndrĂ©s Segovia, Carlos Montoya and Sabicas. He said the effect of the “There was a whole group of Spaniards…they were performing around L.A. and I was affected by that. When I heard that the first time, that launched me,” Lichten said. Lichten also cites American folk and blues as pivotal in his musical development. He names artists Josh White, Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott as influences.

For now, Lichten’s focus is on teaching. He tutors students in music, mainly on the guitar. Occasionally, Lichten teaches meditation techniques and medicinal nutrition based on Eastern practices.

“Teaching is the real deal because you transmit experience and knowledge onto another generation, and that’s the real thing,” Lichten said. “The rest of it is forgotten about. You make a record, you appear, you’re somebody for a minute, and then you’re nobody. It’s a lot of work to be forgotten about. If you teach, you spread out your experience.”