David Aguirre — self-taught and staying busy

| July 5, 2014 | 2 Replies
David Aguirre

David Aguirre

By Mary Jane Farmer. Originally published in North Texas Best Times magazine, June issue. 

“Music is good medicine.” — Jo-El Sonnier

David Aguirre went from birth through his teen years, wondering just what it was that made him feel different from the other children around him. At the age of 19, he found out, and has spent the past five years re-developing himself. Music was the genesis, the tool, and the passion for David’s growth.

David is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, aka higher-functioning autism. “How it was missed until he was 19 is beyond us,” David’s dad, Michael Aguirre said.

After discovering, finally, through testing, what his learning disabilities were, and after receiving the gift of an acoustic guitar, David has been on the road constantly, playing music and astonishing people with his talent.

David explained that his family are of the Morman faith. When it came time for him to go on the usual 2-year mission trip, his parents, Michael and Pat, along with the minister of their church were concerned that the journey would not be in David’s best interest. So, they had him tested.

David did well in the 1st and 2nd grades, Carrolltown/Farmers Branch school district, but when he got into the 3rd grade, a teacher began to suspect he had learning and social adjustment problems. But no testing was done. Bullying started in the 4th grade and continued throughout David’s school years. Because he took everything literally, David explained, “someone could tell me to do something against the rules, and I would do it, not knowing.” Mike added that the kids at school took advantage of David at every turn. Eventually, he developed a distrust for people. “I barely passed high school. If I missed one day of school, I missed too much to catch up.”

His grades and life continued to suffer without help from the schools, but David began to find a place when he joined the R.L. Turner High School’s jazz ensemble and choir. Having perfect pitch, he was a singer in both groups.

“I had taken piano lessons and was doing OK, but I felt like I had taken piano as far as it could go,” David said.

Then the guitar reached his hands, a Christmas gift from his only and older sister. Determined to learn it, David worked on the strings, listened to advice from other musicians, and watched YouTube videos. He tried working with thumb and finger picks, until he decided he was best for him to strike the strings with his thumb. He hits the strings from the top down, never strumming back up. He tunes by ear, another advantage of being pitch perfect.

David walked away with top honor in the annual Hank’s Texas Grill Open Mic competition in December 2013. That contest, unlike many, incorporates just about every quality of playing on stage, not just songwriting as so often is the case. And David isn’t a songwriter.

Now, he plays between 20 and 30 shows every month around the Metroplex.

Since learning of the autism diagnosis, David and his parents have done everything they can to learn about the disorder. It affects about one in 80-someodd people in the United States, and four of five of those are males. Mainly, it affects communication and social interaction; along with routine and learning behaviors.

One of David’s hardest battles, he said, is to overcome or sidestep his painful shyness. On stage, that shyness isn’t as apparent as it is when he’s in a crowd. David knows it’s something he must work on, on a daily basis, and he makes himself go up and speak to people.

To keep the music moving when David is on stage, Michael and Pat have developed a list of about 150 of the songs David can perform. They hand those out at his shows, so David can satisfy people’s requests. That list includes songs by today’s and yesterday’s artists, genres including country, rock, pop, folk, and quite a few in Spanish. He performs songs by Coldplay, Frank Sinatra, Bill Withers, Zack Brown, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and countless others. And he, alone, picks the songs he wants to learn. After all, he’s singing them, so why not?

5 David 1 name“But it’s the freakist thing,” Pat said. “Somebody will ask him to do a song not on his list. He’ll usually say, ‘OK, give me a minute.’ Then, he’ll play it like he’s practiced it for five weeks.”

A problem he’s struggled with pops up when someone asks him to perform a song or two during someone else’s night on the stage. “I just feel like I shouldn’t interrupt their songs,” David said. An example of this recently was when the family was at El Patio Escondido in Van Alstyne, having dinner, with Spare Change playing on stage. Even when asked, David waited until Spare Change had completed their sets before he sang a couple of songs for the restaurant owner and staff, sans sound equipment.

A singer/songwriter who has encouraged David to open up on those seemingly awkward times was Dale Riley. “I’m going to be at Hang Time, and hope you will come hear my band,” Riley said. “And when people ask you to play, please make the effort.” David did, and works to combine his need to respect the other musicians who are performing along with those who want to hear him sing. According to Michael, Riley told David, “It’s just common courtesy to comply when someone wants to hear you sing.”

David also admits that he is “learning to get over my shyness and carry on a conversation. I’ve come a long way.”

Parents Michael and Pat nodded in agreement. Pat, who stays at home with David while Michael brings home the bacon, smiled when she said that, “One of David’s goals is to make me laugh, hard, every day. And he does, every day.”

With that, Pat and Michael have had to learn a different way of parenting their youngest son, too, after using normal parents techniques with his older five siblings. Pat explained that, until the diagnosis, “We were focusing on what David could not do. Now, we focus on what he can do, and that has taken some retraining on our parts.”

Michael, too, has re-directed his after-work hours toward David’s music career. He said he makes all the phone calls, books all the gigs, handles the publicity and logistics for his son, and acts as chauffer.

David can’t drive. But Pat and Michael are right there with him, taking him to every gig, sometimes as many as every night in a single week. They are the biggest fans and No. 1 roadies for their talented son.

Pat said there’s one thing that hasn’t improved yet. “It’s a big thing that bothers him. He still doesn’t have friends. Lots of fans, but no one who calls and says something like let’s go to the movies tonight, or just hang out at the mall. You know, things all young people like to do.” She said even the young people at their church haven’t — ever — called him. “We just don’t understand that, and it’s led to a lot of tears.”

Back to talking about music, David said the first song he learned was “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. “Then I learned ‘I Know One’ by Charley Pride. I learned those while learning the guitar, and so I knew something about chords, but learning new songs was still a struggle. After the second song, each one became a little easier to learn.” Pat added that, “When David was around 10, he started learning all the jingles and commercials on televisions, and we knew he was processing it all in his head. He doesn’t know how to read a single guitar chart, but there’s a lot of guitarists like that. Now, it’s like a concert in our house every night. He jams with musicians on YouTube, still learning songs.”

3 David 2 ;nameMichael said, as David smiled, that David has very high standards with his songs. His morals are high, and he won’t perform a song with foul language or suggestions of immorality. He’s never said a cuss word. Once, David said he wished he could cuss, but didn’t. David added, when asked, that he gives credit to his church and his parents for those standards.

Another person who has helped David move along, giving him unabashed encouragement both in his music and his personal growth, is musician Keith Mitchell. “He is always really nice to me and understanding, and I appreciate everything he has to tell me. He’ll say, ‘Try this for that,’ and I will.”

Michael remembered, as he wiped away emerging tears, “Keith said David has made a big impact on him and his band members, also. Once, he told the crowd as he called David up to do a couple of songs with his band, ‘I know how to play the guitar, but not like David. He can really play the guitar.’”

David was blushing when he watched his dad clearing his eyes, “I never knew that statement made my dad so proud.”

Keith Mitchell talked, later on, about David and his music, saying, “I’ve watched David find and grow his own voice musically over the last few years. It’s as impressive to see how much joy other people get out of that, as it is to see the joy he takes in playing music.

“His growth both on and off the stage has been incredible to witness. He’s a much more involved and confident person in both of those areas… and in turn, the power of music that has helped him find himself has also helped so many people find joy in the results of his journey. I’m proud to call him a friend and a musical peer!”

Pat explained her goals for David include those that any other mother would have for her children. “I want him to be able to live on his own, maybe get married and have a family. I’m already blown away by the music, just blown away. He’s exceeded my expectations and made it big already. He’s making a good living, doing what he loves.”

Michael has goals for his youngest son, too. “I would like for him to have his own driver’s license and his own car. When you have those two things, you can have your own life, your own apartment, and your own things.”

David laughed when he talked about one goal. “I want to have a lot of white hair.” Then he got more serious, saying, “I want my life to get better than it is now, to be able to go out like this with friends and such. I thought it would be a big help in church, being a musician, but so far it hasn’t so much. But, I hope it in the next five or so years, it will change big time.”

All three Aguirres said that people suggest that David try for American Idol or The Voice, but he won’t do that. David explained, “They get their kicks out of exploiting the sad part of people’s lives. I don’t want that. I don’t want to be thought of as a musician who has Asperger Syndrome. I want to be thought of as a musician.”

As the conversation, and the enchiladas, came to an end, this interviewer thanked David and his parents for their input, teasing about how Pat and Michael provided so much information, talking for him as they have for most of his life. David responded with that incredible smile, like a rock star, “That’s why I got them for.”

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  1. Mary Landry says:

    I have worked with many autistic children. So very proud of David. I am even more proud of his parents. I see so many of my parents not focusing on the great things their children can do. I am Linda Aguirre Bixler’s sister. I can see David will make a big splash in the world. God Bless David and his family .

  2. Charlotte Garland says:

    David Aguirre has such a wonderful talent yet he is very humble. He seems like he never tires of singing no matter how much he performs. My husband and I are huge David Aguirre fans and marvel at his talent!!!

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