Eric Lemmon is great violist who has been playing a lot with Aerial Photograph this year. I really enjoyed his answers to the questions I posed to him. Learn more about his music and musical life at ericlemmon.net – Thanks Eric!!!
When did you start playing music/viola? What got you to start playing?
I started playing piano when I was seven and picked up the viola when I was 12. It’s a little fuzzy as to what really precipitated my starting piano, but I think my parents made my brother and I both take piano. I studied with this amazing old pianist named Mrs. Barnhart. I think that she was the one who really cultivated my love for music, as she let me write my own pieces, and didn’t kick my ass about boring technical stuff while I was young. Maybe she was and I just didn’t realize it because she was an exceptional teacher. In 7th grade, I had started doing too many extra curricular activities, so my parents forced me to choose between viola and piano. I cried my eyes out and then I chose viola because I could play with other people.
Who are some of your biggest influences as a violist? As a musician in general?
As a violist, it’ll have to be my teachers and instructors. Each one has imparted really different important aspects of technique and musicianship.
As far as who I want to sound like? It’s funny, I’ve looked up to beautiful aspects of my peers’ playing more than William Primrose, Kim Kashkashian, Roberto Diaz, or any other famous soloist. In composition, Beethoven is the one who cemented my decision pursue a life in music, wherever that journey may take me. He represents clarity, brilliance, and most importantly, hard work.
Do you have a favorite performance you’ve done in the last few years?
This is tough. Maybe Mahler 5 with the Sheep Island Ensemble, or playing as a ringer for the Yamaha Junior Original Concert? The latter was great, because I got to work and rehearse with some of my students in addition to kids from all over the east coast who wrote pieces for Viola and Piano.
I know you work with a lot of different ensembles that do a wide variety of genres. How do you maintain balance in your music/practicing/scheduling/sanity? Any specific things you do to keep focused in your musical life?
Balance? What’s that? Truthfully, I try to always make sure I’m doing something productive with my time. I fail at this a lot, but whatever I’m doing, it gets me by.
Do you have any specific practicing routine that you work through? How do you practice?
Currently I’ve been starting by doing scales and arpeggios, moving onto technical exercises and then etudes, and finally rep. This general structure means that I always build technical elements from the ground up, even within a practice session. It also helps keep the earlier technical work focused, as technical work inside of a piece can become distracted by having to combine all the elements of the music.
What have you been listening to these days?
I listen to a lot of Minimalist composers in addition to a range of pop/rock, soul and jazz. Choosing one from each category, I’d say I’m listening to Philip Glass, Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane.
Do you have any book recommendations?
The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s for kids, but it’s a wonderfully profound book in a whimsical way. There are many allegorical moments in the book.
What are some of your goals for the future?
Any additional thoughts?
Playing with Aerial Photograph has been a ton of fun this year. The music is great, and the concept can be funny, poignant, sad, and enlightening. Because of the range of populations that can be surveyed over a year, one really gets the broad range of the human experience here in NYC. I’m all about opening up ontologies.
With Veterans Day having just past, I thought I would share an experience I had with a vet I met earlier this year –
In April, I was walking downtown near Harold Square towards Chinatown. I noticed a man sitting in an alcove with a cardboard sign saying something like “lost my job, need work boots for a job I was hired for next week, veteran, god bless.” After thinking about it for a minute, I went up to him and asked him if he really just needed boots for a job. He said yes, and then began to tell his stories of woe – bad luck, a bad woman, got mugged, no money… I asked him what war he fought in and he said “Bosnia, ‘94 to ‘97”, and then told me a bunch of stories about his time in the service. Unlike some of the other stuff he said, I could tell he wasn’t making anything up with these stories. I enjoyed talking and listening to him.
Then it got really surprising… I asked him where he was from and he said Philly. I lived in Philly for 10+ years, so I was surprised and asked him where and when. It turns out that he lived a block away from me in Fishtown on Frankford Ave. in 2008 when I lived there. Crazy right?! He knew people and places that I knew. He even knew a brother of one of my teachers. We talked about Philly and all the changes that have happened there in the past few years. We talked for a while longer, I gave him a few bucks and kept walking. I would never have thought that I had any connection to this guy on the street, but we had a ton of connections and talked for almost 40 minutes. You really never know. What a small world.
I hope he got his boots.
Thanks for reading.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about drug abuse, addiction, recovery, and how all of these things relate to our society. This month I am writing music based on conversations with individuals who have overcome drug and alcohol addiction – the recovery process is a brutal experience for a lot of these people, but ultimately one which is often filled with profound hope and gratitude.
I came across these eye opening facts about addiction from the website for The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University – It’s worth a read if you have a minute. Some of it really surprised me.