Eric Lee is a well-known figure on the Panorama campus. While many residents know who Eric is, few know of his lifetime involvement with music. Gail Madden interviewed Eric for the Panorama Playbill.
GM: Tell us a little about where you grew up and what sparked your interest in music.
EL: I’m actually a native Olympian. I was born in the old St. Peter’s Hospital on the west side in June of 1940. I went to Tumwater Elementary School, then on to Olympia High which was across the street from the Capitol buildings. I’m still living in the family home on Black Lake which was built in the early 50’s.
My father (who died when I was a toddler) had been musical, and I think my mother wished to have that spirit carried on by me. My piano lessons began when I was 7.
I received a BA in Music Education in 1963 and started my teaching career as a music teacher in Raymond, WA. After 6 years I got a job with the Yelm School District. I taught in Yelm for 20 years–first as a second-grade teacher; then as an elementary music specialist.
GM: How long have you been directing the Panorama Chorus, and what other groups have you worked with?
EL: This is now my 5th year working with the Panorama Chorus. Before that, I was the accompanist for the Masterworks Choral Ensemble. Before playing for MCE, I sang with them. My work with community theater goes back to 1969 with the Centurion Playhouse at Ft. Lewis as an accompanist and musical director for musicals. I’ve done similar work for Tacoma Little Theatre, Lakewood Playhouse, Tacoma Actors’ Guild, Abbey Players, River Ridge, and Tumwater High Schools.
GM: What is the highlight of working with Panorama Chorus?
EL: I’d have to say that the quality of musicianship with the Panorama Chorus singers which seems to have improved so much during my tenure with the group. I remember thinking during our first rehearsal together for the Holiday Concert a month ago, “WOW, these folks really can sight-read, and they do well at it!”
GM: What can we look forward to in the December 3rd and 4th Holiday Concerts?
EL: This year we’re trying something that’s a little different than in past years. Because of a wonderful collaboration between myself and Katherine Billings, we’re going to intersperse selected readings and personal remembrances amongst the tunes. I’m excited for this new venture, and I know that the audience will enjoy it!
GM: Who are your favorite musicians?
EL: I enjoy the work of Michael Feinstein and The Five Browns who ALL went to Julliard School of Music at the same time. Their musicianship is phenomenal!
GM: What style of music would you listen to if you had an hour to sit and take it easy?
EL: If I had an hour, I’d listen to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. There’s something about that music that conjures up certain visions and brings me to tears. There are haunting and melancholy themes in that music. I guess I would say that Copland refreshes my soul!