At-Home-Headshot: Eric Sewell!

At-Home-Headshot

Where do you call your hometown?
I’d have to call my hometown Alabama. I was born in Dayton, OH, but my earliest memories follow after my family’s move to Birmingham. We lived near Nashville for a few years when I began school, then came back to Alabama, landing in Florence. I went to high school in Birmingham, then college in Tuscaloosa, summers in Cherokee since forever, and I’ve spent a good bit of time in Huntsville. Especially with all of the freelance work from Mobile to Muscle Shoals, I feel like I’m from all over the state.

At what age did you start playing your instrument?
My parents are both musicians, so my older sister, younger brother, and I undertook obligatory piano studies. The Christmas after our return to Alabama that November, we all received instruments as gifts; I received a violin. I was a soprano in a community boy-choir and began violin lessons with its director at age 11, moving soon to a more established teacher and group lessons populated mostly by five- and six- year-olds. This was a strong motivator for improvement. I would become a performance major at the Alabama School of Fine Arts three years later.

What is one of your favorite orchestral pieces and why?
Mahler’s Second Symphony is a world-encompassing piece and a philosophical digest of Western art music at the time. More than with any other composer, the intense demands of performing Mahler are precisely matched by the rewards—performances are thus very satisfying. When preparing to play the Second Symphony, I approach it as a true challenge for, almost a measure of, my outer and inner abilities. The music already mines an expressive lodestone and I’ve performed this work in several circumstances themselves highly charged with emotion. I associate this piece with places, times, colleagues, and other musics that bring me great joy!

When it comes to listening to music, what is your go-to genre?
First, a shout out to two ‘classical’ composers, Rebecca Saunders and Olga Neuwirth. But, if we’re not talking about contemporary Western art music or free improvisation á la Taylor, Oxley, and Bailey, we must be talking about the creative juggernaut that is the Melvins. This band came out of Seattle when grunge really landed nationally and they never stopped recording, touring, exploring, and writhing with emotion. I’m unsure of their music’s genre, but it is firmly rooted in metal/post-punk, definitely of the hard variety. The Melvins opened doors to a ton of music I’d likely never have encountered otherwise— Fantômas, the Ruins, Merzbow, &c.—all fantastically engaging, difficult, and deeply expressive music by virtuosic performers.

What are your hobbies, other than playing?
I am a paper sculptor—an amateur, but in the best sense of that word. In grade school, I took a summer course in Japanese language and culture, learning the basics of traditional origami. Since then, I’ve always enjoyed folding and learning new models. Much later in life, my folding practice became a form of meditation. Upon discovering the rather unexplored technique of paper crumpling, I began designing my own models and composing larger pieces, eventually exhibiting and receiving a few commissions. I’ve found many parallels between music and folding, not the least of which is both arts’ appetite for variation and shaping, and also that one can simply fold others’ models much the same way a performer plays others’ compositions.

Describe one of your most life-changing musical moments!
The most course-altering musical moment for me occurred in a practice room. It was barely larger than a New York bathroom, harsh fluorescence lighting the pale concrete walls, and the white, faux-leather cover of the piano bench had been burned by an iron. My father was my accompanist and we had just finished a run-through before my entrance audition for high school. He pointed out the ascetic features of the room and said that this is what being a musician is, for hours upon months upon years. If you can see yourself doing anything else, do that instead. Sometime after the audition and some resolute introspection, I found that I could not see myself doing anything else.

What would you say to someone who has never been to a classical music performance before?
Go to a concert with someone who is excited about the program. That person will already be fascinated by what you will hear and see and will be unable to contain themselves. I can nearly guarantee that you will hear and see something astonishing. The irrepressibly curious nature of this music, its performance, and associated rituals may elicit an ungrounded feeling which could be disorienting. But, your concert partner will gladly answer all of your questions—and then some—and likely amplify your own musical acquisitiveness. Bonus points to your partner for sharing the inevitable connections of what you will hear to nearly any music you already love.

What is one thing that inspired you/Who is one person who inspires you?
My father has inspired me as a musician for as long as I can remember. He seemed always to be a natural pianist, while struggling since his mid-twenties with the chronic pain and fatigue of abnormally advanced rheumatoid arthritis. His enthusiasm as a choral conductor is infectious, matched by his ability to engage fully performers of widely differing abilities. And, he must have inspiration on tap to compose the volume and diversity of music he has, a true stylistic chameleon. Not many receive a string quartet composed for their birthday anymore! More than anything, my father has always worked hard and been a good steward of his talent.

Where is your favorite place you have ever traveled to? Why?
Rainbow Falls, on the Horsepasture River, Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina. This was a favorite place to unwind on the odd day off during my summers at the Brevard Music Festival. Those summers were formative in many ways and the hard work demanded fierce relaxation. Some serious hiking in to the falls is inspiring and atmospheric, but the place itself is an emblem of natural beauty. Lots of folks stay up above on Turtleback Falls—a shallow falls with a smooth approach like a water slide. Below, Rainbow Falls is simply majestic, more secluded, and affords cliff-diving for the adventurous! I’ve since visited several more times and always feel centered, childlike, and whole there.