Catching up with Eric McKee

headshot of Eric McKee in his office

Eric McKee

How did you first become interested in music?

I remember in 1st grade, my teacher played a recording of Beethoven's 5th symphony and asked us to draw a picture of it. I used green and black crayons. Every time the music came to a big cadence, If drew a green circle, and then I connected them all with black lines. It was my first analysis. I still have it in a box in my basement.

When I was seven, I saw an old violin in an antique shop. I really liked the shape of it and asked my parents if they could get me one. They did, and I've been playing ever since.

What inspires you about Chopin's life or music on a personal level?

Chopin's music is on one level very direct and immediate. The surface of his music is beautiful and sensual—you don't need to think about it to enjoy it. But there is also a depth of meaning beneath the surface that can never be exhausted. The more you study it, the more you discover new relationships and meanings.

In reading about Chopin the man, what fascinates me the most are the things that make him human—his weaknesses and insecurities, his biting sense of humor, his fondness for shoes, the social activities he took part in, and his relationships with his friends and family.

Which current-contemporary composers and musicians do you most admire?

I'm pretty eclectic in my musical tastes. Four years ago I began working with a colleague (Chuck Youmans) in developing a new course on film music. I think a lot of the best creative minds are working in cinema. As for film composers, I like Howard Shore, Hans Zimmer, and Alan Silvestri.

When I'm at home I usually listen to popular music. Lately I've been listening to a lot of old time country music—Merle Haggard, Bob Willis, and Willie Nelson.

What is the most exciting place you've traveled to? Did it have an impact on your music?

I enjoy traveling just about anywhere. I think New York City is the greatest city in the world. I had the opportunity to live there for a year (2001-2002). It was the first year of my marriage, and it was great being in a place where nobody knew you. Krakow, Paris, and Florence are pretty high on my list of places I've been to. The nice part of my job is that I get to go to conferences in interesting places. And then there's always the ocean.

When you're not working, what are your favorite pastimes?

I like to cook and hang out with my family: 3 kids—Zac (7), Gracey (5), and Sam (3). They keep me grounded to what's most important.

What spot on Penn State's campus do you find to be most inspiring? Why?

My office and the Palmer Museum: I'm very comfortable in my office. Even though it's a mess, it's where all my stuff is. It's also a quiet space. I sometimes like to walk over to the Palmer Museum. There are a few paintings in their permanent collection that always inspire and refresh me. The special collections department in the library is always a fun place to go as well. Being able to hold a 300-year-old book is pretty cool. Antiques have always interested me.

Last Updated November 30, 2010