Grammy Award-winning Eric Whitacre, 51, is one of the world’s most performed living composers. He set up the first virtual choir in 2009; by 2020, VC6 had more than 17,500 members from 129 countries. With the Eric Whitacre Singers, his albums include Light & Gold and Water Night.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
Something else every second week: a baseball player, an astronomer, an astrophysicist, a computer programmer. Music has always been part of me. I could always play by ear. It was computers that led me to computer music — Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream. Synthesisers and drum machines were my whole world. I’m also a film nut.
Private school or state school? University or straight into work?
Local public [state] schools in Nevada. At 18, I went to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. At university, I had an open mind, I loved lots of things — I was seduced by singing in the choir and that was it.
Who was or still is your mentor?
David Weiller. He’s the man who seduced me into singing in the choir, I wrote my first composition for him and he got me into conducting. So much of the man that I aspire to be is based on principles I learned from David.
How physically fit are you?
I regularly go to the gym. I live in LA so we’re outside all the time. My wife and I surf together, we’re always on our bicycles. It’s a super-important part of my life and I can see its dramatic impact on my brain.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Can luck be in there too? I look back and think how lucky I was, in huge and small ways. I was born at the right time: the internet and social media fit me like a glove.
How politically committed are you?
Pretty profoundly. In my heart I think I am a socialist, which is a very dirty word here in America. I feel incredibly strongly about basic services — education, healthcare. My wife is from Belgium so I’ve had the chance to see first-hand another way of doing things, and I’m a fan.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
People often say, “If only I had a better violin,” and I think, “You just need to practise more.” But I know I would be an exponentially better cook if I had a really, really good spatula.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Long baths — proper baths with salts and candles and music.
In what place are you happiest?
A combination of being in nature and being with my family.
What ambitions do you still have?
To write a book. Lately, I’ve been writing longer and longer pieces, and maybe I’ve got the fortitude and perseverance. I know my creative process — I’m hyper-meticulous. I can spend a day on a single line of music.
What drives you on?
A deadline. And insatiable curiosity.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
I seem to have awakened a love of singing in a fair number of people. Maybe that’s the lasting thing.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
Negativity. I find it worse than irritating.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
He would be incredibly judgmental, for all sorts of reasons: that I’m settled, that I have a mortgage, that I’m more polished and less raw. But 20-year-old me was an idiot; 50-year-old me lives in the real world.
Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
When I was 12, I collected old baseball cards and I swapped a 1954 Topps Hank Aaron for a 1955 Topps Hank Aaron. A rookie card — the first one — is a really big deal. I still regret that! When my son was six, he drew me a picture I scanned and still use in talks to show the child’s mind and creative thinking. I would give anything to get the original back.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
Climate change. There is a profound failure of leadership.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
This is a three-martini question. I’m not a religious person. But I suspect there are certain phenomena that I don’t know about, probably can’t even comprehend. I’m kind of excited to find out.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Eric Whitacre’s new album, ‘The Sacred Veil’, is available now, smarturl.it/TheSacredVeil
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