Humans of the MET: Parker Lee

by Katherine Anderson, violist

Recently, violist Katherine Anderson sat down with Principal Timpanist Parker Lee, who just completed his first season with the MET Orchestra, to discuss "the most profound learning experience of [his] life".

Katherine Anderson: Where were you before you joined the MET Orchestra?

Parker Lee: I was living in Cleveland, Ohio, studying part time at Cleveland State University with Tom Freer of The Cleveland Orchestra. Additionally, I had enough freelance opportunities to keep me busy. I was fortunate enough to sub with the National Symphony, Chattanooga Symphony, Erie Philharmonic, and West Virginia Symphony.

KA: Where did you spend the early years of your life?

PL: I grew up in Reston, Virginia, a close suburb of Washington, D.C.

KA: Are your parents musicians? 

Parker and his wife, Victoria

Parker and his wife, Victoria

PL: Yes - both, actually! My mom is a violinist and my dad a cellist, both in the National Symphony Orchestra.

KA: Have they come to hear you play in the MET Orchestra?

PL: Yes, they saw La Bohème, Turandot, Elektra, and the Mahler 5 Carnegie Hall concert with Gianandrea Noseda.

KA: Wow, they’re true Met Opera fans! How old were you when you became interested in being a percussionist?

PL: I was 14, entering high school. I had tried numerous other instruments before and none could hold my interest. Then I saw my high school’s drumline play and immediately wanted to be a part of it. Soon after that, I became more interested with the symphonic side of things - specifically timpani. Seeing John Tafoya (former timpanist of National Symphony) play at a young age showed me that timpani can be an incredibly dynamic, powerful, and beautiful instrument. Over the years, I began to narrow my focus to nearly 100% timpani.

KA: What has your first year in the MET Orchestra been like? 

PL: It has been the most profound learning experience of my life. I think it’s a common narrative among new members, but I had very little opera experience coming in. The learning curve has been steep, but extremely rewarding. I also couldn’t ask for more supportive colleagues, who I’m very thankful for.

KA: Yes, I couldn’t agree more! Have there been any surprises?

PL: I was surprised by having to keep things on the “back burner” for a much longer time than I was used to. In the symphonic world, you rehearse a program for a week, play a couple of shows, and move on. In the MET Orchestra, I had to get used to keeping multiple operas on my mind for months at a time. 

KA: What do you enjoy about living in NYC?

PL: The diversity and energy of the city; there’s always something to do!

KA: What will you be doing this summer?

PL: I’ll be traveling, mostly. I’ll be spending time in Maine, Canada, and France - all while learning the 12 operas I’m playing next season, of course!

KA: Enjoy your travels! Thank you for speaking with me and welcome to the MET Orchestra!