News>Feature - Travis contractor takes bow during break time
Leon Echols, a landscaper on Travis Air Force Base with Pride Industries, plays his violin in Baroque-style clothing July 25 outside the base theater. Echols was inspired to learn the violin from listening to the work of John Williams, the composer for the Indiana Jones films. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Madelyn Brown)
Leon Echols, a landscaper on Travis Air Force Base with Pride Industries, plays his violin in Baroque-style clothing July 25 outside the base theater. Echols carries his violin with him to work every day and practices during his breaks. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Madelyn Brown)
Leon Echols, a landscaper on Travis Air Force Base with Pride Industries, plays his violin in Baroque-style clothing July 25 outside the base theater. Echols is known for playing his violin wherever his landscaping job takes him on Travis. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Madelyn Brown)
by Senior Airman Madelyn Brown
60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
8/1/2014 - TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- If you've traveled around Travis Air Force Base in the past three years, there's a chance your ears have caught a hint of string music reminiscent of a "Star Wars" overture or Bach.
Maybe you even witnessed the source of the music -- A slim man in a fluorescent orange Pride contractor vest, gliding the horse hairs of his bow across the taut strings of a spruce-wood violin.
Whether he's at the center of the Travis baseball diamond, next to the bushes of the wing headquarters building or alone atop the pyramid-style base theater steps, Leon Echols plays his violin during every break from his landscaping job.
"Beethoven said it best," Echols said. " 'To play without passion is inexcusable.' "
Echols referenced this mantra when asked if he ever felt out of place when playing for whoever happens to be walking by on the base. For him, his violin invites inquiring minds to strike up a conversation and be aware of their surroundings, he said.
"I don't feel out of place because the music brings me back to basics," the Fairfield, California, native said. "People are out of touch, but instruments can bring people together. If it results in a human interaction that otherwise wouldn't have happened, then I'm all for it."
As one of six children, Echols comes from a musically inclined family. His father performs lead vocals and percussion for the local pop/rock/R&B band, the Solano County Time Bandits, to this day.
His inspiration to select the violin of all instruments stemmed from watching the professor, archeologist and adventurer, Indiana Jones.
"My favorite piece from John Williams is called 'Marion's Theme' in the 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' movie," Echols said. "That's what really drew me to the violin because you couldn't get the same effect from that song using a rock instrument."
The aspiring virtuoso began working at Travis Air Force Base in 1999 in a different position than his current landscaping job. Around three years ago, he started towing his violin to work with him, serenading the base and creating tranquility throughout his work day.
"Music is a great way of relieving stress," he said. "You're merging with the sound itself and you become one with the music. You really do go into a zen place and become immersed in it. Music pulls from both the creative and analytical sides of your brain."
Echols isn't done bringing a human element to the violin. He has plans to visit senior centers and hospitals in the community.
"I just like to see us get back to a communal and more personal level," he said. "I want us all to get back to being human."
The same attention to detail Echols devotes to manicuring the base's exterior is applied to his practicing his violin. In the near future, Echols will be working on his spiccato, staccato and vibrado techniques.