Andrew Conover (MM ’23) studies classical trumpet at MSM and talks with us about the brass program at MSM, his role as a substitute musician in The Phantom of the Opera, and what he’s looking forward to in the upcoming school year.
At MSM, Andrew is finishing his Master’s degree as the recipient of the Joseph F. McCrindle Scholarship.
He has performed with the West Point Band, Brooklyn Chamber Orchestra, Interlochen Arts Camp Faculty Brass Ensemble, Eastern Music Festival Faculty Orchestra, and is currently a substitute trumpet player at The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.
Andrew has recorded on the Oberlin Music Label as part of the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, and is a graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy, receiving his Bachelor’s degree at Oberlin Conservatory.
Andrew has studied with Tom Smith, Roy Poper, Ken Larson, and Stephen Loreti.
Tell us about your role with Phantom of the Opera, what has it been like for you?
Andrew: I am a substitute trumpet player at The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. I’m the pit orchestra equivalent to an understudy where, if one of the regular trumpet players is unavailable to do a show, I have the chance to fill in. I have been fortunate to perform both trumpet parts over the last few months.
This has been a dream come true. I’ve wanted to be on Broadway ever since I was a kid, so getting to be a small part of the longest-running show in Broadway history is incredible. It can be nerve-wracking at times (it certainly was the first couple of shows), but once the overture starts, the organ buzzes through the theater and the chandelier rises to the top of the audience, all my nerves wash away. I am very grateful for every opportunity I get to be there, and everyone has been so kind and welcoming to me. What made the experience even more special was that my family was able to see my first show. It really meant a lot to me to get to share this momentous moment with them.
I’ve wanted to be on Broadway ever since I was a kid, so getting to be a small part of the longest-running show in Broadway history is incredible.
How did you prepare for your first show? Can you share any practice tips?
Andrew: I had about two weeks to prepare for my first show at Phantom. I was given a copy of the book (my part) and a recording I could use to follow along with the show. I worked on the harder numbers first and then gradually worked up to playing the entire show. I also “performed” some simulated shows using the recording I was given; I would have my headphones on, and I’d play along to the show in real time. I even set a timer for the length of intermission so I could get used to how it would feel. Even though I wouldn’t be playing the entire time, I wanted to get used to sitting for the whole show and practice listening for the cues I needed to hear before my next entrance.
A few days before my first performance, I was able to “watch the book” by sitting in the pit during a performance and watching the conductor conduct the show while I followed along with my part. This gave me my first chance to hear how it sounded in the pit instead of with the recording I was using. I was able to pick up on things like balance and articulation, which made my first performance easier. A few days after that, I was playing the show in front of an audience.
What have you learned from this experience?
Andrew: There are two key things I learned from preparing for Phantom. First, learn the entire show. It’s one thing to know your part, but there are moments when you don’t play for a while. You also need to take cues from the conductor as well as the actors’ dialogue and singing. It can be tricky. Learning the entire show made it easier for me to see where my piece of the puzzle fit.
Second, you have to be adaptive. Every single performance is different. When I arrive at the theater, the only information I know ahead of time is what part I’m playing and who the other trumpet player will be. I don’t normally know who will be on the podium or singing on stage until I arrive at the theater. Each conductor has their own way of leading the show, and things can happen on stage that affect what happens in the pit. So, you have to be ready to adjust on the fly.
How are you juggling this work with your studies at MSM?
Andrew: It is definitely an adjustment trying to balance finishing my degree with performing at Phantom, as well as playing on other gigs. But I’m so lucky to be a part of a very supportive studio that lends a hand when someone needs it. There were times last year when someone in the trumpet studio (including myself) would have to call out of a school rehearsal for a gig. We would all pitch in and sub to support each other.
That being said, finishing my degree is a priority for me. I’m trying to get the most out of my education while also working on building a full-time music career for myself once I graduate. This is still very much a work in progress, but I’m excited to see where the journey takes me.
Tell us about the brass program at MSM. What do you most enjoy about it?
Andrew: I love the brass department at MSM. The trumpet faculty (especially my teacher Tom Smith) are fantastic to work with and always give great advice. The trumpet studio at MSM is also very close, and I love getting together with friends to play duets or read orchestral excerpts. Everyone in the brass department is really supportive and wants to see each person succeed. I have learned so much from everyone here, and they make me want to be a better musician.
What are some highlights from your first year of your Master’s?
Andrew: One of my favorite concerts from last year was with the MSM Brass Ensemble, working with so many incredibly talented musicians. We got to play some spectacular music and work with the amazing John Sheppard (BM ‘86). I also got to play principal trumpet on Holst’s “The Planets” with the MSM Symphony Orchestra, which was a great honor for me. “The Planets” is one of my favorite pieces and getting to lead the brass section was a thrill. But my most favorite memories from MSM involve the friends I’ve made throughout the year. There is a wonderful community here. I have met such incredible people across so many different departments. It’s fantastic seeing everyone support each other at orchestra concerts, student recitals, operas, theater shows, chamber concerts, jazz shows, etc. It’s a community I’m grateful to be a member of.
My most favorite memories from MSM involve the friends I’ve made throughout the year… It’s a community I’m grateful to be a member of.
What’s coming up next for you? Tell us what you’re looking forward to in the new academic year!
Andrew: Right now, I’m getting into the swing of things with the new semester. I have a couple of gigs around the city which I’m really looking forward to. I also have a few shows at Phantom coming up which are always a blast. We’re going to be starting rehearsals for the first MSM symphony concert of the season soon, which I’m excited to be a part of! I also plan to keep building my skills as a musician. But what I’m most excited for in this upcoming year is to keep making memories with my friends in the MSM community. Whether that’s exploring the city, catching a concert, or just eating lunch in the student lounge at school, I can’t wait to see what this year will bring.