BWW Interviews: THE BOOK OF MORMON Percussionist Giancarlo de Trizio
How many times have you gone to see a theatrical production, and you are blown away by the music? I speak for myself when I say the music is what makes these productions so great, so emotional, so memorable. Believe it or not, folks, those are real people with some really incredible talent in that orchestra pit who don't always get the recognition they deserve. Without the orchestra, we lose those big bang musical numbers, the sound effects, and mood of each and every scene.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with one of these musicians who is currently playing percussion on tour with one of the most popular shows out there, THE BOOK OF MORMON.
Gianarlo de Trizio, originally from Italy, is truly dedicated to his craft. He was trained classically before coming to the United States to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he found a love for working in musical theatre. To put his dedication to music into perspective, he played 400 shows in a row with this tour before taking a break. "The goal," he said, "was to do all of them with the same energy/intensity so any audience could still see the same show we performed at opening night of the tour." Impressive.
Check out my interview with Giancarlo below, where we discussed why percussion is so important to THE BOOK OF MORMON and what it takes to have the energy to perform this show eight times a week.
How did you first become interested in music?
I'm originally from Italy, but I've been in the States for six years now. It was kind of a family thing. My parents don't really play any instruments, but they've always been interested in music. In middle school they decided to send me to a school that had classes for music and at that time I was playing piano. My parents did the same thing with my brother. So basically my brother was playing piano and I grew up listening to him play and I kind of wanted to do the same. We had an orchestra in middle school and there was only a place for one pianist at the time, so whenever I wasn't playing piano they would give me percussion to play... tambourine or snare drum or something like that. At that time I really fell in love with it. I just enjoyed playing percussion much more than the piano, and I would rather spend like eight hours a day studying percussion instead of piano. That's how I started playing drums.
What is it that you like about playing the drums more so than piano?
That's an interesting question. I believe there is a relationship between the instrument and the personality of the person, so I think drums fit my personality better. I understood this later. At the moment when it happened I had no idea. Even because of the role that drums add in the band... it's mostly supportive. We're never really in the spotlight. We're kind of behind the scenes supporting whoever is in the spotlight, and I'm that kind of person where I like to see somebody doing well but knowing that I am behind that person who is doing well.
You went to Berklee College of Music, correct?
Yes, in Boston. I started in Fall 2007 and I graduated in the Spring 2010, so it took me three years instead of four. And then I moved to New York right after, which is where I auditioned for my first tour. It was a non-equity tour of IN THE HEIGHTS. I did that for eight months, and then right after that... two weeks after that tour ended I started rehearsing for THE BOOK OF MORMON tour. That was July 2012.
Did you study anything related to theatre while you were in school, or did you study strictly music?
When I was there I did a lot of theatre, but still the music aspect of theatre. I've never been an actor. I used to be a member of the musical theatre orchestra at Berklee, and I did that for two years I believe. And then I was basically the first call drummer at school for any theatre related activities. Whenever they had a show or sometimes a student would write regional music or regional books for a theatre show they would call me. I think that worked out really well because I didn't mention that before coming to Berkley I did a conservatory in Italy. I did classical percussion... timpani, marimba, xylophone, all that stuff. I think part of the training in classical percussion is being able to play in an orchestra following a conductor, which is essential to what I do now because in every theatre show there is a conductor that you have to follow. You need to have that extra skill that if you're not classically trained it's hard to have. In fact, a lot of Broadway musicians are classically trained, especially percussionists because, again, you need to be able to follow a conductor. But, drums were... I can still play classical percussion, but drums were my love at first sight. I enjoy that more than anything else, and theatre for me was perfect because I combined the desire of playing drums with the skills that I had gained from my classical training. There's not really a drum set in a classical orchestra, so the only way for me to play drums in a similar environment was in theatre where there is a conductor. It was the perfect combination for me, and that's why I chose theatre.
Currently you are on THE BOOK OF MORMON tour. Can you tell me what the show is about?
The show is about two missionaries, two Mormon missionaries. They basically get paired together, but they have very different personalities and they get sent to Uganda, which is a world they would have never expected. When they get there they find a reality that they had never been exposed to. There's famine, AIDS, a warlord that mutilates women, and a lot of issues like that. One of them, the one who is supposed to be perfect, looking at this for a moment decides that he wants to leave. The other one who was supposed to be the one who was not as prepared and has never actually read The Book of Mormon... he's the one who stays there and speaks with those people and help them out even if it doesn't really teach them what's in The Book of Mormon. He still helps them out with inventive stories that, at the end of the day, the moral of the show is that it doesn't matter if those stories are real or not as long as the message is a good message and makes people's lives better. The whole show is really a parody of religion. I mean it touches on Mormonism, but you can really apply it to any religion.
How did you get involved with this show?
Well as I said, before this I did the IN THE HEIGHTS tour. That tour was similar to this show in that it was very drums and percussion heavy. The music supervisor from that tour helped me with this. Then I had to audition, so while I was still on the IN THE HEIGHTS tour I auditioned for THE BOOK OF MORMON tour. They basically gave me three songs to prepare. I went to New York for the audition, and the audition went well. What I know as the reason why they chose me is because it sounded to them like I knew the show, like I had been in the show already. That's because I really prepared myself and, of course, because of the skills that I already had from the IN THE HEIGHTS tour and from school. I played a lot of percussion other that the drums. There's a lot of African rhythms involved in the show, and I studied West African drumming for a while when I was at Berklee, so it kind of made sense. Again, the classical preparation with the percussion skills that I gained at Berklee, from traditional rhythms from Africa and all of that... it just came in handy when the audition came about.
I don't know a whole lot about the music in this show. Is there something about the music that makes percussion so important in this show?
Well I can tell you that there are sections where all you hear is percussion, which puts a lot of pressure I guess on me. But I like it because I feel important in the show. I know that if something goes wrong with me then it's going to affect the show a lot, so it is a lot of pressure but it keeps me on my toes and it's a challenge. And I do like challenges. I also have control over sound effects that are important for the people on stage. There's a scene where you hear a strange doorbell or a bicycle horn, and it's all synced with movements on stage. So, if something goes wrong with me they do the movement doesn't have the same importance because it's not supported by the sound I'm supposed to play. It is a very important role. That's also the reason why we did the cast rehearsal. In old shows the cast rehearsals usually are only with the rehearsal pianist, but new shows like this we use the drummer for rehearsal as well because there are moments when all you hear is drums and percussion. When they practice choreography they need to hear that because that's what they're dancing on.
Does the entire orchestra tour with this show, or is touring something unique to your role?
Half of the orchestra is touring. The orchestra is a nine-piece orchestra. Five of us are touring with the show. Those include myself, bass, guitars, and the music director and associate... and they both play keyboard. And then every place we go to, so in your case it would be New Orleans, we hire four local musicians. Those are trumpet, trombone, violin and viola, and reeds. When we get to a new place, on the first Tuesday, we have a morning rehearsal. It's a five-hour rehearsal from 10am to 3pm so the touring band can rehearse with the locals.
What is that like for you to be able to work with different musicians in every city that you are in?
I love it because it brings new energy to the show every other week. We're usually in a city for two weeks. If you do the same show every night for a year and you get the same people, it's really hard to keep it genuine and new. But this way, it's much easier because you constantly have new people bringing some new energy and a different touch to it. I do like it. And the funny part is that sometimes you hear things that you haven't heard before, and you discover new things. The show is the same, but you still can discover new elements because of the way different people play them.
What sort of preparation does it take for you to do your job eight times a week? And each show is a few hours, so you're doing this for hours at a time.
Yeah, the show is two hours and a half. It takes a little bit to get used to it for sure. I always say that we should manage a reasonable balance in our daily routine, meaning that we need to get enough sleep, stay hydrated, do some exercise. That is really crucial. If you are sick and you have to play a show it's not really fun. And musical training, I do warm ups before the show a little bit. Not too much, but maybe fifteen minutes. I always listen to other music because all you do is play that show and your mind kind of gets in a weird place where you're kind of stuck with it and you can't think about anything else. It can get almost depressing. But you can easily avoid this by just listening to other music during the day or going to concerts. Sometimes I, and I hope to do this in New Orleans, I sit in with local bands and just play something else. That way I bring some freshness and afterwards when I go and do the show I play even better because it's almost new to me because I'm coming from something else that I'm listening to during the day. It helps me keep the show fresh, which is essential I think.
Where do you see your career as a musician going in the next five to ten years? Is theatre something that you would like to continue being a part of? Any other aspirations?
Absolutely. Well, the goal after the tour is to go back to New York and start working on Broadway. Probably subbing on shows at first because that's usually how the process goes. The great part about New York is that there's so much going on. You can do different things. I definitely plan on theatre in New York, but I would like to work on my personal project, play studio sessions and concerts in different styles, and also I like teaching a lot. I'll be working on a book and doing clinics. I've already done a couple of clinics around the country. I really have the mentoring instinct. I like to share emotions and experience with students. It's fun when I'm on the road because I can be in different places and set up clinics, but I don't really have much time to work on them so when I'm off the road I can really focus on that. I can get some new students. I really like doing that.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
Yeah, well I think the advice is to be versatile and play as many genres and instruments as you can because you never know what something requires. The music of a show changes from time to time and you are really expected to be comfortable with all the musical styles. IN THE HEIGHTS was probably the first show to have salsa music. That had never happened before. Nobody ever thought a theatre show would have salsa and hip-hop in it. But in that case, I got the gig because I was prepared to play those styles. In THE BOOK OF MORMON there's a lot of percussion as well, but African styles. So yeah, really my biggest advice is to be prepared, and the way to be prepared is to listen to different music and playing them in different situations. It's going to come back to you. One day a person is going to come to you and ask you to play a certain style and if you have played it already that person can tell. If you haven't played it, it's going to slow the process down because you're not ready to do what people are asking you to do. In the theatre at this time, music is moving really forward. They're bringing new elements, a lot of electronics. So you just have to be ready. Another advice is to be comfortable with electronics as well, because we deal with them daily. It's valuable to what we do daily.
Are you excited about being able to come to New Orleans? Our city is very musically influenced.
I am very excited. I have never been there, and I know it's such a musical place. I can't wait for it. A lot of my favorite musicians come from there, and they have a different feel. I mean it's funny, you can't really describe it, but you can tell when someone is from there and they bring it to their music. And even in their personality you can see it. So I can't wait. And everybody I've been talking to from New Orleans all said, "You're gonna love it, it's a great place, it's very magical." Also I think there's a lot of Italian areas there too because there was a lot of immigrants who moved to New Orleans when the land was free, so people could come and make businesses.
We are very excited to have you and THE BOOK OF MORMON tour in New Orleans as well, Giancarlo!
Be sure to check out THE BOOK OF MORMON from October 15-27 at the recently renovated and re-opened historical Saenger Theatre. This is the first Broadway tour that has graced the Saenger's stage for quite some time, so it's sure to be a special occasion. Visit www.saengernola.com for tickets and other information.
And, who knows, you may even find Giancarlo jamming with the locals while you're wandering the streets of the French Quarter in the next two weeks!