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A native of Plano, Texas, Robert Hoveland started playing trombone when he was 11 years old. It all started when, “they handed me a trombone at the sixth grade instrument fair and said, ‘Here, you’d be good at this,’” and he’s been playing ever since. He holds a bachelor’s from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York; a master’s from the University of Texas at Austin; and will get his DMA from Boston University this fall. In addition to his studies, Rob is also the principal trombone for the Plymouth Philharmonic and has played with The Rhode Island Philharmonic, Albany Symphony, Portland Symphony, and other regional groups.
IN THE HEIGHTS is Rob’s second show at SpeakEasy, having played for THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. Recently, we talked to Rob about his career and the challenges presented by IN THE HEIGHTS.
What instruments do you regularly play?
Lots of different types of trombone: alto, tenor, and bass. Unfortunately, I can’t play the piano at all, but I wish I could.
How difficult is the music for IN THE HEIGHTS?
My part is actually quite difficult. Lots and lots of high playing and off beats, plus a few opportunities to blow some changes which I find challenging.
What is the most challenging thing about playing this show?
Just getting in the grooves of some styles of music that you may not listen to on your own very much. I can honestly say that I could probably live without reggae in my life.
The Roberts Studio Theatre – where the show is performed – does not have a traditional “pit” in front of the stage for the musicians to sit in and play the show; thus, the band’s location varies according to the set design for each show. Where is the pit for this production?
On a catwalk in the rafters. I am always afraid I am going to drop a mute or something and it will fall on to the stage, which I suppose could be pretty funny. (That could be anyone’s trombone mute, right?)
How challenging is it to play in that space?
I definitely wish there was more space, although I usually feel that way no matter where I play. The pit is so tight that you really can’t get by anyone. So, before we go out to [take our] places, we all line up in order [of where we sit]. It’s kind of funny and makes me feel like I’m in second grade again.
Actors often say that the audience makes each performance unique. What’s it like playing the same show 6-8 times a week? Does it ever get old? Do different audiences offer different energies to musicians too?
You can definitely feel a vibe based on the audience. Having a good audience makes everything groove so much better. But if you feel like you are constantly trying to impress someone who maybe doesn’t want to be there, the show can turn in to real work.
How much rehearsal time went into preparing for IN THE HEIGHTS?
Not too much for us. The band had about three rehearsals before we started the run.
What exactly is a sitzprobe?
A sitzprobe is essentially the first time the band and the actors get together to play and sing through the show. It’s really so that the band gets caught up to speed with the cast, who have often been rehearsing for weeks.
How often do you play shows?
Not too much, maybe twice a year. Most of my work usually comes from symphonies.
What is your favorite type of music to perform?
Classical, but specifically Brahms. Or a good Mendelssohn Oratorio. Or a Mahler Symphony. Or a Mozart Mass. It’s hard to choose.
What do you do for fun when not playing?
I actually homebrew my own beer. Like any good trombone player, I enjoy a brew or two; five years ago I decided to start making my own.
What is your dream gig?
A major symphony job, but I need to keep practicing for that.