Andy received his Masters Degree in Music Theory from the University of Texas in 1993, and from there embarked on a musical career that took him to theatres all across the country as a musician on national tours such as Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, and The Lion King.
Andy eventually landed on Broadway, where he currently works as a keyboardist and Assistant Conductor for Disney's The Little Mermaid and can be heard on the show's bestselling cast album along with Sierra Boggess, Millikin Alum 2004. Other major Broadway and tour credits include Music Director for Altar Boyz, Peter and the Starcatcher, Associate Conductor for Elton John's Lestat, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Andy is also active as a freelance arranger and orchestrator, and creates pop sheet music arrangements for the Hal Leonard Corporation. He currently serves as an adjunct professor of Music Theory at Pace University in Manhattan.
Published in the Spring 2016 CFA Partrons Society newsletter Spotlight.
Andy Grobengieser is a New York City-based music director and creative professional with experience in music supervision, music directing, conducting, piano/keyboards, music transcription, music copying, arranging, orchestration and music technology.
Currently working as assistant conductor/keyboards for Broadway Disney’s “Aladdin,” Grobengieser previously worked as assistant conductor/keyboards for Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” associate conductor/keyboards for “Ghost the Musical,” and associate conductor/keyboards for Elton John’s “Lestat.” He has toured with a number of major national tours, including Disney’s “The Lion King” (associate conductor/keyboards), “Shrek the Musical” (musical director/conductor) and most recently, “Peter and the Starcatcher” (musical director/piano). He has also performed as a part-time musician in several Broadway pit orchestras over the past decade, including “Newsies” “Les Miserables,” “The Full Monty,” “A Chorus Line” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
Since 2001, Grobengieser has been an arranger and transcriber for Hal Leonard Corp., the world’s largest publisher and distributor of printed and digital sheet music. His arrangements appear in hundreds of best-selling pop, rock, country and R&B sheet music folios and songbooks. He also works as a professional transcriptionist for various film, television and theater projects, and worked with Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken on his latest TV project, ABC’s “Galavant.”
After graduating from Millikin in 1991, Grobengieser completed a master’s degree in music theory in 1993 at The University of Texas – Austin, where he also completed subsequent doctorate work. He spent three years on the adjunct music theory faculty at Pace University in Manhattan, N.Y., and has served as a contributor to several academic textbooks.
Andy, you have had a wide variety of professional experiences. What keeps you motivated and gives you the most satisfaction?
I would say without a doubt that the sheer variety of work is what keeps me motivated. There are some days when I’ll spend the morning at home arranging sheet music, the afternoon in a rehearsal studio in Manhattan accompanying singers’ auditions at the piano, and the evening in a Broadway theater with a baton in my hand. And then the next day is something completely different. I can trace that variety all the way back to my days at Millikin, where the commercial music program allowed me to stretch myself across a number of disciplines, from classical piano to jazz ensembles to recording studio projects.
What is your most memorable moment and/or proudest accomplishment so far?
As far as a memorable moment, I’ll always go back to the night in 2009 when I got to perform with Sir Paul McCartney as part of a one-night-only concert benefitting the Actors’ Fund. It was surreal to hear Paul’s voice atop my piano accompaniment. Proudest moment was probably in 2008 when my parents saw me conduct a show on Broadway for the first time, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
How do you stay ahead of new industry trends, especially in music technology?
My primary industries (theatrical performance and music arranging) don’t move at quite the technological speed as the recording and live concert industries, so staying “current” is equivalent to staying “ahead.” That being said, it’s so much easier now to be aware of new products and technological advances with social media, music blogs, and product videos and demos on YouTube. When I was first getting into technology in the ’80s and ’90s, you had to wait for the industry magazines to come out every month to find out what was new and exciting.
When you come to campus this April to teach master classes for MU students, what advice do you plan to give them?
I’ll be doing a variety of talks and activities with students in different classes and majors, but one thing I hope to stress to all of them is how important it is to maintain a balance between a narrow focus on your specialty and keeping your eyes open wide to the possibilities of different types of professional work. A big part of keeping those options open is successful professional networking. Letting people know what you’re good at, what you’ve done and what you’d like to do. Staying on your contacts’ radar without being too pushy. Confidence without cockiness.
What is the best career advice you received?
Know the value that your skills bring. Volunteering your services to a charity, a school, a church or a cause are all wonderful things – but beyond that, don’t work for free. Your skills, training and creativity all have value to the world.
What are your future plans?
As long as the interesting projects keep coming, I’m open to any number of things in any number of places. I do, however, want to eventually phase back into the academic world. I’ve taught as an adjunct in NYC, but I can see myself playing a bigger part on a faculty somewhere, not necessarily New York.
Have you worked with other Millikin alumni on Broadway during your career?
Yes! Typically I’ve worked with former MU theatre students moreso than music students. I see Millikin on the resumes of many of the young actors and singers that I encounter in auditions. But easily the most famous alum I’ve actually worked with is Sierra Boggess ’04. I was on Broadway’s “The Little Mermaid” with her from 2007-09.
How did your time at Millikin prepare you for what you’re doing today? Is there one thing you learned you use each day?
As relevant as all of my classroom work was, what stands out about my experience at Millikin is the sheer number of performance opportunities I had with ensembles, both large and small. There’s only one way to become a better musician, and that is to interact, play and communicate with other musicians constantly. There was a philosophy that everyone gets placed in an ensemble of some sort from day one, and it’s incredibly valuable to get that kind of performance experience in addition to academic work.
Did any particular Millikin professors or administrators make a special impact on your learning experience?
I’ll single out just a few: Judith Mancinelli, my piano instructor, who took me in as a rather undertrained pianist right out of a small-town high school and treated me as if I could play anything. She presented me with challenging material and pushed me to perform it in recital in front of my peers. Steve Widenhofer, who broadened me into a jazz and commercial pianist and got me heavily involved in performing ensembles of all types. Dave Burdick, who treated me as a collaborator and professional as much as a student, inviting me onto lots of professional gigs in the real world. All three of them I consider to be personal mentors.
Can you tell us a little bit about your LEGO designs? What inspires your LEGO creations, including your incredibly accurate synthesizers, plus tributes to “Hamilton,” the new Broadway musical, as well as the cult classic, “Flight of the Conchords”?
Like most kids, I enjoyed building with LEGO blocks and watched with mild interest over the years as the medium expanded and grew into more and more advanced models. But a couple years ago, I started experimenting with some pieces I had lying around, and I discovered I had the ability to visualize some niche designs. What’s more, I found it a great stress reliever from the hustle and bustle of NYC life. So lately, I’ve been building things like detailed miniature synthesizers, which have been getting lots of press. I made “Hamilton” as an architectural exercise to see if I could build a stable five-pointed star. And “Conchords” is simply fan art that went viral on Twitter a few months back. My projects are at andygrob1.wix.com/grobiebrix.
You served as musical director for last fall’s release of “Broadway’s Carols for a Cure, Volume 17” to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA), billed as one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. What compelled you to devote your time and talents to this project?
BC/EFA is an astounding organization that has been doing life-changing work for decades – even expanding to help fund disaster relief efforts, women’s health issues and more – and the annual “Carols for a Cure” is a chance for Broadway casts and music teams to donate their time and creative talents to them. I work with Broadway’s “Aladdin” and was asked to be the MD/arranger for their contribution this year. It’s a win-win for everyone involved; audiences get to purchase a fun holiday CD full of new takes on familiar holiday music, casts get to put their talents together in creative new ways and most importantly, 100 percent of the sales benefit BC/EFA so they can continue their important work.
Why is it important to support the fine arts in our society?
Political arguments aside, I think most humans with consciences and souls realize, deep down, that the arts live alongside language as one of the most essential forms of self-expression. Children sing melodies, doodle pictures and play pretend as naturally as they speak. They aren’t taught to do these things. So that aspect of our souls needs to be nurtured and fed throughout our lives; to be deprived of it leaves us unfulfilled. Arts can stimulate our brain and move our heart, often at the same time. Our society can debate about the economics of it all, but brain and heart drive creativity across nearly every walk of life.