“Freakin’ Lucky”: Busy Grammy Award-Winning USM Grad to Return for First Faculty Series Concert
PORTLAND, Maine – So far this past summer, Andrew Pelletier, Grammy Award-winning freelance horn player and University of Southern Maine (USM) graduate, class of 1995, summa cum laude, has performed three concerts in Pasadena, Calif., at the month-long Southwest Chamber Music Festival; taught at two youth summer camps, one in Ohio and the other in Michigan; and attended a weeklong session in Memphis, Tenn., at the International Horn Symposium, where he did three solo performances, gave a lecture and warm-up performance, plus played in two all-star horn ensemble concerts.
Right about now, he’s giving two performances at the Detroit International Jazz Festival for the Dave Brubeck Tribute and backing up jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman. He’s also getting ready for a recital of newly commissioned music for horn and electronics, plus preparing for a Mozart concert. Before returning next month to his alma mater for his first Maine performance in about seven years, he will teach a master class and give a recital at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
Did we mention he’s a tenured associate professor of horn at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and just finished reviewing 15 student auditions for placement in the university’s musical groups? Phew!
“It’s not atypical, but not every summer is this packed,” Pelletier laughed during a recent interview.
Such is the remarkable musical life of this successful and highly talented Lewiston native, who admits about his career that “in many ways I was freakin’ lucky” and credits the USM School of Music for his accomplishments.
Not only does Pelletier continue to travel and perform around the country, but he also has recorded his own horn album, and he has played on such film soundtracks as “Battle: Los Angeles” and “The X-Men” and various television movies for Lifetime TV and the Syfy Channel.
Calling the USM School of Music “the best music school north of Boston,” Pelletier praised the school’s curriculum, performance opportunities, instrumental faculty and conducting staff for his success.
“I couldn’t better imagine a better college experience ...,” he said, adding that he tries to recreate that same experience for his own students. “It’s all done at such a uniformly high level. It’s an outstanding school,” providing “extraordinary training, extraordinary development, and a really wonderful, close community.”
“Andy Pelletier is the perfect example of what kind of transformative experience attending the USM School of Music can be for a talented, motivated student,” said Alan Kaschub, USM School of Music director. “He came to school hungry to learn and found USM a place with plenty to offer. He not only benefitted from USM's high standards and excellent faculty, but because of his talent and hard work, he was getting professional experience in Portland while still a student.
“Today, he is one of the best horn players in the world while still retaining the very best of what it is to be a Mainer,” Kaschub said.
Commenting about his unusually full schedule, Pelletier said it all began when he first was at Lewiston High School, dividing his time between school and the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble and Symphony. The demanding schedule continued into his USM days, when the Portland Symphony Orchestra (PSO) began using him as an extra horn player starting in his freshman year. As it worked out, he was attending school full time and every evening was full.
“I was really used to living that kind of schedule since I was 17,” he said. “I’m really used to it; it’s kind of normal for me.”
Born and raised in Lewiston, Pelletier was in the fifth grade at Holy Cross School when he first learned about the horn by hearing the Bates College Faculty Brass Quintet play.
“I knew about the trumpet, the trombone and the tuba, but I didn’t know anything about the horn, and I fell in love with it,” he said. Pelletier said he started playing the next year in sixth grade at an age that is “actually not very uncommon for brass players,” who have to wait until their mouths and teeth are fully developed to get the right embouchure, or mouth placement, on the instrument mouthpiece.
While attending Lewiston High School, Pelletier began to study with John Boden, USM artist faculty and PSO principal horn. He also attended USM’s summer music camps, and when it came time for college, “USM was the obvious choice,” he said.
Asked to recall one particular event at USM that stood out for him, Pelletier could reply only that there were “thousands of them” – performing, attending master classes and seeing guest artists such as renowned horn virtuoso Michael Thompson. “You could have the experience of seeing these great artists in your own school,” he emphasized.
What impressed him most, Pelletier said, was “seeing faculty all the time,” as both teachers and performers.
“Everyone was really interested in how you were doing -- everyone was really involved,” the musician said. “I never got the feeling you could slip through the cracks. People really wanted you to succeed.”
It also was “a huge educational experience” to encounter USM faculty playing as performers on stage and in the community, “watching them actively do it and sitting there performing with them,” Pelletier said.
“The USM experience didn’t hit me until I went to grad school in California,” he continued. Up against students from such top music schools as Indiana University, Eastman School of Music and the New England Conservatory, “at USC, I was one of only handful of students who passed all the exams … It became obvious to me that I got a better education that they did.”
During graduate school, Pelletier began to freelance in Los Angeles, playing for the movie and television studios and becoming the flexible performer he turned into. He spent almost a decade as a freelance performer after getting his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Southern California. Studio work required a whole new set of skills in contrast to his training, as the instrumental music is chopped into three-to-four-minute long segments and then pieced together for the final production.
“It required you to turn on all your concentration at once when needed and focus incredibly for that one section,” compared to preparing one, long continuous piece, he said.
It was while playing with Southwest Chamber Music, which he still does, that Pelletier became a Grammy Award winner. The musical group took two awards for Best Small Ensemble in 2004 and 2005 for a four-CD project of playing the music of Carlos Chavez, a Mexican composer and conductor. Pelletier was featured in the piece, “Sonata for Four Horns.”
The USM grad still is the “musical chameleon” that he calls himself. He is the principal horn with the Michigan Opera Theatre at the Detroit Opera House and the Ann Arbor Symphony, plus a regular performer with the Detroit and Toledo symphonies. As a university professor, he teaches and regularly produces pedagogical articles.
Ask him what he likes to do best, however, and he answers simply, “Play horn -- that’s the best answer.
“No matter what I play, I enjoy the act of playing the instrument,” Pelletier said. “For me, it’s about enjoying everything. If I play, I’m having a good time.”
Andrew Pelletier will be one of the performers in the upcoming concert, “Maine-ly British Brass: A Tribute to the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the London Brass,” at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 13, Corthell Concert Hall, Gorham Campus. The USM Faculty Concert Series tribute concert commemorates British trumpeter Philip Jones and his unique brass ensemble, featuring Betty Rines, USM trumpet faculty member, and conducted by Peter Martin, USM professor of Music.