CCM Trumpet alum tours USA with 'The Book of Mormon'

Sean McKay shares what it's like to perform in the pit of the Broadway musical's national tour

Story by CCM Graduate Student Chet Rhodes

UC College-Conservatory of Music alum Sean McKay (MM Trumpet, ‘20) recently began his second year performing in the pit orchestra of The Book of Mormon National Tour. Returning with a full slot of performances after a pandemic-induced hiatus, this nine-time Tony Award-winning musical adds numerous new stops for its 2023-24 season — including Cincinnati. 

Sean McKay

Sean McKay. Photo/provided.

“The life of a touring pit musician is crazy,” says McKay, “I love it!” Looking forward to the nearly 50 stops this season, McKay recalls the process of winning his position.

After working together on multiple CCM productions during their time in school, Jeremy Lyons (MM Orchestral Conducting, ’20) encouraged McKay to submit an audition tape for the national tour of Anastasia, which Lyons was conducting in 2021. 

McKay submitted an audition tape to the music contractor for the touring company, but he didn't hear back about performing in the pit for Anastasia. In the fall of 2022 when McKay was about to begin his DMA studies at CCM, the same music contractor reached out to offer him the gig for The Book of Mormon.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the pit orchestras during my time at CCM," says McKay, whose orchestra pit performances include CCM's productions of The Secret Garden and 42nd Street. "It was what I had wanted to do since arriving at the school, and I was ecstatic about every chance I had to be in the pit."

With less than a month to prepare between being hired and beginning rehearsals, McKay credits much of his success to the training he received while at CCM.

“The lessons I learned from CCM were all about how to be a professional in the music industry," he says. "I really learned how to show up to rehearsals prepared and ready to work. That was crucial for me going into The Book of Mormon's first rehearsal."

"Knowing how to prepare music to the highest level, being open minded to critique and collaborating with my peers to make music at CCM really have stuck with me through the years since graduating,” he adds. McKay graciously thanks retired CCM Trumpet Professor Alan Siebert, and current Professors Philip Collins and Michael Mergen for the lessons he learned studying with them.

In addition to the exciting and rewarding musical opportunities the life of a traveling pit musician offers, McKay says that “the best part of my job is that during the days, I get to go explore all of the places and cities that we go to!”

At the beginning of a tour stop the company holds load-in days when the stage crew arrives bright and early to unload four semi-trucks of show equipment into the theater. They work all day to set up the theater and stage. The musicians arrive later to set up the orchestra pit with their instruments, music, headphones and music stands — making it comfortable for their time spent performing. The orchestra holds a band-only sound check, playing three-to-four ensemble-heavy numbers, and then holds a full sound check with the actors. An hour later, they perform the show for a full audience. 

"On a non-load-in day, I typically get up and get ready for the day, and then do a warm-up in the hotel room with a practice mute," McKay adds. When he's not performing or rehearsing during the day, he explores the tour stop — grabbing coffee with a friend from undergrad, or visiting local museums and parks. He arrives at the theater around an hour before showtime. 

"On the weekends we typically do a matinee and an evening show, so there isn't any time to really explore the city. So, those days are usually about finding something local to eat and doing the shows."

Some tour stops will bring McKay to more familiar areas. In February, The Book of Mormon arrives in Cincinnati for a weeklong performance run; more information is available on the Broadway in Cincinnati website.

Headshot of Chet Rhodes

Chet Rhodes

CCM Graduate Assistant, Marketing + Communications

Currently a Bassoon Performance master’s student at CCM, Chet received a Bachelor of Music from the University of Utah. He has held positions with the Salt Lake Symphony and the Utah Philharmonia.

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