Alex Navarro recently returned to his native city of Houston after almost 20 years working in Los Angeles and New York City. He is serving as resident music supervisor for Theatre Under The Stars, a first in the organization’s history, and as a pianist for the Houston Ballet.
How did you begin your career and what lead to your involvement in the arts?
I always loved music as a child. At the age of 7, my mother, who encouraged me despite our limited resources, bought me a small keyboard at Sears and I began taking lessons from the pianist at our church in Sugar Land. By the time I was 11, the pianist had retired and since there was no one else who played at the church, I took over her position as church pianist. I attended Elsik High School in Alief and made it my mission to be in anything and everything that involved music. Singing in and accompanying the choirs, playing in jazz band, playing in the pit for our musical productions, and even leading our handbell choir! I credit those early years in church and my musical experiences in high school in paving the way toward a career in music and the ability to work in a wide range of settings with various personalities.
What exactly does a music supervisor do?
I think this position varies between theater companies, but for Theatre Under The Stars specifically, I contract the orchestra through the local musicians union, I’m involved in the audition process of the actors, accompany rehearsals, conduct and music direct shows, edit and re-arrange / re-orchestrate the music for the orchestra or for the vocalists and work alongside the production and creative team to cover anything music related.
How did you find your way back to the Houston Theater District?
Summer of 2017, I was still living in New York and was contemplating moving back home. I left Houston after high school and had spent 10 years in Los Angeles and nine in New York City. I planned a trip back home at the end of that summer to meet with some musicians and contacts to get an idea of what work would be available in Houston. So, I was making some good connections, but I wasn’t completely sure if I should move back. At the end of that week, Hurricane Harvey hit. Thankfully, my family’s home was not damaged, but hearing of friends and contacts I had just met with losing their homes and seeing the devastation throughout the city and in the Theater District broke my heart. But also seeing the beauty of the city coming together truly touched me and was a very powerful example to the entire country on unity and love. Through that tragedy, I fell deeper in love my hometown and knew then I wanted to return to Houston to be close to family and to give back to a city that had given so much to me.
What are you most excited to do in your new role?
A goal of mine since returning back to Houston has been to be involved in the artistic community. I am thrilled to have this opportunity through TUTS and to give back to my city, drawing from my career experience while conducting, music directing, arranging, playing, planning … anything that my job involves, knowing that now, I’m doing it for Houston and for Houstonians.
You have so many great accomplishments, but which are you most proud of?
I began working with Engelbert Humperdinck in 2006 as an arranger and pianist on a project of his. We recorded the orchestra at the Capitol Records Studio in Hollywood. Engelbert later offered me the role of music director for his tour. A few years into the tour, we did a week-long run with the Omaha Symphony with a set that included those arrangements I had written for him. Our last performance fell on my birthday. Seeing the complete fruition of a creation of mine was maybe one of the best birthday gifts.
Best career advice you’ve received?
Two words…get good! Possibly the best advice I ever received, given to me by a dear mentor, friend and film composer in LA and a piece of advice that I continue to push toward.
Which upcoming show are you most looking forward to?
I am looking forward to Pure Country. It’s a new work and I always love getting my hands dirty in new projects and being in the trenches with other creatives.
Anything you think people should know about being a music supervisor?
The title or position requires so many hats and I feel like my entire career has been me going crazy at a hat shop! So in a funny way, it’s as if my 20 something years away, have prepared me for Houston and for this role specifically. Unsolicited advice to musicians – challenge yourself to be able to do any number of things, or more simply said, always say yes when an opportunity presents itself.