Cerro Gordo, is a tiny village about 15 minutes outside of Decatur. Population: 1,339. Many students attend Cerro Gordo schools from preschool to high school graduation.
Since many graduates know each other, lifelong friendships develop.
I met Andrew Craig Brown in elementary school. Later we rode the school bus together, and became friends. It’s hard not to be friends with someone on the bus, but we had shared interests and both valued getting the coveted back seat buses.
Earlier this year, Andrew won a Grammy music award in the Best Opera Recording for his contribution in Tobias Picker’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
When asked about the nomination and subsequent win, he stated, “just getting nominated, I felt like I was in a dream. It’s not something I ever imagined would ever happen. The whole Grammy thing wasn’t even on my radar.”
He said the award presentation was an all day affair, arriving with his fiancee Brittany at 11 a.m. and not arriving back to the hotel until after 1 a.m.
They were seated close to floor seats.
“We were close enough to the stage we could feel the heat from the fire pyrotechnics,” said Brown, adding they both saw many celebrities such as Flavor Flav, Gucci Mane, and Jameela Jamil.
He said “Deep Trick” played at the after party. “It was just massive it was like the biggest wedding reception I’ve ever been to times 50.”
Andrew currently works as a heavy repair technician aiding with the building and work on tour buses with Motor Coach Industries in Des Plaines. His work family at MCI even made their own award for him out of bus parts.
“It’s awesome. It’s the coolest thing I have on my desk at home. And it was just so cool that they went to the effort of doing that. It makes me really happy,” he noted.
Brown was not involved in much music at Cerro Gordo until High School. He began singing mostly in choir at church, and riding the lawnmower as a teen.
“I listened to a lot of metal and that is where I would sing because no one would hear me,” he said.
Although he had sung in the First General Baptist Church choir in Decatur as a youth, his interest in music was elevated after a solo performance of “Danny Boy” at Solo and Ensemble Contest, a musical contest held annually for music students in fifth through 12th grade.
“That was my first time singing ‘Danny Bo’ and that was the first time I had sung outside of Glee Choir.”
He then performed it again during Cabaret. His former music teacher, Pamella Grohmann, said “I’ll never forget his solo, ‘Danny Boy’ at the high school Cabaret, I think his sophomore year. His voice had developed into this bass prodigy and the audience and students were all astonished,” commented Grohmann. Following those performances he became involved with musicals, cabarets, choir, and became Grohmann’s classroom aid at one point.
Grohmann spoke highly of him as a former student.
“He was quite comedic in his roles on stage, especially in the show Crazy for You. Andrew was a ‘busy’ student, a little on the mischievous side, and a bright student. A few years ago he sang at my church as a guest performer. Gone was the teenage boy, he is now a polite, well-spoken, refined young man and his voice was unbelievably superior to his high school voice,” she said. “What a God-given talent and I was lucky enough to have him as a student.”
Following high school, Andrew attended Millikin University, obtaining a Bachelors in Music Performance and went on to receive his Masters Degree in Opera from Yale University. After school, he spent time self employed as a musician touring the world singing in various opera houses and concert halls.
“It’s not that different than when you do a musical in high school except it is at a much, much higher level. The big difference is that whenever you start from day one you are completely memorized, and completely off book,” he said. “Usually the first day you are in the room with the piano and conductor and one day you can use your music and you sing through the whole thing.”
Andrew stated most opera gigs lasted three months, and often far away from family in places like Italy or London. When asked what advice would you give to a student or anyone interested in a career in music, he strongly suggested taking a business course or perhaps majoring in business and taking vocal or instrumental lessons.
“Really, if I could go back and do it again, I might just try to get a business degree and then take music lessons rather than get a music degree. I got a lot out of my music degree, but really the thing that is lacking in a lot of people that have gotten music degrees is they don’t know how to be a business and when you’re a musician you are running your own business and you have to look at it that way.”
He went on to say that if you want to pursue music, “Try to think of something you can do that is adjacent...maybe not adjacent, but something you can do at the same time that you are doing music.”
In June, he will be taking time off work and attending the Taos Opera Institute in New Mexico. The program he is attending is like a “bootcamp” in a way for musicians. He will be a part of the program and one of the four singers that performs around 15 concerts throughout that month to raise money for scholarships for students wishing to attend.
“They have this training program but they also have a group of four professional singers. We go there and do a bunch of outreach concerts to raise money for the program,” said Brown.
Andrew hopes to use this time to do a bit of networking, maybe jump back into the classical world of music. “All the other kids have to pay, but I get in for free plus the room and board, and I get to do a lot of singing. It’s a really great opportunity all around and puts me back into that arena and links me up.”
For now, he plans on going back to MCI, but as far as the future goes, he is unsure at the moment. Music is on his radar, but he enjoys working as a mechanic. MCI provides security and he loves his work family. “I can make really good money being a mechanic. People at work are awesome.”