Q&A: Terry Tungjunyatham of Blue Man Group on Returning to STL
We were lucky enough to sit down with Blue Man Group musician Terry Tungjunyatham, before the big shows at Peabody Opera House this weekend. Read on to learn what Terry thinks about the slightly improvised Blue Man music, his school and music experience at Chaminade and his return trip to St. Louis.
ALIVE: So, what are your St. Louis ties?
Terry Tungjunyatham: My brother and I came to St. Louis after growing up in Thailand. We had an uncle who lived in southern Illinois, so my parents thought it would be important for us to live somewhere near him. They also wanted us to go to a Catholic school, so they chose Chaminade.
ALIVE: How did you initially become involved with music?
TT: I had been playing guitar since I was 12 years old, and had done a few formal lessons. But when I went to high school in St. Louis, I had many more opportunities and was able to get more involved. I started playing in front of audiences and even joined the jazz band for a year. That was great. If it wasn’t for all of that, I don’t think I would be playing today.
ALIVE: What are all of the instruments you play? Which ones do you play for Blue Man?
TT: I play guitar and bass, and I’ve been playing those for a long time. For Blue Man, I play some really unusual instruments. One is the Chapman Stick, which you actually tap on more than really strum on like guitars. I actually played this before I was hired by the Blue Man shows. I had been playing it in a band for a while. When my audition came up, I played this and was lucky enough to get a spot.
I also play the zither. It’s a unique instrument, and we had ours specially tweaked for our shows. It’s really very similar to a guitar in a lot of ways, but the sound is really different.
ALIVE: How did you learn about Blue Man, and how did you get involved?
TT: Well, I moved to Boston for college after St. Louis. There, I found a guitar teacher and kept working to get better with my music. My guitar teacher at that time was actually playing for Blue Man in the Boston shows. Soon enough, they had an opening for a musician, and he asked me to go audition. I did, and then I actually got the position.
ALIVE: What were you doing at that time when the audition came up?
TT: I was working as an architect—that’s actually what I had gone to school to do. It’s definitely something I enjoy, and I’d like to continue it later on in life.
ALIVE: What is your favorite part of being with the Blue Man Group and performing in its shows?
TT: One of the really awesome things about the show is that none of the music is written down. It’s not all improvised, but at the same time, you have a little liberty to do what you want musically as well as to play music that goes with the action onstage. It’s very different, and I had never encountered this before.
Many times, something unexpected happens onstage, and we have to react musically to what’s going on. That means that the show essentially changes every night. You play the basic parts, but have to be on your toes to figure out what’s happening and see how the audience is responding. That’s what makes it fun!
ALIVE: What are you most excited about in coming back to St. Louis this weekend?
TT: I’m excited to go back to my high school. We’re going to have a music workshop at Chaminade. I had contacted the school to see if we could do this because my music director does these a lot at different schools and universities around the country. I thought it would be a good opportunity to do something similar and give back to the school a bit. I’m really looking forward to it.
The Blue Man Group performs at Peabody Opera House April 25-27. Tickets are $27-92 and are available on Ticketmaster.