Mixed Media

Behind the Music

Seth Stachowski creates signature sounds for Cirque du Soleil

Stachowski leads the band and plays banjo for Cirque du Soleil’s “Paramour” at Lyric Theatre, New York City. Photo: Derek Gee/Buffalo News

By Angelo Ragaza

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Ex Nihilio from Cirque du Soleil’s charity event, “One Night for One Drop,” 2015.

Cirque du Soleil shows are internationally renowned, not just for jaw-dropping feats of human strength and ability, but also for delivering otherworldly, multisensory experiences. The music—a fusion of genres as diverse as fado, cumbia and West African drumming—plays a crucial role in heightening the drama and mystery of a performance. Seth Stachowski (BA ’06), who first watched Cirque on television as a teenager in Clarence, N.Y., recognized it immediately.

“Those first productions I saw were really groundbreaking,” says Stachowski, 39. “How they so expertly fused world music and electronic music. I was completely captivated.” Now, as music director and bandleader, composing and performing for some of Cirque’s best-known shows, he has added his own touches, including orchestral and rock elements.

Cirque has proved a fitting home for Stachowski, who has always nursed free-ranging musical passions. “I wanted to play in a rock band while doing jazz and learning new instruments,” he recalls. His training grounds—first at SUNY Fredonia, then at UB—provided formative experiences for a future music director. He remembers the freedom of the composition program at UB and being introduced to new music and composers that inspired him.

His career with Cirque—now the largest theatrical producer in the world, with thousands of employees across 40 countries—began a few months after he graduated from UB. He’d been working local gigs as a musician and DJ when, in 2006, he sent tapes of himself playing jazz standards and original compositions to Cirque. André Faleiros, head of artistic casting at the company, which fields a thousand applications for music jobs each year, remembers that Stachowski stood out as “extremely versatile, going from classical to rock and jazz, able to transmit emotions with his art. There are not that many like him in the world.”

Cirque made Stachowski music director, leading the band as well as playing various instruments, on the show “Kooza.” Still in his 20s, he was one of the youngest performers ever to land such a position. Since then, his work for Cirque has taken him all over North America. Most recently, he led their first Broadway show, “Paramour,” which ended a yearlong run in April. He has also composed music for “Kooza,” “Paramour” and Cirque’s charity event, “One Night for One Drop.”

Each performance, Stachowski wears an astonishing number of hats. He is conductor and bandleader, cueing musicians and singers. He’ll play multiple instruments, including keyboard, saxophone, electric guitar and banjo. He runs the computer playback system. And if all that weren’t enough, he also has to keep an eye glued to what’s happening onstage. No two shows are identical from night to night, and as music leader, he has to be agile. Sometimes a performer’s trick goes awry and has to be repeated, and musicians must respond without missing a beat.

In performance and in his career, Stachowski hasn’t missed one yet.