Q&A with Actor Erich Bergen
“Jersey Boys” and “Madam Secretary” actor Erich Bergen has a compelling passion and energy for music education.
For the last two years, I have had the pleasure of spending time with Erich Bergen, an actor and singer best known for playing Bob Gaudio in “Jersey Boys.” He recently ended his role as Blake Moran, policy advisor and executive assistant to the president on CBS’ “Madam Secretary.”
Q. When did you know that you were going to make music the focus of your professional life?
A. Music has always been a part of my professional life although it’s not the thing that has brought me the most notoriety. When I was about 3 years old, I discovered MTV, and from that moment on, music was integral to every corner of my life. I didn’t care about sports, comic books or spaceships unless it was in a music video, on an album cover or part of the stage design of a pop star’s world tour. I didn’t see a future that didn’t have music in it, and I turned out to be right.
My professional career started by playing The Four Seasons’ songwriter Bob Gaudio in the stage musical “Jersey Boys,” a role that I later played in the film version. It was the perfect hybrid of musical theater, a love I discovered in my teens, and the pop music that I had always loved.
While it certainly brought me some attention, it didn’t come close to the number of eyeballs that watch “Madam Secretary” on a weekly basis. That’s where most people know me from, but most of those people don’t know I have a musical background. It’s interesting to see people connect the dots that the guy behind the keyboard in “Jersey Boys” is also the guy working in the White House on “Madam Secretary.”
Q. What book is on your nightstand right now?
A. I have a giant stack of things to get through. I buy books like they’re going to stop making them! Currently, I’m loving “The Dakota Winters” by Tom Barbash.
Q. What is your favorite guilty pleasure food?
A. Chinese food in New York City.
Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?
A. Chewing sounds or certain food description words like “yummy” or “delish.” I’ve walked out of dinners before due to this. Don’t. Just don’t.
Q. Why is music important to humanity?
A. Music is the great communicator throughout the history of the human race. It transcends all languages. For example, try to watch a movie without a score. It has little to no impact.
Q. Which person from history, dead or alive, would you want to have lunch with, and what would you discuss?
A. I want to talk to the guys who wrote the U.S. Constitution. I have some things I want to update them on and see if they want to make some clarifications …
Q. Why is it important to protect access to music education?
A. When it comes to education, one size does not fit all. We are not robots. Memorizing facts, figures and equations is meaningless for many people — it must be applied to something. I would never have understood math if I couldn’t apply it to music. Arts education is an equal part of a well-rounded education, and anyone who doubts that should just look at the science. It’s been proven time and time again that those with access to music education do better overall in grades and test scores. Music education gives life and saves lives. Why is this even up for debate?
Q. What is the most embarrassing musical moment of your life?
A. I think to be an actor, especially one who performs live on stage, you have to risk embarrassment on a daily basis. I fell through a trap door on stage in “Jersey Boys” one night in Los Angeles in front of about 1,500 audience members. I don’t remember falling, but I do remember coming to, realizing I was on the floor, and the audience was rumbling. I suppose somewhere in there was an embarrassing moment. … I just can’t remember it!
Q. What piece of music do you wish you had written and why?
A. I’ve seen other people asked that question, and I’ve never quite understood how anyone can answer it. I can tell you my favorite songs. I can tell you my least favorite songs. I can tell you the songs that remind me of a certain smell or year. But what song do I wish I had written? My answer is anything that was a big hit, right? So anything by Diane Warren or David Foster.
Q. Other than music, what brings you inspiration?
A. I honestly don’t know. My biggest inspiration for waking up in the morning, working out at the gym or even writing my own music is other music. So I’m really not sure. Animals, maybe?
Top photo by Corey Rivers
This article originally appeared in the 2020N1 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here.