TROY LAURETA SITS ATTHE KEYBOARD of a gleaming white grand piano. Perched atop the piano is multitalented, multi-octave pop vocalist Ariana Grande, singing the title ballad from My Everything, her GRAMMY®-nomi-nated 2014 LP. It’s an intimate, heartfelt moment in an otherwise action-packed set, and when Grande breaks into tears, Laureta is right there to keep her going, smiling in encouragement as he continues to play. Meanwhile, the audience—a sold-out crowd at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden—cheers them both on as only 20,000 fervent fans can do.
“When it’s just you and her in front of thousands of people, it’s humbling!” says Laureta. “The song is just vocal and piano, and people love it. I really focus on making the connection with her during that moment, and we kind of feed off each other’s energy.”

The piano may sound just like an acoustic grand, but it’s actually a top-of-the-line digital Yamaha Stage Piano inside a grand piano shell. And the voice? It’s unquestionably the real deal, though pop stardom is a second career for the 21-year-old Grande, who debuted on Broadway before becoming a teen sitcom star on Nickelodeon.

troy-smallGrande’s current Honeymoon Tour, supporting her platinum-selling second album, is one of this year’s highest-grossing tours to date. The ten-month tour includes stops at stadiums and other large venues throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. For Laureta, who became Grande’s music director in 2014, it’s not just a high-level gig with a talented singer—it’s an artistic responsibility to be carefully nurtured.

“I think a big part of being a good music director is understanding your artist,” he says. “And not having an ego. Not pushing your own vision for the show, but helping make theirs happen with your expertise. Being able to read them emotionally and mentally, not just on musical aspects. Because the most important part of the creative process is to take into account the person who’s actually going to perform the music.”


The Grande gig may be relatively recent, but Laureta isn’t new to the spotlight. Young Troy grew up in a musical family on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. By his teens, he and his sister Cheesa were in-demand performers at local events. “I’m Filipino, and there’s a big Filipino community in Hawaii,” Laureta explains. “They like a lot of really sentimental music, like ’90s ballads. And Hawaiian music is also very dramatic and epic. So it kind of prepared me for the kinds of artists I should work with.”

In 2006, the Laureta family relocated to Los Angeles to support Troy and Cheesa’s budding music careers. After attending LA’s Musicians Institute, Troy began working as a keyboardist, music director, and arranger with performers such as David Foster protégé Charice. “They all liked the way I took it back a little to the ’90s, with the big, epic songs,” he says. “So it kind of came full circle for me.”

Meanwhile, sister Cheesa won a spot as a contestant on the TV talent show The Voice, dazzling judges and audiences with her covers of Beyoncé and Whitney Houston songs before eventually being eliminated.

The experience benefited both their careers, Troy says. “On the show, her biggest moments were when she did the stuff we used to do in Hawaii. Particularly in the Filipino community and in Asia, it helped create a name for both of us.”

Laureta has played Yamaha keyboards since the beginning. “My first instrument was a Yamaha baby grand piano that my mom purchased when I was seven or eight,” he recalls. “It’s still in my living room. And I bought my first Motif ES when I was in high school.”

In addition to the Yamaha Stage Piano he plays with Grande, Laureta can’t do without his current Yamaha Motif XF7 and XF8. “First and foremost, my favorite features are the sounds,” he says. “Yamaha has this classic piano sound, and my main focus is the piano. Yamaha really gets it right. Not just the sound, but the way it feels. The 88-key Motif XF8 is amazing—it feels like a grand piano. It’s so familiar, and it just sounds great.”

Laureta also appreciates the Motif’s performance features. “I love the faders,” he says. “I do a lot of sound layering, and the Yamaha faders are so smooth, they just feel right. Toggling between scenes for different songs is seamless.”

As Laureta continues his journey with Ariana Grande and the Honeymoon Tour, it’s clear that for him, the honeymoon is far from over. “I think this tour is taking music to a place where it hasn’t been for a while,” he says. “It’s very inspiring. We’re bringing it back to just good music, good vocals, and a show that focuses on the artistry rather than the superficial side. And she can sing her ass off. I love that!”