WALNUT CREEK -- You'd hardly call Erik Hughes a "Gleek" -- the nickname for fans of "Glee," the popular TV show about a high school glee club. In fact, Hughes had never watched a single episode.
That turned out to be a good thing, because when he first walked onto the set, he could stay focused.
"I wasn't the least bit star-struck because I didn't know who any of the actors were, " Hughes said. "I could stay professional. You're not supposed to take pictures and ask for autographs or stuff like that."
Now a senior jazz studies major at the University of Southern California, Hughes -- a Northgate High School alum whose parents and grandparents still live in Walnut Creek -- made his debut on "Glee" in the final episode of Season 2, that aired in May 2011.
It was the episode about the cutthroat Nationals musical competition that New Directions, the underdog glee club of the fictitious McKinley High in Lima, Ohio, tries to win every year. Hughes, a trombonist, was invited to appear along with other USC musicians as part of a pretend school orchestra.
Recalls Hughes, "I think I was in the backup band of one the rival groups. I remember we all wore blue."
Hughes apparently struck a chord with the show producers because, last year, he was called back. He appeared in all five of the Season 3 episodes centered on the glee club's putting on "West Side Story" as its high school musical. Hughes and the other student musicians sat in
"There are no rehearsals," said Hughes. "The cast members are all very, very professional. They come out ready to go, knowing their songs and dance routines. They don't mess up. But they have to do everything over and over again so the camera crew can get every camera angle."
The script for the "West Side Story" audition of Kurt Hummel, played by Chris Colfer, called for him to climb a scaffolding on stage, swing himself around on it and then twirl swords all while singing, "I Am the Greatest Star," from "Funny Girl."
"Chris had to do that number over and over again for the cameras," said Hughes, who can be seen on the YouTube clip from the episode. "He was sweating so profusely that in-between takes someone had to run up with a blow dryer and dry him off. But he did it perfectly every time. He never complained. He was amazing."
Hughes also was amazed by Darren Criss, who plays Blaine Anderson, another member of the glee club.
"During breaks in the filming of the 'West Side Story' episodes, he'd come over to us, the musicians, and he'd start playing the piano. Or he'd ask a girl if he could play her violin and start playing that. He can play just about any instrument and sight-read music perfectly. I talked with him for a while. He's really talented and a nice guy, too."
Hughes seems really talented himself. He played in Northgate's jazz band for all four years of high school under the direction of Greg Brown, whom he credits with teaching him how to improvise. Now he plays trombone in a big band led by Bill Holman, a veteran jazz musician and arranger who worked with Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and many others during the Big Band heyday. But his first teacher was his father, Dr. Sandy Hughes, a Walnut Creek ob/gyn (his mom is Joan Hughes).
"My dad plays trombone, piano and bass guitar. He was a music major before he switched to pre-med. As a kid, I never took lessons; I just played with him."
Surprisingly, for all the musical talent on the "Glee" set provided by Hughes and the other USC musicians, the music heard is prerecorded by older studio musicians. The young musicians on camera are just going through the motions to make it look real. "We play but very softly," Hughes said.
Hughes also plays trombone in a rock band called "Caught a Ghost" and recently one of the band's songs was featured as background music for a TV show called "Suits."
Hughes laughed. "It was just the opposite of "Glee" where I'm seen but not heard. On 'Suits' I'm heard but not seen."