Tarot cards to teacher

Brandt reading music during a pit orchestra rehearsal for the spring musical “Something Rotten!” as part of his many after-school duties.

Photo courtesy of @mr.brandts.cardigans on Instagram

Brandt reading music during a pit orchestra rehearsal for the spring musical “Something Rotten!” as part of his many after-school duties.

Choir director Dustin Brandt didn’t know being a music teacher was in the cards for him—that is, until it was actually in the cards he was dealt.

Brandt teaches two beginning choirs (Cantus and SparTones), an intermediate choir (Bel Canto), and an advanced choir (Madrigals), as well as AP Music Theory. His duties outside of school hours consist of being the vocal coach and pit director for the spring musical, the music director for the Cappies Gala, the District Choir representative for District 11, and the sponsor of the Songwriting Club.

“[My classes] all present different challenges for me as a teacher, even though from an outside view, it looks like we do the same things in every class,” said Brandt. “I have to find different ways of motivating students at different ability levels, so it keeps things fresh for me even though we focus on the same concepts with different levels of intensity.”

When he was younger, Brandt took piano lessons, then later started writing music and teaching himself to play the guitar, fueling his desire to be in a band. While he started playing in bands and focusing more on writing music, he wasn’t really sure what to do after high school. He decided on attending Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) to earn a certificate in audio engineering.

“I thought I was going to do audio engineering. Then I went to a tarot card reader, and they were like, ‘No, you’re going to be a music teacher.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, well okay,’” said Brandt.

After the revelation from the tarot card reader, Brandt decided to take piano lessons again, as piano is an important component of teaching music, and also joined a choir for the first time.

“It was a really new form of expression and music that I’d never experienced before. I really liked it,” said Brandt on the choir he joined.

He stayed at NVCC as long as he could, which ended up being four years, so he would earn as many credits as possible that would transfer to a music school. He then went to Shenandoah Conservatory and stayed for another four years because of their musical requirements, earning his bachelor’s degree in music education.

“The truth was, even though the tarot card reader said that and I made decisions to go down that route, I never really wanted to be a music teacher—even when I was getting my music education degree,” said Brandt. “But when I graduated, I just started applying for jobs as a music teacher and I’ve been doing it for almost 15 years now, so here I am still.”

Before coming to WS, Brandt taught a large choir program at Thoreau Middle School for two years. He then transferred to WS to start teaching a high school choir program.

Brandt played in multiple bands in high school and through his second year at the conservatory, at a time when all their music was recorded on tape. He took a break, but joined an Americana band called The WeatherVanes when he started teaching middle school. In that band, he played keyboard, mandolin, banjo, and sang backup vocals.

“We would tour and play up and down the East Coast on the weekends and sometimes during the week. After about five years of that, it just got to be too much and I couldn’t keep up,” said Brandt.

Through all the musical experiences in his life, Brandt brings a unique perspective to teaching music at WS.

“He’s a really good director and teacher in general, and he’s very specific with his feedback, which is good, because it means we can improve more,” said sophomore Cathie Thomas, part of the Madrigals choir. “He also really pays attention to his students and knows what their voices sound like and what their voices are good for, and he’ll play to your strengths because he wants to see you succeed.”