Dr. Joani Somppi Brandon is a professor of music who teaches music education, general and choral methods and Women’s Chorus. She is the former director of the Anderson Area Children’s Choir Chorale.
Brandon completed her bachelor’s degree in music education and piano performance with honors in music and education from AU in 1987. She has a master’s of music education from Butler University and a doctor of musical arts from Boston University. Brandon runs the summer music education camp and the music study courses for teachers. She is actively involved in church music at Park Place Church of God, where she serves as sanctuary choir director. She has been at AU since 1999.
Where does your passion for music come from?
It comes from my faith and from my family. I grew up singing with my family from the time I was three, and my mom was a music teacher. She actually directed a women’s choir that traveled that was part of a greater youth ministry in the area. When she was even pregnant with me, from the time I was little to about five, until we moved, she directed the choir. They traveled and made an album, so I grew up with a love for this.
How did your time as a student at AU impact your career decisions?
It was the best decision I ever made to come here. I didn’t know people when I came here, and I made the best friends of my life who are still my friends. It helped my faith grow, and nothing was fed to me, but I had to discover and learn and really come to my own journey in Christ. I’m grateful for campus ministries, for the School of Music, for my time in choirs here, my private lessons and my good friends. The School of Education was also really impactful to me, too.
How did you use your talents before you started teaching at AU?
I taught in a public school for 12 years before I came to AU, and that is a ministry in and of itself. There are people in a public school that would never darken the doors of a church.
I loved teaching public school music and choir, but I really was grateful to have the opportunity to come here and train teachers. I’m grateful for Susan Taylor and Jeff Wright, who really mentored me as a young professor in music education, and Dr. Sowers, who mentored me as a young professor in choral music as I continued my education.
How does faith influence the way you teach?
It’s connected to everything. Every text we do, whether it’s sacred or whether it is not sacred, still needs to be a valid, important, meaningful human text. I like the texts we do to be true; to be things that give us insight to humans and people, whether it’s an English text or a foreign text.
With choir, I think it’s obvious that we are singing for the glory of God, and that’s our main purpose.
In my education classes, I think there are even different pieces of faith. As a Christian teacher in the public schools you can influence kids in profound ways, because you have a relationship with them in music that often extends beyond one year to many years in school.
I think it’s very important the kind of role model you are, the relationships you build, the way you treat people, the way you treat special needs students, the way you treat kids who aren’t the cool kids and the way you treat everybody in a public school setting. It’s important that you model giving value to all the students that you have.
Who is someone that has inspired or guided you in faith?
Ann Smith. She has been a trustee here at AU. She just turned 93 years old, and I’ve been in Sunday school with Ann for more than 15 years.
She speaks truth into my life every day, the kinds of things she encourages me to see and the way to value people. She has said that every single person has something to teach me, and that genuine respect for others is important. She has said so many times that God wastes nothing, that every piece of pain that we have in our life God redeems. Watching her experience and her story and have her speak so strongly into mine is huge. My parents also had a great influence on my faith.
Is there a moment or memory in your life that made you want to pursue music?
I don’t think there was one moment. I was a kid who, when I was seven, I remembered I wanted to be a music teacher and probably a lot of that had to do with my mother because she was a music teacher. Probably experiences continuing in high school choirs, high school musicals and high school band really solidified that. I had very good teachers who invested in me and who invested in the other students in our school and who helped solidify that music education was what I wanted to do.
I’ve had some profound choral experiences as an undergrad here at AU with Dr. Sowers as my director. I had some wonderful church music experiences as well. I knew music was just part of who I was, but it was never all of who I was. I think music people can get a little off if music takes the place of God, and performing takes the place of letting God be the center of it, not you being the center of it.