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Music teacher helps lead sellout concerts for Cibola High
“You have a gift for teaching, directing and creating an amazing total musical experience for your audiences that is complete in its sensory richness. The stage, the decorations, the mood, your way of making people comfortable, yet setting high standards for the audience, and of course the incredible sound coming from your choir. All I can say is wow,” said Yuma Union High School District superintendent Toni Badone.
“I appreciate the support that you have at the school, in the community, and with your parents. I know it is not a one man show. But you are the leader and the inspiration for all of us. Thank you for teaching our students, for bringing out the best in them and in the adults around you as well, and for keeping it ‘real.' You are right when you said the world has plenty of negativity and challenge, and we need to celebrate the joy all around us. Last night you helped us do that.”
“I could not have been more thrilled, proud, awe-struck, mesmerized, enthralled - you name it. Your powerful sense of making music with your students is stellar. Mike said tonight, when we got home, that he had never in his life seen a director that could get the tonal quality out of high school kids like you. Some of that music would stump college choirs,” said long-time Yuma educator Lynn O'Connor.
“...Sitting in the middle of that audience and having the surround sound sent waves of emotion through me. During the presentation I could see people's faces with tears streaming down their faces. Please tell your students that their dedication, trials, and determination set the tone for the evening. ‘We Sing' was amazing.
“At one point in the evening, I thought about our country and the tumult we are going through in the world around us. When I heard the words and the voices blending together it pointed out how strong we are and can be when our youth blend together in harmony. They are learning so many important lessons from you and the music. You are making a difference for each of us.”
When local music educator Brandon Stroup began working at Cibola High School five years ago, there were about 75 students in the school's choir program. It has since increased to over 300 students that consistently sell out their concerts every year, especially their Christmas shows.
As if this weren't accomplishment enough, 30-year-old Stroup has also spent the last three years directing the Yuma Ecumenical Choir that performs Handel's Messiah for crowds of up to 1,200 people during the Easter and Christmas season.
In addition to being recently nominated for the Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award, Stroup was also a 2012 Helios Award nominee as well as Teacher of the Year at Cibola and at Tierra Del Sol Elementary School.
Growing up in Peebles, Ohio, Stroup shared that while he began playing music in fifth-grade, he didn't actually start seriously studying and taking lessons until he was 16. It was at that time that he decided that he wanted to become a music major.
He later studied at the Conservatory of Music at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, where he also took piano and voice lessons. It was there that his music professor, Lynda Hasseler, inspired him to continue on and become a choir director.
“It was just a really great experience to be in that group,” he said about his university choral group. “We got to travel, we went to Europe and traveled all over Florida one concert season and I just thought it was great so I decided that it's what I wanted to do.”
After working at a youth camp in Phoenix, it was there that he met a pastor from Somerton who needed help with his youth group. He began helping out there and also became a teacher at Tierra del Sol for a year. He also spent time as the worship leader for the Somerton Church of the Nazarene and as the pianist at Gila Mountain United Methodist Church. After his time at Tierra del Sol, he then took over the music program at Cibola.
Stroup said that while teaching sometimes has had its moments where he is ready to hang his hat and call it quits, the students and their great performances keep drawing him back.
“You think back to those concerts and the people that come up to you in tears and you get letters and cards and emails and I think it inspires the community and in a way gives a lot of people some hope that these kids are actually doing something productive,” he said.
Stroup said that he is constantly reminding the students of the impact they have on the community.
“A lot of people have written off this generation ... but really I think kids want to work, they just need someone to push them to see what they're capable of doing.”
Sometimes people ask him how he does it, how he works with a large group of students to put on performances of such magnitude.
He said, “There is really no magic trick behind it, because a lot of people have asked me that before, and I usually respond with, 'A lot of love and an iron fist is usually the way we keep them in line.'”
While they sometimes don't like being pushed to their full potential, he said he tries to never let up on them. He also said that he gives the students all the credit for his success because if they weren't willing to work with him, none of this would be possible.
“I think the largest class I have is 71 kids – which is a large class, there's no doubt about that – you just have to be organized, you have to have procedures in place so they know what to expect from day one,” said Stroup. “The higher the expectation is from me as their teacher, the farther they're going to and the better they're going to succeed. My kids know that I really sincerely care about them beyond the four walls of the classroom. Yes, music is the avenue where we're working together, but they know I want to see them do well in all of their classes and in their athletics and in their drama productions and I think students respond to a teacher that sincerely cares about their well-being, not just whether or not they know this song or that song.”
He concluded that he also enjoys working with members of the community in the Yuma Ecumenical Choir and the director of the Yuma Civic Orchestra, Janet Jones.
“I just think it's a great way of bringing the community together, you have people of all different faiths and backgrounds and they come together to work on something as wonderful as the ‘Messiah' and it's just a very rewarding experience,” Stroup said.
“Sometimes I wish I was singing in the choir rather than always directing, but it's an honor and a privilege to be able to get to direct such dedicated people and they keep coming back and it keeps getting better and better every year ... I think a lot of people sell Yuma short on what's here.”