Retiring Brownstown band director set for final concert Friday

BROWNSTOWN — Throughout his career in music education, Richard Branaman has relied on prayer when he has had to make tough decisions.

In the sixth year of his first job in that field as band director at Medora Community Schools, an opening arose at nearby Brownstown Central Community School Corp.

Before that, he also had received job offers for other opportunities, including leading competition marching bands at other schools.

One of them had heard good things about him and called him in for interviews, but they wanted him to move to the community, so he had to consult his wife about that.

“Before I left the house, I had talked with my wife and prayed, ‘God, if you want me to have this job, have them offer it to me, and I’ll know that you need me to be there and I’ll go,’” he said.

In the following weeks, the people offering him the job left messages on his voicemail. He was with the Indiana National Guard Band during that time period, and when he got back home, his wife told him to check the answering machine.

This time, it was about the job opening at Brownstown, so he called the administration office, and Roger Bane answered. He had been his mentor teacher for his first year at Medora.

“He was like, ‘Yeah, I was wondering why you hadn’t applied,’ and so he asked me if I could bring a résumé in,” Branaman said. “I brought in a résumé and dropped it off. We talked a little bit. By the time I got home, he had called and left a message that said, ‘Hey, can you come for an interview?’ I said the same prayer, and here I am.”

Now, Branaman is wrapping up his 24th and final year as director of bands for Brownstown Central middle and high schools. Making the decision to retire came down to prayer once again.

“I wasn’t really planning to retire,” he said. “Life kind of threw me three options, and retirement was the option to follow at this time. … Ever since things have turned to this point, I’ve just been praying that God will put me where he wants me. I don’t know what that is.”

He knows he doesn’t want to stop working, so he has interviewed for other opportunities.

“It’s a great job, and I wish that it was a job that I could do until I was done, done, and God may put me back in there,” he said of working at Brownstown. “That phone may ring and one of those people that called me ‘Hey, I’ve got a deal for you.’ I don’t think that teaching is what I want to do, but maybe it’s what I’m supposed to do.”

For now, Branaman will direct his final concert as Brownstown’s director of bands at 7 p.m. Friday in the auditorium at BCHS, 500 N. Elm St., Brownstown. It’s free, open to the public and will feature students from sixth to 12th grades. Band alumni also are encouraged to attend to wish Branaman well.

“I think we’re going to go out with a bang or maybe a flourish,” he said. “I think that it’s going to be a good concert. We are the best prepared.”

Music has been a big part of Branaman’s life, starting with music classes in elementary school, which he still remembers today.

“We met more times a week than typically the state lets elementary schools engage the kids for such things,” he said. “We had really, really incredible elementary music instructors, and I just always remember that I loved music. My dad used to tell me that it didn’t matter where I was, I found something to hum, sing or drum.”

In seventh grade, Branaman joined the band. He initially considered playing saxophone, trombone or percussion, but his director asked him to try tuba. At the time, he didn’t know what that instrument was.

“He put the tuba mouthpiece in my hand, and I buzzed it and it sounds good. He says, ‘You know what? You can play any of these others, but I think if you were to play this that you would be incredible,’ and he wasn’t wrong,’” Branaman said, smiling.

Tuba wound up being his instrument through 12th grade.

“I loved playing so much that I played all the time to the point Dad would make me go sit outside in the yard, and I’d go sit on the porch and play stuff,” he said.

Along with playing in the band at Seymour High School, Branaman was on the football, basketball, wrestling and track and field teams. He had colleges talk to him about football, but by the time he got through his senior year, he said he was over the sport.

Continuing with music in college, however, high a note with him.

After graduating from SHS in 1983, he went to Ball State University in Muncie and thought he would study audio engineering, but that required a lot of math classes. Instead, he chose to pursue a performance degree, auditioned on tuba and received a scholarship.

Upon graduating in 1987, he landed a job teaching reading at Atterbury Job Corps Center in Edinburgh and later taught math. Part of the deal with his employment there was going back to school to get certified to teach, so he commuted to Ball State in the evening to earn his teaching license.

He did his student teaching with Russ Smith at Shelbyville High School.

“Which was really a very positive, incredible experience,” Branaman said. “Russ Smith was just incredible. A lot of people have learned to teach by going and doing their student teaching with him.”

Once he had his teaching license, Branaman said it was at the time when Indiana teachers were being reduced in force. He interviewed 14 times that year and came in second place each time.

The next year, he only interviewed a couple of times, including with Medora. He landed that job in 1992 and taught band from elementary to high school.

When he moved to Brownstown middle and high schools in 1999, he was the band director for grades 6 to 12.

The job has included directing the band at basketball and football games, the latter including teaching marching to students and creating nearly five halftime shows. It also has involved preparing for three concerts a year, solo and ensemble contests, honor band performances and parades.

The band also got to play at Southport High School when the girls basketball team made it to semistate in 2011 and at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis when the football team received an opportunity to play there in 2014.

Plus, there have been band trips to New York City and Walt Disney World.

On his first trip to the Big Apple, Branaman said they were playing near the Statue of Liberty when an elderly couple started dancing around the band as it played “New York, New York.”

Come to find out, they were from Germany and years ago had emigrated to New York through Ellis Island and married. They were there that day to celebrate their anniversary.

“It looks like it’s their first dance and they are out there like they fell in love for the first time, and they are dancing circles around the band as we’re playing,” he said. “I’m directing the band, and you just get the emotional chills. I felt all of this emotion just watching them.”

Florida trips were memorable, too, because he witnessed kids dip their toes in the ocean for the first time and got to see them display their musical talents at Disney World.

“There is nothing like marching down Main Street in Magic Kingdom with so many thousands of people crowded around and you hear the PA announcing ‘And now, your Brownstown Central Band of Braves,’” Branaman said. “It’ll take your breath away. It is so cool. The kids do such an awesome job, and I have some band trip memories that are incredible. … It really is a very, very big honor for me to get to be a part of that.”

Branaman said the best part of his job has been teaching music to the kids.

He has had the honor of directing all three of his sons, Darrell, Robbie and Ryan.

“Actually, I told them they were going to be in band. That wasn’t an option,” Branaman said, smiling. “My boys, they are all very talented athletes, and they also can do whatever they want to do musically.”

Darrell was in the marching band, symphony band and wind ensemble and earned a music education degree at Ball State, and he graduates from captain school for the Army in June. Robbie sang with the Purdue Glee Club and just graduated with his civil engineering degree. Ryan is finishing his junior year at BCHS.

“Sometimes, I think it would be a very hard place to be for them,” Branaman said of the boys having their father as their band director. “I would have to say that my boys have shouldered it well. … I will cherish the time that I’ve gotten to spend with them.”

During his career, Branaman also was in the Indiana National Guard Band for 23 years, has played with the Columbus City Band since 1981 and performs with the Schulhaus 4+3 German band and other community bands.

If you go 

What: Concert featuring the bands from Brownstown Central middle and high schools

When: 7 p.m. Friday; doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Auditorium at Brownstown Central High School, 500 N. Elm St., Brownstown

Who: Students in grades 6 to 12 will perform; open to the public; current and former students also are invited to wish Director of Bands Richard Branaman well as he retires

Cost: Free

Branaman file 

Name: Richard Branaman

Age: 58

Hometown: Seymour

Residence: Brownstown

Education: Seymour High School (1983); Ball State University (bachelor’s degree in tuba performance, 1987); Indiana Wesleyan University (master’s degree in education, 1992)

Occupation: Retiring after 24 years as director of bands for Brownstown Central middle and high schools; prior to that, he was the band director for Medora Community Schools for six years

Family: Wife, Kristi Branaman; sons, Darrell Branaman, Robbie Branaman and Ryan Branaman