By Lauren Rosenthal
Dr. Brandon Elliott can thank his high school choir teacher for his career path. One day during class, the teacher asked him to conduct the choir with no notice or experience. Turns out, Elliott loved the challenge. Now, not only is Elliott a professor of music and the director of choral and vocal activities at Moorpark College, but he’s also a quarterfinalist for the prestigious Grammy Music Educator Awards.
“I hope that my legacy is directly connected to the lives my students lead,” said Elliott, who is also the founder and artistic director of the Choral Arts Initiative, which has amassed regional and national attention in its nine-year history. “I hope that their commitment to and passion for unison and harmony—using the broadest sense of those words—is something that extends beyond the concert hall for them.”
A first-generation college student, Elliott was heavily inspired by his parents—particularly his mother—and his high school music teachers. With their encouragement, Elliott pursued his bachelor’s degree at CSU Fullerton and his master’s in conducting from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He received a specialist certificate in music business leadership from the Berklee College of Music in 2015. In 2021, he earned his doctorate in organizational change and leadership from the University of Southern California.
Following his 2014 graduation with his master’s, he was looking for a full-time, tenure-track teaching position in the music discipline. The positions were few and far between. Luckily, his job search led him to Moorpark College.
“I’ll always remember driving up to the campus for my first interview: I was utterly amazed by the beauty of the surrounding area and, most significantly, the college,” said Elliott, whose favorite projects with students include performance tours around Italy, Spain, and Central Europe. “There was just an energy and a feeling that immediately told me, ‘This is it. This is where I want to be.’”
One challenge he has faced head-on is a hearing impairment and the self-doubt it spurred. Elliott resolved to set an example of perseverance for his students. He has gained a deeper sense of empathy for his students with their challenges and uncertainties, he said.
The move to online instruction due to COVID-19 was another challenge to overcome. He had to find a way to conduct his choir class, which included more than 60 synchronized singers, over Zoom and to resolve the timing lag within the online program.
“I knew I needed to model adaptability and resilience for my students, who will need to embody those same attributes as professional musicians,” Elliott said. “So, we adapted, overcame, and forged a path that worked for us.”
For the 2022 Grammy Music Educator Award, Elliott is among 219 quarterfinalists from 204 cities nationwide; he is one of 10 from California. In 2019, he was a quarterfinalist as well.
“Being among quarterfinalists is humbling, but I also want to hold up the mirror to all my educator colleagues. We are all working tirelessly to help our students succeed,” he said.
The 2022 Grammy Music Educator Award semifinalists will be announced in September.
He’s now busy working on a choral festival to be held at Moorpark College this spring. High school students will be invited on campus for a day of performance exchanges, meet-and-greet sessions with music faculty members, and Q&A sessions with current students.
When asked about the lasting impact he wants to leave on his students, Elliott said, “I hope that they use their musical experiences to translate into everyday life by cultivating caring communities, amplifying marginalized voices, and always having an extra spot on the stage for someone.”
Lauren Rosenthal is a Moorpark College alum and former student worker in the District’s marketing department. She is attending UCLA in the fall.