Music grad Brandon Straub leads multi-faceted career in Washington, D.C.
Brandon Straub didn’t come from a musical family. But his parents picked up that Straub liked music when he spent hours as a preschooler playing a toy piano he built with wooden blocks.
Today, the MSU College of Music alumnus works as a skilled keyboardist, conductor and singer in Washington, D.C., where he serves as the director of choral music and chair of music for the coordinated music programs at St. Albans School and National Cathedral School. He is also the associate conductor and pianist for the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the founding director of Choral Arts Youth Choir.
“So far, I’ve had a life as a pianist, singer, string player, and conductor,” said Straub. “Along the way, people have said, ‘you should pick one of these if you want to do it well.’ But I’ve always been able to do several things well and to get opportunities I’ve enjoyed and grown from. That’s good, because I love doing all these things.”
An expression of community
Straub grew up on the west side of Lansing, Michigan. He joined the orchestra program through his public school, and built skills as an accompanist and singer at the church where his dad is a Lutheran minister.
Music, Straub said, gave him a way to express emotions that he couldn’t through words. While he enjoyed piano, he found his strongest musical connections through ensembles and groups.
“I could spend hours practicing piano and absolutely loved it,” said Straub. “But I started to realize that music was also about tapping into the best of community and making music as part of an ensemble.”
Staub envisioned going away to college but wasn’t clear how to put together the resources. Tuition for out-of-state universities felt insurmountable, so he looked local, finding the perfect fit just 10 miles away.
Graduating high school, Straub started at MSU as a piano performance major in the fall of 1999. He switched majors and earned his bachelor’s in voice and music education in 2004.
Straub immersed himself in countless opportunities as an undergrad. He sang in choirs, accompanied soloists and groups, conducted ensembles, and taught at area high schools. The combination of skills and experiences, he said, set him up for graduate studies, and helped him shape an eclectic, but focused, career.
“At the time, I really had no idea how much I would rely on everything I learned from MSU,” he said. “There were so many practical and creative things to pay attention to. The opportunities I had were huge.”
Straub graduated and went on to teach at a private boarding school in Pennsylvania. He performed and collaborated with prominent world-class ensembles on the East Coast before coming back to the Midwest for his master’s in conducting and harpsichord performance from the University of Michigan.
In 2011, Straub landed a teaching post at a private school in Virginia. He became active in the D.C. music scene where he continues to collaborate with nationally-renowned ensembles. He also served as the associate director and organist at St. John’s Church Lafayette Square—also known as the “Church of the Presidents.”
Straub founded the Choral Arts Youth Choir through the Choral Arts Society where he has been the associate conductor and pianist for the past seven seasons. In 2016, he joined the leadership team and faculty of the coordinated music programs at St. Albans School and National Cathedral School and works with students in 4th through 12th grades.
“When people hear about all the things I do or have done, it seems all over the place and complicated,” Straub said. “But when I see where I am, it’s incredible to look back at all the experiences from my youth through college that set me up to do what I do now.”
Jonathan Reed was among Straub’s primary teachers at MSU. The professor of music and associate director of choral programs remembers Straub’s talents as an accompanist, as well as his baritone voice that brought dimension to multiple choral ensembles. Reed said he isn’t surprised by Straub’s successes, but he doubts that Straub will ever just rest on his laurels.
“Brandon has all the best gifts when it comes to pursuing a career in choral conducting or any conducting for that matter,” Reed said. “Immense skill coupled with intellectual curiosity is hard to beat. Brandon has it all.”