William Brandon Beck
Brandon Beck, a trombonist and conductor, has taught music at three academies and two universities in the Seventh-day Adventist school system for over thirty years. He presently directs the orchestra, concert band, and steel band at Walla Walla University, where he also oversees the wind instrument program and teaches low brass, conducting, and methods classes.
Brandon was born in Virginia at Fort Belvoir, the youngest of three sons of William James, a member of the U.S. Air Force, and Elizabeth Jane Beck, who had studied to be a concert violinist at Mills College before her marriage. Music in the family dated back to the 1880s, when her paternal grandfather had been a cornet player and noted director of the Oakland City Band in California in the 1880s.
She provided opportunities for music study for her sons, with Brandon starting piano and violin at age five. Although piano lessons continued only for a short time when he was young and later for a year in academy, he studied violin on an irregular basis with different teachers since the family moved often, living in Hawaii, Alabama, Virginia, and Texas, because of his father’s career. He stopped violin lessons when he entered junior high and started study on guitar and trombone, studying trombone for a short time with a member of the San Antonio Symphony.
He attended public school until ninth grade, at which time he enrolled at San Antonio Junior Academy because his mother was an Adventist. He played the guitar during this time since they did not have a band program. He then transferred to Columbia Academy in Washington state, where he completed his last two years of high school.
David Grams, a trombonist, was the CA band director, and even though he would leave at the end of Brandon’s junior year, Gram’s trombone lessons and leadership of the band inspired him to consider being a director, and he enrolled as a music major at Walla Walla College, now University, in 1976.
Beck recently talked about his father’s reaction to his interest in music and decision to attend WWC, and what happened after he arrived at WWC:
My father was not too excited about the idea of my being a music teacher for a number of reasons. For one, he didn’t think I would be able make a living as a musician. I had told him when I was younger that I wanted to be a veterinarian, which I could have pursued at Texas A and M University, his alma mater, a school he wanted one of his sons to attend. When he learned I was going to WWC, he was very upset.
When I got to Walla Walla, I found myself in the gym or out on the ball field more than in a practice room. After two years, I went to North Texas State University to find out if music was really what I wanted to do and to sort things out. During that time my father seemed to reconcile himself to my interest in music. Later as I enjoyed success or advancement, he would say, “Now is the time to ask for a raise!” or “Now is the time to strike!” He didn’t understand that wasn’t how it worked in our system.
In 1979 he returned to WWC, where he completed a B.Mus. degree in music education, playing in the brass choir under Lloyd Leno and in the band program, where he served as assistant director under Dan Shultz during his senior year. He studied trombone with Lloyd Leno at WWC and with Paul Bauer and Leon Brown at the University of North Texas.
Beck then taught for sixteen years at the secondary level, starting his career as a task force band director at Shenandoah Valley Academy in Virginia in 1982. He then taught at Cedar Lake, now Great Lakes Academy, in Michigan and at Auburn Adventist Academy in Washington state.
While at AAA he completed a master’s degree at Vandercook College of Music in 1988, studying trombone with Roger Rocco. He received the 1995 Lowe Teaching Award as teacher of the year at AAA, an award voted by the school’s faculty and students, and was listed in Who’s Who Among American Teachers in 1992 and 1996.
His ensembles at AAA received numerous awards and distinctions, including invitational performances at the 1987 Western International Band Clinic, the 1990 General Conference Session in Indianapolis, and the 1993 annual meeting of the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. His band consistently received superior ratings in contests run by the local Pierce County League of Music Educators, achieving the highest score for bands four out of the five times they participated. It also won the Small Schools Division of the Lewis and Clark College 1996 Northwest Invitational Band Contest.
Beck accepted leadership of the band at Southern Adventist University in 1997, where he taught until 2000, when he came to WWC. At WWC his band concerts have gained an enthusiastic following, often performing challenging contemporary sacred music in church services and at other celebratory services throughout the year.
He also started a steel band, a first in Adventist higher education, which has toured nationally and been widely praised. He assumed direction of the college orchestra in 2010, which has expanded under his leadership to include winds and percussion and performs symphonic music.
He and his wife, Karrlayn (Gruesbeck), have two adult children, Kaitlyn and James.
Sources: Interview (2013) and information provided by Brandon Beck in 1997, 2000, 2012; personal knowledge.