Love, Joy, and Music: Stephen Brand and the Carolina Chord Connection spread the love
“Let me call you sweetheart….”
There is just something about four sharply dressed men (and these days, quite possibly, ladies) singing a romantic melody in 4-part harmony that says, “You’re my Valentine.” Stephen Brand directs the Carolina Chord Connection barbershop chorus that will be offering their talents for just such purposes on Monday and Tuesday, February 13 and 14, as a group fundraiser.
But the barbershop group is just one of many ways Brand works in the community to spread the love for music. Born in Lumberton, Brand grew up in Granville County and moved to Greenville in 2008 for the Master’s program in voice at East Carolina University. He met his wife, Erin, there in his second year. When her family moved to Greenville, they decided to stay and call Greenville home.
“My wife was a music therapist–she had her master’s in music therapy and couldn’t find a job, so we created our own business, Love Joy Music,’ Brand said. “We started our own business to fill a need we saw in the area.”
The couple teaches “music together” classes, which are early childhood and music education that is part of an international, research-based program for birth to 5 year olds. They began teaching in 2011, soon after marrying.
Since there is no storefront, they teach in the community at different locations. Currently that includes Sunday afternoon at Montessori School and Monday morning at the Universalist Congregation in Greenville.
“They’re really fun, family classes. It’s not a drop-off class,” Brand explained. “You bring your kid and you sit with your kid. We call it children’s classes but what we’re truly doing is teaching parents how to interact musically with their children.”
Brand said the program is about giving parents tools to deal with challenging childhood situations. Is a child having a meltdown? Put some music on, sing along with them. Are you in the grocery store and the child wants to leave? Start singing and they’ll sing along with you.
“My little boy, when he was born, had jaundice,” Brand said. “He was crying and my wife and I started singing lullabies to him to calm him down and the doctor and nurse turned around and said, ‘Wow, that just happened.’ And we said, ‘Yeah, that’s what we do.’”
The program is popular with mothers of new babies. “You say, oh babies, they can’t learn. That’s not true,” Brand said. “Babies are sponges. We have a babies class specifically designed for newborns. Babies really recognize their mothers’ and fathers’ voices.”
If it involves music, it seems as if Brand has his hand in it. He teaches at Greenville Montessori school, as the music and fitness teacher.
“We do an in-school program of ‘Music Together’ there,” he said. “I teach the program for the preschool, which is 3 to 5 year olds, and a class called ‘Rhythm kids’ where I am teaching first to third grade using drums and rhythms and dancing. I do a piano lab and band for upper elementary, and I’m part-time over at Walton Academy.”
Brand discovered his love for music very early in life: “I was always banging on my mom’s pots and pans. I’d set them up in my bedroom, turn the light in my closet on, and I’d do a performance with my mom and dad and brother as the audience.”
In middle school and high school he played trumpet in band. He was the drum major in his high school marching band and spent four years in the National Guard Army band.
“I went to college on trumpet,” he said. “Then I had an injury on my wrist, so I was out, and changed over to voice, which changed the whole trajectory of my life. Instead of a band director, I was now a choir director.”
He taught for a while before beginning a second bachelor’s degree at UNC-W.
“Then I went to grad school, training in voice to be an opera singer,” he said. “But there aren’t many opportunities in Greenville for an opera singer, so I started teaching. I taught at Pitt Community College. I’ve taught in public schools, from preschool all the way up to high school. I found my home at Greenville Montessori. I really like it here. I love their method and our program for “Music Together” flows very well with the Montessori philosophy.”
Brand and his wife also teach private music lessons and are providers for Trillium, working with differently abled people. Add to that leading drum circles, playing their own steel drums, and being the music director for the Unitarian Universalist congregation, and you could say he stays a little busy.
“I’m also the music director for the barbershop chorus,” Brand said. “I’ve been singing barbershop ever since college at Appalachian State, from 1993 to ’99. When I came to Greenville I started singing with them and became the director for the group. They are a bunch of great guys. We do a bunch of singing Valentines, coming up. We love doing that. It’s fun just to go out and either embarrass the mess out of somebody by singing to them or create a moment that’s truly intimate and special for the person who sent the valentine.”
The barbershop group recently went co-ed: “We broke the stigma of ‘it’s just a men’s group.’ It’s really fun because the ladies bring in a lot of nice energy. And they actually keep us in pitch. It’s really fantastic harmonies. That’s why I love it so much. You really have to know how to sing. But you don’t necessarily have to know how to read music. You can come sing with us as long as you can match pitch–and we help you with that. “
So what does this Valentine’s Day and the future hold in store for the couple that sing and play together? “We love doing music,” Brand said. “it brings us joy, and we want to share that with everyone we can.”
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Originally published in the Daily Reflector February 11, 2023.