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Be Sound with Music

Off the Cuff with piano teacher-rock singer Julie Brandenburg

Dec. 6, 2016
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In the ’90s Julie Brandenburg became known locally for fronting bands, such as True Heart Susie, that were on the cusp where prog met punk. Most of her fans knew little about her day job at the time—teaching music in Milwaukee public schools. This June, Brandenburg opened her own music studio, Be Sound Music, where she provides personal instruction in voice, piano, composition and theory.

Back in the day, did you hide the fact that you were a music teacher?

No, but it was two separate tracks in my life. I saw my rock bands and my teaching separately at the time. Now I see my teaching and performing as integrated. Lots of my adult students have seen me perform.

Why did you start Be Sound Music?

After the 2008 economic collapse the opportunities for teaching became tougher. I taught a class at UW-Milwaukee—but then came budget cuts. There were cuts all over in music education. I needed to figure out what to do. I felt under employed, under utilized.

It must have been a big step, starting your own studio?

It was the best thing I ever did. It’s so exciting! I found a way to share everything I ever learned in an environment that’s aesthetically pleasing and peaceful.

So the environment is key?

I wanted a place where students could learn and practice comfortably—to grow in a place where they won’t feel self-conscious.

You’re very proud of the studio’s piano, a 1907 Knobe. What’s special about it?

The high keys are sparkling, the low keys have rich overtones, the middle range sounds full. But I wasn’t expecting it to look so beautiful! I almost cried when it came off the truck.

What are the ages of your students?

The youngest I’ve had is 5—but I consult with parents first. Accepting a child is contingent on their ability and focus, but, number one, their interest. If they’re excited about learning music, I’ll accept them. I don’t want them to hate music as a result of being forced to have me as a teacher! The oldest students I’ve had are in their 60s and 70s.

What kind of composition do you teach?

I do the whole nine yards from atonal chamber music to rap and rock. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you want to write: It has to have two components—the emotional-communicative component and the mathematical-technical component. If it’s technically very tight but not saying anything, you’re wasting your time. The whole point of art is to say something.

You’re performing regularly at Angelo’s Piano Lounge.

I play the hits from 1920s through the 2010s. If I’ve heard the song you request and I can find the chords, I’ll play it. People come up and sing along! It’s great fun. The piano bar thing is getting big again. And I still play rock every now and then with the Brandenburg Six. One of these days I’ll do another album.

On Friday, Dec. 9, Julie Brandenburg will host a night of original compositions at Be Sound Music, 2407 N. Maryland Ave. The Tartini Trio will premiere her new piece for flute and two guitars. They are: Neil Davis, Steve Peplin and flutist Aaron Gardner. Codename: Magenta will be performing spontaneous compositions. They are: Rick Ollman, wind instruments; Linda Binder, violin; and Pat Reinholz, cello. The concert begins with a 6:30 p.m. reception. The music begins at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free but donations for the musicians are encouraged.

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