PIEDMONT -- The Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir's expansive stride opened wider with Artistic Director Robert Geary's introduction of two new conductors to the troupe's Training Department on Sept. 4.

Brandon Brack and Tanya Stum will join the PEBCC staff and the chorus's 31st season while developing the young voices in Girls Training 4 and Girls Training 1, respectively. The choir's 350-plus students, ages 4 through 17, compete with choruses from all over the world and collaborate with major Bay Area music groups during the PEBCC-sponsored Golden Gate International Choral Festival and numerous local performance events. In a news release, Training Department Director Naomi Braun said, "I am delighted to welcome two such dynamic and creative teachers to the team."

Brack, of San Francisco, arrives fresh from having completed the 2012-2013 season as interim music director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus. As a former member of Chanticleer in San Francisco and having earned two master of music degrees in choral conducting and vocal performance, Brack offers singing and conducting expertise. His work as a teaching artist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Youth Orchestra LA at HOLA and as choral conductor of the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley from 2003-2005 lays the foundation for teaching in the classroom and guiding the choir's developing voices.


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He was conductor of the Apollo Men's Chorus for the 2009-2010 season at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California, where he will complete his doctorate in 2013. He has been a featured soloist with the New World Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas, Seraphic Fire, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the UC Berkeley Symphony, and the Berkshire Choral Festival, where he led master classes in choral conducting and vocal technique.

Stum, an Oakland resident hailing from the mountain woodlands of rural Pennsylvania, is pursuing her second graduate degree: a master's in music education with Kodály emphasis at Holy Names University. She has performed, soloed, and recorded with a variety of opera companies and choral organizations that include Pacific Mozart Ensemble, ASWAT (ensemble specializing in Arabic music), Nevenka (women's choral group specializing in Balkan folk music), San Francisco Opera Chorus (AGMA member), San Francisco Choral Artists, Pittsburgh Opera Chorus, and Pittsburgh Chorale East. Recently, she was the preparatory director for the San Francisco Boys Chorus, teaching theory and musicianship. Reached at the home she shares with her husband, two dogs, one cockatiel, and two honey bee colonies, Stum spoke of her childhood musical influences.

"I grew up on 230 acres of undeveloped mountain ground. While my pap drove his timber truck, my grandma and I sat next to him and sang hymns and folk songs as we headed out into the mountain to cut wood. I sang in the woods a lot," she said.

The chopped wood heated her grandma's house, where Strum learned to play piano by ear. In her family's protective, Pentecostal church, she learned a love of gospel music and developed a hunger for music from other cultures. Her resume, peppered with performance engagements with Arabic music ensembles, Balkan folk music choral groups and credits for an Oakland Zoo school program she developed to coordinate with California Science Standards, supports her eclectic interests.

"Because I had such a protected childhood -- the most exotic person in my tiny town was a Catholic -- I had and have a great desire and need to learn about other cultures. I want that for my students, also," Strum said.

She also wants them to stop yelling on the playground to protect their young voices, fully engage their minds and bodies in singing, and to investigate the "why," "what feels good," and "who am I" of vocalizing. The Kodaly Method she is studying leads to "fine singing and stellar musicianship skills," she insisted. Based on its codified strategies for warming up and preparing young voices, Strum said the curricula will challenge them to memorize and successfully repeat classic and contemporary song literature.

"The choice of repertoire will be based on singing ability, musicianship, maturity and stamina," she predicted. "During my first year with the choir, I want to collaborate with faculty in the selection of repertoire. I value their professional support."

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