Brandon Duras competes at the Warsaw Wind Ensemble Conducting Competition in December 2021. Facebook photo

Teaching during COVID-19 wasn’t easy for educators, but Brunswick High School Instrumental Music Director Brandon Duras found ways to expand his students’ musical repertoire despite remote learning, earning him national recognition.

Duras is the only Maine educator to make Yamaha Music USA’s “40 Under 40” list this year.

Duras, 27, has a passion for playing the trumpet and French horn and has his bachelor’s degree in music education and his master’s in conducting. He started teaching at Brunswick High School in 2019 and said just as he was getting his bearings when COVID hit.

“Teaching during a pandemic was not easy, to say the least. It was the second semester of my first year that we were sent home for the rest of the school year,” he said.

Yamaha’s “40 Under 40” list was launched in 2021 as part of a national program that celebrates excellence in music education. Hundreds of educators were nominated by students, teachers and administrators across the country this year, but only 40 were acknowledged for their creativity, courage, action and growth while teaching during a global pandemic, according to Yamaha’s website.

Remote learning became the new normal in 2020, and Duras said feelings of isolation were starting to kick in for both him and his students. He said he wasn’t sure how he would conduct after-school band rehearsals online, especially since he couldn’t hear each individual student play their instruments. Duras said this forced him to get creative by singing each note aloud to help familiarize his students with concert material.


“I wasn’t sure who would show up for the rehearsals to listen to me sing at them poorly for an hour, but many of them did,” Duras said. “Some of them said it was the best part of their day being able to see each other online, and that interaction was something that I needed to.”

Duras found ways to infuse his student’s emotional responses to COVID into their musical compositions.

“During our first COVID year, we had the chance to give a premiere of a piece titled ‘Reunion’ by a composer named Giovanni Santos,” he said. “The program note describes the piece as: ‘The work itself starts in a very dark place, a place where students are not able to join together to make music. This is a place of confusion, and sadness, with a glimmer of hope for the future. The work develops into a joyous celebration for the day we get to perform music together again.’ The meaning behind the piece felt appropriate with everything we had been through.”

Duras said he loves what he does and believes music education is an “important part of humanity” and essential for all children.

“I enjoy being able to experience and perform music with the students; just being able to share those moments with them makes my day,” he said.

Over the past four years, Duras said he has worked hard to broaden his student’s musical repertoire by adding diverse new material and a deeper exploration of the composers themselves. He said there were ups and downs throughout the pandemic, but he is “grateful for the students that had the resilience and tenacity to navigate that time with me.”

“It’s great to be making music again,” he said.

Duras teaches symphonic band, honors wind ensemble, two jazz bands, music theory, AP music theory and beginning piano. He is also directing the pit orchestra for the spring musical “Anything Goes,” which opens March 23.

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