Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Living through music

Teacher shares the escape he found in percussion

A hand-me-down, green, stick bag with a used pair of Jojo Mayer drumsticks was his way out. Percussionist Brandon Kelly still has the beginning percussion equipment he bought when he was in the fourth grade. The price tag of that Remo 10-inch tunable pad stays burned into his memory — $16.95 plus tax.

“I remember the sticker on the top right corner of the box,” Kelly said. “And that was my buy-in, because it was the cheapest thing and I was poor.”

Percussion wasn’t Kelly’s first choice for an instrument, but it was the only choice he could afford. A choice that would change the course of his life.

Kelly described his early years as being alone in New Jersey, without money or the support of a family. The only thing he did have was resentment for school.

I’m not having to do music, I’m choosing to do music. I don’t have to teach. I’m choosing to teach.

— Brandon Kelly

“I was not a particularly good student,” Kelly said. “I don’t think I was particularly dumb, I was just stupid and didn’t do my work and I wouldn’t jump through what I saw as ‘hoops.’”

He didn’t have drive to work in school but when he started percussion in fourth grade, his teacher, Tom Murphy got him hooked. For the first time, he enjoyed something in school and practicing gave him an escape.

“I wasn’t doing it for any particular reason,” Kelly said. “I wasn’t trying to audition for this or that, I just really enjoyed it.”

Kelly did not go unnoticed by his teachers. He said that Murphy saw his potential and tried his best to support him throughout grade school.

Music was the saving grace.

— Brandon Kelly

“My teachers, specifically Murph, knew years before I did,” Kelly said. “They encouraged me and they were supportive and they kind of set me up on that path realizing that’s what I was going to do. Mr. Murphy’s a huge reason why I ended up sticking with it.”

After a long day at school, instead of going home, Kelly would stay and practice for hours after everyone had left. When he physically couldn’t practice any more, he would go sleep in the band’s computer room for the night. Kelly may have been breaking some rules by doing so but Murphy encouraged Kelly to keep working as he knew it was Kelly’s escape from reality.

“I am a teacher in homage to my teachers,” Kelly said. “I have a life now. I am not homeless now because of them reaching out their hand, and seeing this kid in a lot of trouble and not letting him fall.”

After auditioning his freshman year, Kelly made it into the South Jersey All-Region band. During a rehearsal, when Kelly had a climactic solo in his part, he played it with confidence, grasping the attention of the director.

Kelly watches carefully, preparing to give feedback as his student plays their marimba solo.

“We stopped [playing] a couple bars after that moment,” Kelly said. “Then he just points at me and he does that thing that conductors do where they just stare you down and you start questioning your whole existence. Then he says, ‘Those are some of the finest crash cymbals I’ve ever heard a high school student play.’”

After the rehearsal, the director, Dr. Jack Stamp handed Kelly his business card and asked Kelly about his future. Kelly still thought he was too dumb to graduate high school, let alone go to college.

Through Murphy’s encouragement, Kelly got into the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In his four years there, Kelly was able to study under Dr. Stamp, whose business card he still holds on to.

Similar to his relationship to Murphy, Kelly and Stamp created a lifelong relationship centered around their shared passion for music. The two became like father and son. He said Stamp even gave him a place to stay when he didn’t have one.

His passion for music may have brought Kelly a lot of good but it was sometimes unhealthy, but his intense work ethic is a large part of what led him to success.

“Stress was a heavy part of it, but music wasn’t the cause. Music was the saving grace,” Kelly said.

I am a teacher in homage to my teachers.

— Brandon Kelly

He’s been given the opportunity to play with groups such as the Dallas Winds and the Dallas Symphony before he even turned 40, something unheard of in the music world. He never thought he would graduate high school and now he plays with a major American symphony.

“That doesn’t happen to people like me,” Kelly said.

Kelly aims to help his students learn from his own mistakes, according to his student, junior Wyatt Moon.

“Kelly always talks about how much he used to push himself and how much stress he was under as a student,” Moon said. “From his mistakes though, I’m more prepared for when I have to face the same kind of problems.”

He said even through his struggles, he never wanted to stop.

“I don’t have to do music,” Kelly said. “I’m choosing to do music. I don’t have to teach. I’m choosing to teach.”


Christopher Deane was Kelly’s graduate professor and another teacher who Kelly grew close with. Deane also had a large influence on Kelly’s own teaching.

Kelly often references Deane’s teachings with his own students according to junior Wyatt Moon.

“Mr. Kelly will oftentimes say the same phrases over and over again,” Moon said. “Only recently, I realized most of those things come from his own teachers, like Deane.”

In September of 2021, Kelly stood on stage next to Deane during rehearsal for the Dallas Symphony, only a month before Deane passed away. Kelly knew he had been terminally ill but he thought Deane had taken a turn for the better.

“He kept asking about the students at Marcus and he was so appreciative and it was so meaningful to him, what I was doing for my kids,” Kelly said.

Kelly stood there receiving praise from a professor whom he idolized for years. It was important to him that he got to tell Deane how much he meant to him too, not knowing it would be the last time he saw him.

“He left me feeling like I was really meaningful to my students,” Kelly said. “I’d like to think of it as a reflection of what he had meant to me.”

Teachers like Deane, Stamp and Murphy taught Kelly everything he would need to know to succeed, but they did more than just teach him how to play an instrument.

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About the Contributor
Harrison Hamre, Reporter
Harrison Hamre is a senior who can’t decide what he wants to do. He writes and stuff, and plays drums. He’s going to college to study journalism and film to ensure that he ends up in debt with no future. He’s pretty flakey and has poor time management skills.

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