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Music professor finds his 'road home' 31 years later

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Dr. David L. Brunner has found his 'road home' 31 years later (THIS ONE)

Dr. David L. Brunner (left) conducts UCF’s University Chorus at their concert, "The Road Home" on Nov. 22. This was the last time Dr. Brunner and the choir performed together.

After 31 years of being a professor of music and director of Choral Activities at UCF, Dr. David L. Brunner is set to retire with the culmination of the fall 2019 semester, making his last concert with the choirs a celebration of his "road home." 

The concert, "The Road Home," took place Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church: Sanctuary. It revolved around the theme of traveling a road, taking a journey, being on a path and going home. All the pieces chosen were pieces Brunner said he loved, and there were a few ones composed by him.

Meaghan O'Berry, junior music education major and one of Brunner's choir students, said the concert would be a very moving and touching farewell.

“He’s impacted this school and this program for every choir student, for every voice major, anybody who’s ever taken his class,” O’Berry said. “There will be a lot of tears and a lot of happy, crying people who are going to miss this wonderful man.”

Brunner attended Illinois Wesleyan University for his undergraduate, did his master's at Northwestern University, and his doctorate at the University of Illinois. Brunner said ever since he could remember he has been surrounded by music and has felt passionate about it, making his decision to focus on music for the rest of his life an easy one.

“I worked for a dentist when I was in high school that was kind of interesting. I thought ‘I could be a dentist. No, I don’t want to be a dentist,’” Brunner said. “When I look back, are there other things I could’ve done? I guess so. But there are certain things for certain people that just feel right, and that’s always felt right.”

After being hired as a one year replacement professor of music and director of Choral Activities, a national search was conducted for which Brunner became one of the candidates and UCF decided to keep him. 

During his years as a music professor at UCF, Brunner accomplished many things, such as receiving various awards like the Impact Award from the American Choral Director Association and College Teacher of the Year award from Florida Music Educators.

He also partook in several memorable performances, but what he enjoys the most is the day-to-day rehearsal process, he said. 

While at UCF, Brunner found ways to make each day a new adventure by creating little traditions such as "Poetry Thursday," where he reads a poem to the choirs at the end of rehearsal.

“It’s been going on for years. I think just one day I just read this poem and the next Thursday I read a poem. So I decided to end the week reading a poem and it became this thing,” Brunner said. “And there have been some Thursdays that I forget and everybody’s like ‘Where’s our poem?’, which I’m surprised by because I think ‘Oh, they don’t care about this.’ That’s just a funny little tradition that happened.”

Throughout the 31 years at UCF, Brunner has touched many hearts, leaving many saddened by his departure.

Victoria Lane, junior music education major and one of Brunner’s choir students, said she has known him since her senior year of high school, making the farewell a hard one.

Lane said she met Brunner when he commissioned a song dedicated to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, which affected the Orlando and LGBTQ+ community deeply.

"It was something I had yet to properly mourn. Singing that piece gave me catharsis and it showed the power and gravity choral music can have," Lane said. "It is the reason I am a music education major at UCF."

Lane further explained her feelings toward Brunner's departure and what she believes students will encounter.

“I think whether or not we realize it yet, there is going to be a bit of a hole in our hearts at first,'' Lane said. “We are in such good hands, but there is no doubt the impact Brunner has had on UCF and the entire Central Florida music community is huge.”

As for O'Berry, she said she could always confide in him for direction and a good smile.

“We were singing ‘No Time’ in the end when the sopranos go up. He looks up at me and he goes ‘I love that,’ in the middle of conducting he just goes ‘I love that,’" O’Berry said. “He can connect with you in the moment and it sticks with you. After that I couldn’t stop smiling and it made my day so much better because I know that, that moment for him was amazing.”

Dr. Kelly Miller, music education coordinator and assistant professor at UCF, will be taking over all four choirs: University Chorus, Chamber Singers, Women's Chorus and Men's Chorus, for the spring 2020 semester while a national search is conducted for a new director of choral activities.

“Dr. Brunner has built the foundation that is the UCF Choral Program. We will build upon the foundation he has set,” Miller said. “Working with choirs is what I do, so I know I’ll love it!”

She also said she will miss her time with him, as he is one of her dearest friends for nearly 20 years. 

“While together at UCF, there have been countless memories that I will cherish from covering each other’s classes to performing with the Rolling Stones and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra,” Miller said. “Whether we were preparing a typical concert or the Bernstein Mass, my time with David Brunner will always be considered special.”

The last piece of the concert was called ‘Won’t You Sing Along?’ by composer Daniel Kallman, which emphasized how music can make your worst moments seem okay.

The last line of the piece said "Thank you for the song," as Brunner looked at his students and said, thank you. As he said those words, many students shed tears as this was his way of saying goodbye to them.

Students and staff have said Brunner will be dearly missed. His calming energy, his loving smile and his name will be dearly remembered at UCF.

Looking forward, he plans to move up north and will continue composing music. He plans to come back and visit UCF, as well as conduct at events if he is asked to.

“Everybody has their own reasons for remembering people, and the way they were a part of their lives and the way they affected them,” Brunner said. “People will remember things about me, but I don’t know what those things will be.” 

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