Music Man: Counseling Doctoral Student Eli Branscome

Date Published: 
Tuesday, October 18, 2016

While most doctoral students are busy simply balancing life with studies, Eli Branscome chose to add the joy of music to his.  Pursing his Ph.D. in Counseling, and self-employed as a full-time private practice counselor, Branscome marches to his own tune – having played the baritone in the Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band at UNC Charlotte last year.

Assuming his band adventures ended after high school (1984), he resurrected his talent while attending UNC Charlotte with their formation of a marching band.  With a generous gift from Vickie and Gene Johnson, Branscome saw it as not only an opportunity, but an adventure he couldn’t resist.  UNC Charlotte was the first college he attended with a band. 

As a child, he originally picked up the trumpet until his 6th grade band director introduced him to the baritone. “Baritones are part of the bass section that transforms a simple tune into music that people feel and truly experience,” says Branscome.  “I love being part of that role.”

Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band practice is six hours a week, rain or shine.  Plus, all day commitments come with game days and a band camp for two weeks with 12-hour days.  Branscome committed the hours between 3:00 and 7:00 three days a week to the band.  During those hours, he had a high demand for client appointments which were rescheduled around band commitments. Additionally, he had to devote time to learning a new language of music.  Music written in bass clef as opposed to the treble clef of his musical background.  

Although “none of it was easy,” says Branscome, “I made it work, with a lot of support from family and friends, including some new, quite young, and very talented friends.  The real sacrifice was having to put my dissertation on hold for a semester.  But I would jump at the chance to do it all over again!”

Awarded the Sheila McCullough Memorial Scholarship, Branscome strived to honor the memory of Ms. McCullough and the hopes of the McCullough family and scholarship benefactors.  The Scholarship is available each year to a counseling student who demonstrates academic curiosity and community involvement in the field of suicide prevention

“Being a gray-haired, 49-year-old marching Forty-Niner, playing a 9 pound horn in 98 degree heat, is a testament to fortitude and the determination of the Niner Nation”, says Branscome.  “It also honors the spirit of the McCullough Scholarship.”

The average age of a Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band member is 19. Despite the marching band being both physically and mentally strenuous, the graduate student showed great commitment and dedication to his craft.

“Eli was a great addition to the band,” says Dr. Jeffrey Miller, Associate Director of Bands/Director of Athletic Bands and Conductor for the Charlotte Youth Symphonic Band.  “Someone with his desire to participate in the Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band, in spite of his age (as he would readily admit), is admirable and shows not only the students, but also reminds me that we can do anything we put our minds to.”

Growing up in Woodlawn, Virginia, Branscome moved to North Carolina to pursue his Bachelor of Arts degree in Classical Studies and Biology from Belmont Abbey College. He resides in Charlotte with his partner of 18 years, Greg Snead, and their black lab, Truman.  His mother plays the piano and raised three very musical children including a daughter with two pianos, a harp, cello, flute, and most likely other instruments in her home.  After graduation, Branscome plans on continuing to serve as a counselor in private practice.  While he loves his job, he also enjoys teaching and while he feels it is too late to teach music, he would have loved to become a band director.

“Joining the Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band was, without a doubt, one of the most outlandish things I’ve ever done,” explains Branscome.  But “it was also one of the most rewarding adventures of my life. Marching band makes me happy. I get a Peppermint Patty sensation every time I hear a marching band. I even have marching band and drum corps music on my IPod.” Branscome ignored traditional barriers for a person his age such as “I’m too old, I can’t compensate for a 32 year hiatus, I don’t have time, I should pursue a doctorate instead of a baritone” and broke through them to achieve his happiness.

In his counseling practice, Branscome sees that people genuinely know what would make them happy. However, they sometimes list all of the reasons why “happiness is impractical, undeserved, and gratuitous”. But to him, happiness is contagious and communal.

“We facilitate the happiness of others when we are true to ourselves and demonstrate the courage and tenacity happiness requires,” explains Branscome. “The sources of happiness are often suspiciously simple. When we remove obstacles, happiness will find its way into our lives.”

Branscome plans to complete his dissertation and graduate with his doctorate in the coming year.  After graduation, he hopes to teach a couple of courses a year as adjunct faculty.  For the Fall semester, he’s had to put the Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band on hold.  But, he’d love to be able march again in 2017.

By Julie Green, Assistant Editor, Doctoral Student and Fellowship Specialist, the Graduate School