Five years ago, then 25-year-old Justin Brunette thought his singing days were over, but a voice like his would not be silenced forever.
Justin, a now-30-year-old native of upstate New York who is graduating in April with a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance, was fresh out of high school when he first started studying music. He got into Georgia State University and started taking vocal classes, but it didn’t last long. He was a young, unseasoned singer, and the workload and criticisms were too much for him.
“I decided I didn’t love music anymore and that scared me,” he said, “so I decided to leave.” He gave up on singing, joined the workforce and his powerful voice fell silent for eight years.
In 2011, a chance meeting changed that. Justin, whose last name was Staudigl at the time, met the love of his life, Christopher Brunette, during a trip to Palm Springs. Justin soon moved to the city, and in 2013 they got married.
Christopher was the reason Justin went back to school, he said. “He was 100 percent supportive from the get-go and really pushed for it.” He heard Redlands had a good music program, so he arranged a meeting with Professor Melissa Tosh.
“We met and it was like we were two kindred hearts. I loved her to death,” he said. “She made me appreciate music in a way I never thought I could.”
Justin joined the program in 2014 and soon distinguished himself as a work horse, Tosh said. For example, each leading role in the school’s operas is usually assigned to two people so they can take turns rehearsing and performing, but for the upcoming performances of “The Barber of Seville” and “La Boheme,” Justin is handling his roles on his own, Tosh said.
“Justin pulls the weight of two singers by doing all of the rehearsals and performances alone,” she said. “He does this with grace and good will, and, with his outstanding talent, he is a real audience pleaser.”
He also sings for the School of Music Audition Day concerts, acts as a mentor for his cohorts and recently volunteered to perform at a fundraising event for Yucaipa High School’s choral program, she said.
After graduating, he plans to start searching for a master's degree program while continuing to live in Palm Springs with his husband.