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My Christian life: Making music as a family

A husband and wife sing praises to God at hundreds of churches and schools.

What do you get when a communications major and a vocal performance major meet in a college philosophy class? For Andy and Rachel Braun it was a future marriage and a successful Christian band ministry.

The birth of Branches Band

Most people assume that Andy and Rachel connected because of their love of music, but that’s not actually the case. Working three jobs while at Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC), Milwaukee, Wis., meant that Andy didn’t always make it to his 8 a.m. philosophy class. While Rachel agreed to share her notes with him, it was with the stipulation that he come to the dorms to copy them down. Sharing notes “sparked a few discussions and an early friendship that eventually found its way to dating,” Rachel recalls.

While at WLC, Andy was performing music on his own and in several groups, and even though Rachel was a vocal performance major, the “no chicks in the band” rule held fast. “This stance softened as we were about to be married and saw the potential to try being musicians full time,” Rachel shares. “Andy bought me a set of hand drums, a tambourine, and an egg shaker, and the aptly named duo ‘Andy & Rachel’ was born. We played cover songs by the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Sheryl Crow, and more for weddings, graduations, local restaurants, coffee shops, and even an eight-year-old’s birthday party!”

Andy and Rachel were married in 2007. As full-time musicians, they were playing secular gigs, giving guitar and voice lessons, and directing a singing group at WLC. They also were regularly accompanying worship services at a WELS church in Chicago, Ill. Then they were asked to play for a Lutherans for Life charity event. So in April 2008, they teamed up with Jeremy Bakken (part-time band member and friend from WLC) and played their first official concert, calling themselves Branches Band.

Branches Band became another small part of the Brauns’ musical careers. “After all the work of putting together a concert, we decided we would continue to put that to use and see where it took us,” Andy says. They occasionally played for worship and toured for a week or two at a time. During the winter of 2008 they created a Christmas concert program and toured in Wisconsin and Arizona.

The ministry grew quickly. Within the year, they had recorded two full-length albums. Soon, the ministry blossomed into full-time work with tours, concerts, and worship services scheduled across the country. By 2012 the Brauns reached a point where they made Branches Band their sole income, giving up lessons and directing to focus on recording and touring throughout the country.

“We have had years where we were on the road as much as we were home in Wisconsin—playing every Sunday for worship and offering concerts almost every night of the week,” Andy says. Branches Band has played in all 50 states and Canada, driving to every location except Hawaii (they took a ship). Currently, they stay closer to home (they are members at Pilgrim, Menomonee Falls, Wis.), as they have been blessed with two daughters. They now play only a few times a month.

church musicians and family photo
Left: Branches Band playing for worship at a local congregation: (left to right) Rachel Braun, Jeremy Bakken, and Andy Braun. Right: Andy and Rachel Braun and their two daughters, Gloria and Evangeline. Says Rachel, “Both of our girls love music and we’re excited to see how they continue to use and grow their gifts. As for joining the band, Andy has always said they need to put in roadie hours before they get to be official band members.”

Resources from Branches Band

When the Brauns started Branches Band, they almost exclusively played their own arrangements of familiar hymns. They later wrote original children’s music, ending up with two albums of children’s songs based on Bible stories and passages.

After visiting hundreds of congregations and schools, the Brauns became aware of the needs of fellow church musicians. In response, they have self-published their music as sheet music and complete songbooks, and also offer accompaniment tracks for those who don’t have musicians available to play for rehearsals or performances.

With all the changes that 2020 brought, Branches Band continued to find ways to share God’s Word in music. “We created videos for online worship, streamed interactive children’s programs, and performed live concerts from our home,” Rachel shares.

A few years into their ministry, the Brauns recognized what a unique opportunity they had to provide music for the many Lutheran schools they were visiting. Using music from their two children’s albums, they conduct a variety of programs that get kids singing and dancing to songs about their Savior, including music camps, vacation Bible school, preschool family concerts, soccer camp kick-off, Sunday school programs, and more. One of the Brauns’ most recent projects has been working with professional artists to illustrate some of their original children’s songs for children’s books.

Blessings of Branches Band

Branches Band has been a blessing to countless souls and also to Andy and Rachel. “Doing the work isn’t work when you love what you do,” Andy reflects.

Playing for a house worship service in Maine with no more than a dozen committed Christians reminded the Brauns of the importance of gathering together, no matter the size of the group. In contrast, they have performed for the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society’s national convention and served as the worship musicians for the WELS International Youth Rally. “For the Youth Rally we wrote the theme song ‘Fill Me Up.’ Hearing two thousand people singing out loud a song that you wrote brings about an emotional experience that is hard to describe,” Rachel shares. “What a joy to witness the faith of so many young people of our church and help to build them up!”

The Brauns share that the personal connection with each other also has been a huge blessing. “We are able to share in countless stories and life experiences from spending so much of our lives working, traveling, practicing, and performing together,” Rachel says. “There is a deep relationship that comes from that type of dedicated time together.”

Says Andy, “Rachel and I are a great team, and we can’t picture it any other way. Even now we continue to learn things about each other.”

Another great ministry blessing has been the opportunity to connect with the WELS church body at large. Playing for services and concerts at hundreds of local congregations has joined the Brauns with many people working and serving in the Lord’s kingdom. “Worshiping with fellow believers is powerful on so many levels—to repent and rejoice, to be encouraged and to encourage,” Rachel reflects. “The opportunities we have through Branches Band to be a small part of that have blessed us beyond what we could have imagined.”

Learn more about Branches Band at branchesband.com

Author: Laura Schaefer
Volume 110, Number 6
Issue: June 2023

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This entry is part 1 of 53 in the series my christian life

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