Joe Elbertson; Marine to Music Man

By Paxton McLane

Staff Reporter

From the outside, artist-in-residence Joe Elbertson is just the average Sacred Heart Choir director.  He divides his time between directing SHU’s Blended Hearts choir and teaching high school students music and personal wellness at Kolbe Cathedral High School. Few know about this former Marine past, his traumatic brain injury, his recovery, and how music found its way back into his life.

Elbertson first became interested in music when he began high school.

“My freshman year was in a really low spot in my life.  I was doing the lighting for the choir, and I saw them and I said wow, I want to do that, I want to be involved in that,” said Elbertson.

Since that moment, Elbertson has cultivated his passion for music. First, by becoming a singer, later picking up not only the piano, but the guitar, and the drums as well.

After graduating, Elbertson was quick to join the military.

“I signed up right out of high school. I needed some direction in my life.  I always knew that I wanted to serve in the military because I have a long family history of service,” said Elbertson.

Despite joining the military, Elbertson always knew that he had a passion he could pursue after his military career was over.

“Late in my high school career, I realized that rather than going into exercise science, I wanted to be a music teacher. My music teacher in high school had a profound impact on my life. He really was someone who guided me and established a direction and a purpose for my life,” said Elbertson.

Now Elbertson guides and gives purpose to dozens of students, both in the Blended Hearts choir and at Kolbe Cathedral High School.

However, Elbertson did not take the easiest path to the career he has now.  During training camp in the military, Elbertson suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“I was in a training accident. I had hit my head in a truck. I was good for a little bit before I started experiencing a horrible headache, vomiting, stiff neck.  After that they gave me a spinal tap and said there was bleeding in my head,” said Elbertson.

This injury ended Elbertson’s military career before it even started and his life was changed forever.

“I was in a hospital bed with essentially a turkey baster hanging out of my head. They had to cut part of my skull out.  I had to go through rehab to learn how to walk again and reading was really tough. I had to relearn how to do a lot of things,” said Elbertson.   

Despite suffering this injury, Elbertson did not let it stop his passion for music.  Last semester, he joined the Sacred Heart choir family as the director of the all women’s acapella choir, Blended Hearts.

Since his arrival at Sacred Heart, he has worked closely with Assistant Choir Director Thomas Cuffari.

“I have known Joe for a couple of years now having worked with him outside of Sacred Heart prior to this past fall when he joined our choral staff. He is a very versatile singer, generous spirit and has a quiet strength about him,” said Cuffari. “We are delighted that Mr. Elbertson has joined us at SHU as the new director of our women’s acapella choir, the Blended Hearts.”

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