Ruth Ann Ritchie

Founder and Director
Founder and Director
Flute

Flutist Ruth Ann Ritchie is the founder and Executive Director of Astraios. Since 2007 she has established concert series in Texas and Colorado and led Astraios ensembles in performances across the U.S. She is the founding flutist of both The August Winds quintet and the Cirrus Quartet.

Inspired to play flute at the age of two, Ruth Ann studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Cleveland Music School Settlement before receiving a Bachelor of Music with Distinction in Flute Performance from Indiana University. She continued her studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, receiving a Graduate Diploma in 2006. Her primary teachers have been Tom Robertello, Alexa Still, Linda White, and Joseph Juhos.

Ruth Ann has been on faculty at Floot Fire DFW (a week-long summer workshop designed to teach flute skills in a non-competitive environment) since 2013 and served as Assistant Director in 2016. She has been a guest panelist at the National Flute Association's annual convention, speaking on the topic of "Creative Careers for Musicians." She also served on the Board of the Lewisville Lake Symphony from 2012-2015. As an educator, Ruth Ann has been on the faculty at the Indiana University Summer Music Clinic, the Northern Arizona University Summer Music Camp and the Texas A&M University-Commerce Summer Festival.  

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Christopher Curtis

Host/MC
Host/MC

Christopher Curtis is an actor, singer, and director currently based in Dallas, TX, and serves as the President of Astraios's Board of Directors.  The son of Torrey Curtis and Joyce Adams Curtis, both of whom obtained Masters of Sacred Music degrees from SMU, Christopher grew up singing in choirs under the direction of his parents.  After graduating from Oklahoma City University where he studied voice with George Massey, Christopher has gone on to work at more than a dozen theatres in the region including Shakespeare Dallas, Theatre Three, Circle Theatre, City Rep, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, Reduxion Theatre, Oklahoma City Theatre Company, Pegasus Theatre, and Lyric Stage.  A few of his favorite roles include Ed Devery in Born Yesterday, John Dickinson in 1776, and the title role in Hamlet.  He is also a veteran improviser, and has performed improv on stages throughout the region for over a dozen years and recently took his two-man improv show C-4 to perform in New York City.  

Robert Gruca

Robert Gruca
Guitar

Robert Gruca is an exciting guitarist who performs a wide range of solo, chamber, and concerto repertoire. In recent seasons, he has played solo concerts in Ohio, Michigan, New York, Virginia, West Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Canada.

Other accomplishments include touring the eastern United States and Europe with the Cleveland Orchestra, performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 under the direction of Franz Welser–Most. Other performances with the Cleveland Orchestra include Kurt Weill’s Little Three Penny Music, Igor Stavinsky’s Le Rossignol with Pierre Boulez and Howard Shore’s The Lord of the Rings Symphony with Howard Shore. Robert Gruca made his concerto debut performing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the Marquette Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Nuvi Mehta. Recent concerto performances include Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasia para un Gentilhombre with the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra and the New Philharmonic both under the direction of Kirk Muspratt.

In addition to performing, Robert Gruca is a highly motivated and dedicated guitar instructor. Robert recently completed Every Child Can! and Guitar Unit 1 of the Suzuki method of music instruction.  Robert teaches at the Cleveland Music School Settlement and is proud to have started the first Suzuki guitar program there in the fall of 2013.

Jeremy Reynolds

Jeremy Reynolds
Clarinet

Internationally renowned artist Dr. Jeremy W. Reynolds joined the faculty of the University of Denver Lamont School of Music after performing as Principal Clarinetist of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra where his performances consistently brought high praise from critics and public alike.  He has performed throughout Colombia, Italy, Portugal, Taiwan and Australia in addition to concertizing for the International Clarinet Association’s ClarFest, ClariBogota, Cultural Festival of Portugal’s World Exposition, Australian Clarinet and Saxophone Festival, International Alliance for Women in Music, International Double Reed Society, and National Flute Convention.  Equally in demand in an orchestral setting, Reynolds has performed with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Music Festival, Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Des Moines Metro Opera, Fresno Philharmonic, New World Symphony, National Repertory Orchestra, National Orchestral Institute, and at the Aspen Music Festival.

Reynolds is a graduate of Ithaca College, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music where he was named Doctoral Student of the Year and was inducted into the Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society. His principal teachers include Yehuda Gilad, Monica Kaenzig, Michelle Zukovsky, David Howard, Richard Hawley, Bil Jackson, Ted Oien, Michael Galvan and David Minelli.

Dr. Jeremy W. Reynolds is a Buffet Group USA Performing Artist and Clinician and Lomax Classic Mouthpiece Artist.

Michael Jones

Programming Director
Programming Director
Bassoon

Michael Jones, bassoonist, serves as Astraios's Programming Director and Treasurer of the Board of Directors.

Michael began performing at a young age, singing the lead role in Amahl and the Night Visitors from ages 10-12 for the Cimarron Circuit Opera Company in Norman, OK. He began to study the bassoon in junior high school, and received his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from Indiana University, where he held an Associate Instructorship. Michael subsequently received a Fulbright Grant to study bassoon performance and pedagogy at the Sydney Conservatorium, where he received a Graduate Diploma in 2006. During this time, he also toured with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. His teachers have included Carl Rath, Andrew Barnes, Arthur Weisberg, and Kim Walker. 

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Patrick Herring

Patrick Herring
Percussion

Patrick Herring began playing music at a very early age and hated it with a passion until they let him start hitting things. Since then he has received a Bachelor in Music Education from the University of North Texas and Masters in Percussion Performance from Southern Methodist University.  Music has taken him all around the United States and he has proudly played shows in 40 out of 50 states. He’s looking forward to getting up to New England someday and knocking out a few more of them.

He currently serves as the principal percussionist of the Allen Philharmonic Symphony and plays extra with many local and regional orchestras as well as theater companies and churches and anyone else that needs something hit musically.

Patrick lives in Little Elm with his wife, son and two beagles and in his spare time creates instructional videos on how to play percussion on his website www.patrickherring.com

Claudia Jones

Claudia Jones
Violin

Claudia Jones was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She began playing violin at age of 8, studying first with her father, Hernán Orsi, followed by Hans Scheepers. At age 12 she won Bolivia’s prestigious national solo competition Abril en Tarija. At 14 she was accepted to the Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Michigan, where she studied for four years. She then came to the University of North Texas, where she studied with Julia Bushkova.

She has been a featured baroque violin soloist in Texas and Louisiana, and is a regular performer of solo and chamber music recitals in the U.S. and South America. She currently performs with several orchestras in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and lives in Carrollton, TX with her husband Eric and two children Juliana and Diego.

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Eric Jones

Eric Jones
Viola

Eric Jones got his start in music as at an early age, studying voice with his father, Robert Jones and singing in many children’s roles, including Amahl and the Night Visitors. He began studying the violin and viola at age 10, and received a Bachelors and Masters of Music in Viola Performance and a Masters in Musicology from the University of North Texas, and has done PhD coursework in Ethnomusicology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Eric studied Bolivian folk music as a Fulbright Scholar in Cochabamba, Bolivia and is a specialist in the folk music traditions of Latin America and the Andes. He is a regular performer of solo recitals and chamber music, and has performed with many of the orchestras in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and as a baroque viola soloist in Texas and Louisiana. Eric lives with his wife Claudia and children Juliana and Diego in Carrollton, TX.

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Daniel Kelly

Daniel Kelly
Trumpet

Daniel Kelly, a native of Charleston, SC, joined Texas A&M University-Commerce in the fall of 2010 after serving on the faculty of Indiana State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Dr. Kelly holds a BS in trumpet performance from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, and a MM and DMA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.His principal teachers include Michael Ewald, Ronnie Romm, Ray Sasaki, and Richard Steffen. He has been designated a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music (NCTM) by the Music Teachers National Association and is a member of the Music Teachers National Association, the College Music Society, the International Trumpet Guild, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Dr. Kelly is a Yamaha Performing Artist/Clinician.

 

Jonathan Kuhns

Jonathan Kuhns
Horn
 
Currently, Jonathan Kuhns holds positions in the Eugene Symphony Orchestra, Eugene Concert Orchestra, Viridian Brass Quintet and the August Winds, of which is he a founding member.  In demand as an orchestral musician, he has previously held principal positions with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra (Japan), and the Young Musicians’ Foundation Debut Orchestra, and has performed in a number of other orchestras, including the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Midland-Odessa Symphony and Chorale, and Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra.  Jon has performed in a number of prestigious summer music festivals, including the Music Academy of the West, the National Orchestral Institute, and the Aspen Music Festival and School. In addition to performing, he works at the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, helping people find their way around the great city of Eugene, Oregon.
Mr. Kuhns is a graduate of the University of Southern California, earning a Master of Music in Horn Performance, and earned a Bachelor of Music in Horn Performance from Indiana University’s School of Music. His teachers have included Myron Bloom, Eli Epstein, Jennifer Montone, and James Thatcher.  

Emily Hoppe McKay

Emily Hoppe McKay
Flute

Dr. Emily McKay is Associate Professor of Flute at Northern Arizona University, principal flutist of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, and flutist of the Agassiz Duo.  Formerly, Ms. McKay served as Associate Instructor of Flute and Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellow at Indiana University where she performed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Columbus Indiana Symphony Orchestra, and the Indiana University Festival Orchestra.

In addition, Dr. McKay has recorded as the piccoloist of Philharmoia à Vent on the Klavier Records label. Dr. McKay has presented master classes at Arizona State University, University of Arizona, Penn State University, Stephen F. Austin University, Elizabethtown College, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Internationally, Dr. McKay performed and taught at the Shenyang Conservatory of Muisc in Shenyang, China.

She has served on adjudicating committees for the Music Teacher National Association, National Flute Association, Arizona Flute Society, and Arizona Music Educators Association performing competitions.  She is published in American Music Teacher, The Flutist Quarterly, and Flute Talk magazines, as well as serving as the Technical Review Editor for Flute for Dummies.  Dr. McKay is a graduate of Penn State University, Carnegie Mellon University, and received her Doctor of Music in Flute Performance and Music Literature degree from Indiana University. Her teachers include Thomas Robertello, Jeanne Baxtresser, Alberto Almarza, Jeffrey Khaner, and Eleanor Duncan.

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Natasha Merchant

Natasha Merchant
Oboe

Natasha Merchant holds a Bachelor of Music from Indiana University and a Master of Music from the University of Southern California. She has attended the Round Top, Sarasota and La Domaine Forget music festivals, and has performed with orchestras across the United States and Mexico, including Guest Principal Oboist with the Orquesta Filarmónica de Sonora. Since 2013, she has been a featured English Horn player with the Amarillo Symphony Orchestra.

Natasha also runs The Cake Merchant baking blog and is the official caterer of Astraios concerts.

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Jennifer Pickering

Jennifer Pickering
Percussion

Much to the chagrin of her supportive parents, Jennifer Triplett Pickering brought her first snare drum home at the age of twelve.  Six years later, she graduated with honors from the Louisville Youth Performing Arts High School.  Mrs. Pickering now holds degrees in music performance from Indiana University and Temple University, and has studied with Gerry Carlyss, Anthony Cirone, Alan Abel, Angela Zator Nelson and Doug Howard.  In 2005, Jennifer served as a percussionist and assistant stage manager with the National Repertory Orchestra, and has performed with orchestras across the United States.  Mrs. Pickering currently serves as principal percussionist of the Dallas Civic Wind Ensemble and the Dallas Millennial Choirs and Orchestra, and works as a freelance musician in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex.  After many seasons as a superfan and volunteer, Jennifer is thrilled to join the Astraios team in their outreach program to Frisco public schools.  She lives with her family in Carrollton, Texas.

Marianne Shifrin

Marianne Shifrin
Clarinet

Marianne Shifrin is active as an orchestral and chamber musician around the country. She currently serves as Acting Principal of the Arizona Opera Orchestra. Previously, Marianne was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra in Colorado, and the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. She is a frequent extra/substitute musician with many orchestras, and has played with the Colorado, Phoenix, Tucson, Ft. Collins, and Cheyenne Symphonies, and the Naples, Colorado Springs, and Boulder Philharmonic Orchestras, among others. She has performed at the Music Academy of the West, and the Aspen, Sarasota, Chautauqua, and Bowdoin music festivals. During the summer, Marianne performs with the Missouri Symphony, and the Artosphere Festival Orchestra in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Dedicated to music education, Marianne has taught privately at the elementary, middle school, high school, and college level in schools and programs around the country.

Marianne received her Bachelor of Music Degree and a Performer Diploma from Indiana University and her Master of Music degree from Yale University. Her principal teachers include Eli Eban, David Shifrin, and Bil Jackson.

Alicia M. Valoti

Alicia M. Valoti
Viola

Alicia Valoti begins her new position as Assistant Professor of Viola at Central Michigan University in the fall of 2016. She completed her Bachelor of Music in Viola Performance from McGill University (Montreal, Canada) in 2004. In 2005, she received a Performance Diploma in Orchestral and Chamber Studies from the Scuola di Alto Perfezionamento Musicale (Saluzzo, Italy) and in 2007, her Master of Music degree from the Conservatorio “Luigi Cheubini” de Firenze (Florence, Italy).

Her primary teachers have included Augusto Vismara, Diemut Poppen, Neal Gripp and Douglas McNabney.  Alicia has been an adjunct professor or music at Lone Star College and Sam Houston State University, and an Affiliate Artist at the University of Houston. After two years with the Anchorage Sympohony, she is currently completing her doctorate in Viola Performance at Stonybrook Unversity.

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Libby Vanatta

Piano
Piano

Libby Vanatta, a native of Middle Tennessee, joined the music faculty at Texas A&M University-Commerce in 2010 as Instructor of Piano. She currently teaches class piano, piano pedagogy, piano literature, and private piano lessons. An active accompanist in Commerce, Ms. Vanatta has also performed throughout the country at conferences, competitions, and in guest artist recitals. Passionate about chamber music, Ms. Canatta formed Doppio Movimento in 2011 with her Texas A&M University-Commerce colleague, Dr. Luis Sanchez. Ms. Vanatta holds a Bachelor of Science in piano performance from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, and a Master of Music in piano pedagogy from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

 

Linda White

Linda White
Flute

Linda White leads an active musical life as both a performer and a teacher.  She is a founding member of the BlueWater Chamber Orchestra, and has also performed with The Cleveland Pops, The Cleveland Opera Orchestra, The Akron Symphony, The Canton Symphony, Erie Philharmonic, and The New World Symphony.

An avid chamber musician and champion of contemporary music,  she regularly works with the composers of The Cleveland Composers Guild and performs their pieces at venues throughout the Great Lakes region.  Though classically trained, Linda enjoys improvising and nurtures her love of jazz through collaboration with pianist-composer Marshall Griffith.

An engaging teacher, Linda teaches at The Music Settlement, where she has students of all ages and abilities.  At The Music Settlement, in addition to her teaching and work with The Gruca White Ensemble, Linda leads the Flautrageous Flute Choir and coordinates a program for adult amateur musicians to gather and play chamber music.

Linda received a Master of Music degree from The Cleveland Institute of Music as a student of Jeffrey Khaner and a Bachelor of the Arts from the University of Wyoming, where she studied with Dr. Katherine Kemler.

Louisa Ellis Woodson

Louisa Ellis Woodson
Harp

Louisa Ellis Woodson has been playing harp since age nine.  In May 2008, she received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Manhattan School of Music in New York.  She also holds Bachelor and Master of Music Degrees in Harp Performance from Indiana University, where she studied with Distinguished Professor Susann McDonald.

Dr. Woodson has served as the Adjunct Professor of Harp at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.  In addition to maintaining a private harp studio, she is the former Principal Harpist with the Waco Symphony Orchestra.  She recently participated as a guest faculty member in the Young Artists' Harp Seminar in Rabun's Gap, Georgia.  She has appeared in many types of theater productions, including ballet, opera, and musical theater, and has appeared in the new York Musical Theater Festival.  

Solo works include recitals in several states, along with countless performances for weddings, receptions, church services, parties, and other events, ranging in styles from classical to light pop.  Originaly from Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Woodson is delighted to have recently moved home from Austin, Texas, with her husband, son, and small zoo.

Brian Zator

Brian Zator
Percussion

Dr. Brian Zator is the Director of Percussion at Texas A&M University-Commerce and holds degrees from Baylor University, the University of Michigan and the University of North Texas.  He is also a student of world-renowned marimba artist, Keiko Abe, having performed and studied with her in Japan.  Dr. Zator has performed at seven Percussive Arts Society International Conventions (PASIC), conventions and festivals across the United States, at Carnegie Hall, and abroad in Brazil, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, and Luxembourg.

Dr. Zator and the A&M-Commerce percussion ensemble were one of the three winners of the prestigious 2010 PAS International Percussion Ensemble Competition and performed a showcase concert at PASIC 2010.  The ensemble presented a concert at PASIC 2006, featuring works of Minoru Miki, and released two CD’s since 2007.

Providing instructional videos for marimba, he is the primary keyboard artist for the Smartphone app and iBook publications, Pocket Percussion Teacher. Active within the Percussive Arts Society, he is Secretary for the Executive Committee. Dr. Zator is a performing artist and clinician for Dynasty/Bergerault, Innovative Percussion, Sabian, and Evans.

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