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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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.

Emily Mitchell

Emily Mitchell

Emily Mitchell has been heard worldwide as a concerto soloist, recitalist and chamber musician.  Past performances include Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp with Sir James Galway in Carnegie Hall with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, performances before British Royalty at the King’s Lynn Festival, UK, and performing for First Lady Rosalynn Carter at the White House.

Emily Mitchell enjoyed a 30-year career in New York City where she was Principal Harpist of the Eos Orchestra.  She taught on the faculties of New York University and Purchase College.  Ms. Mitchell toured the United States for Columbia Artists’ Community Concerts for many years.  She relocated to Texas in 2008 and was appointed to the music faculties of Stephen F. Austin State and Sam Houston State Universities.  She performs regularly with Saint Cecilia Chamber Music Society in Houston, chamber music groups Camerata and Coleidoscope at SFA and “Better Than One” harp duo.  Emily Mitchell’s discography includes her Celtic and voice harp recordings and recordings of works by composer and flutist, Gary Schocker.

A graduate of the Eastman School of Music with Performer’s Certificate and an Associate of the Royal College of Music, London, Ms. Mitchell won First Prize at the Seventh (1979) International Harp Contest in Jerusalem.  

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.  

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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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.  

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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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.

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.

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.

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