ACDA has made new appointments to two of its national standing committees: the Committee on Choral Repertoire and Resources (R & R), chaired by Gretchen Harrison, and the Advocacy and Collaboration Committee, chaired by Dr. Emily Williams Burch.
Six new appointments have been made to the R & R committee:
- Kelsey Burkett, Contemporary/Commercial Choirs Co-chair (show choir)
- Rob Dietz, Contemporary/Commercial Choirs Co-chair (contemporary a cappella)
- Erin Plisco, Women’s/SSAA Choirs Chair
- Madlen Batchvarova, World Musics and Cultures Chair
- Jennaya Robison, Student Activities Co-chair (programming)
- Ryan Beeken, Student Activities Co-chair (chapter development)
With these appointments, Harrison explains that the Contemporary Commercial area has been divided into two subcategories, each covered by a co-chair: show choir and contemporary a cappella. Likewise, Student Activities has been divided into student programming and chapter development subcategories, each with a co-chair. She noted, “The new chairs bring energy and resourcefulness to the positions following the fine work of the previous chairs. The creation of subcommittees in two of the R & R areas will allow the committee to offer more specific, focused programming in these important areas.”
Additionally, three new appointments have been made to other Advocacy & Collaboration Committee:
- Riikka Pietiläinen Caffrey
- Alex Gartner
- Tim Westerhaus
Chair Emily Williams Burch commented, “The Advocacy & Collaboration Committee is thrilled to welcome these new members to the team and is very excited about the future projects and impact our committee will continue as we move forward. Each new member brings something new to the team and we can’t wait to get started working together.”
Biographies and photos of the appointees are below. Please join us in welcoming them to these national leadership roles.
Raised in Solon, Ohio, Kelsey D. Burkett is a 2006 graduate of Capital University, where she majored in Music Education and served as the alto section leader in the renown Chapel Choir. She completed her Masters of Music in Music Education and Kodaly Certification from Capital University in 2019. In her seventeenth year of teaching, she has a passion for the developing voice and middle school singers. She serves as the Director of Choirs at Hilliard Memorial Middle School, in Hilliard, Ohio, where she directs the 7th Grade Treble Choir and 8th Grade Treble Choir. Alongside Jeremy Witt and Alyssa Schott, she also directs the Jaguar A Cappella Program, which consists of four contemporary a cappella groups comprised of singers in the 7-12 grade levels at Hilliard Bradley High School & Hilliard Memorial Middle School. She is co-director of Bradley High School’s premier Contemporary A Cappella Group, Shades of Blue, who have performed at the National A Cappella Convention and have consistently placed in the Quarterfinals and Semi Finals of the ICHSA Varsity Vocals circuit. Ms. Burkett is a warrior for Social Justice within her community, and recently co-founded the Hilliard BIPOC Alliance, for her coworkers of color within the Hilliard City School District, working for change within and outside of their classrooms. Recently, she co-presented as part of the OCDA Virtual Series “New Directions” on the decolonization of choral ensembles. She also serves as the South-Central Region Chair for the Ohio Choral Director’s Association. In March 2020, Ms. Burkett was selected as one of ten educators from across the United States as a Country Music Association Music Teachers of Excellence. She is a member of the American Choral Director’s Association, Ohio Music Education Association, and the Organization of American Kodaly Educators. She lives in Columbus with her 3-year-old daughter, Harper, and their cat, Phil. Follow her on Instagram: @biracialchoirunicorn.
Rob Dietz is a multiple CARA winning producer who has been arranging, performing, and teaching contemporary a cappella music for over 20 years. Based in Los Angeles, Dietz is best known for his work as an arranger and group coach for NBC’s The Sing-Off. Through his work on the show, Dietz has had the pleasure of collaborating with some of the top talent in the vocal music world, including Pentatonix, Peter Hollens, Voiceplay and many more. His arrangements have been showcased on several TV shows, including America’s Got Talent (NBC), To All the Boys: P.S I Still Love You (Netflix), and Pitch Slapped (Lifetime). As a performer he is an award-winning vocal percussionist, and his distinctive sound has been featured on FOX’s Glee and The Late Late Show with James Corden. Dietz has a deep passion for a cappella education, and is a founding co-director of A Cappella Academy (along with Ben Bram and Avi Kaplan). In addition to his work with Academy, Dietz is also the director of Legacy: an auditioned, community youth a cappella group based in Los Angeles. Since the group’s inception, Legacy has performed twice at Carnegie Hall, and has won the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival’s Scholastic Competition, the Southwest semifinal round of the Varsity Vocals A Cappella Open, and the Finals of the International Championship of High School A Cappella at Lincoln Center. Dietz is the author of A Cappella 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Contemporary A Cappella Singing published by Hal Leonard. Alongside his work in contemporary a cappella music, Dietz is also an avid choral composer, with work published by Alfred Music Publishing and GIA Publications. His pieces continue to be performed by choirs from all over the world. Dietz’s work can be found online at www.robdietzmusic.com.
Dr. Erin Plisco is the Associate Director of Choral Studies at Missouri State University, where she conducts multiple choirs and teaches undergraduate and graduate choral conducting and literature. She is a frequent guest clinician across the United States and abroad, and has presented at state, regional, and national conferences of the American Choral Directors Association. She recently served as the SSAA Repertoire & Resource Chair for both the Southwestern Region and the Missouri Chapter of ACDA, and choirs under her direction performed at both the 2022 ACDA Southwestern Region and Missouri Music Educators Association Conferences. Plisco completed the DMA in choral conducting from the University of Arizona, where she studied conducting with Bruce Chamberlain and voice with Elizabeth Futral. She also studied at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, where she was a recipient of the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship and worked with Grammy-nominated conductor Stephen Layton. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Choral Music Education and Vocal Performance with a minor in Leadership Studies from Christopher Newport University. Plisco has conducted choirs of all ages, most notably serving as Director of Choral Studies at Pinecrest High School (NC). Under her direction, the choirs received numerous awards at national festivals and competitions, and her chamber choir was the winner of The American Prize for high school choral performance. She has also held positions at the University of Arizona, East Carolina University, and Simpson College. Plisco is a past recipient of the Colleen Kirk Award, given by Southern Region ACDA in recognition of outstanding achievements as a young conductor, and has spent three summers as a choral fellow with the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival – Yale School of Music under the direction of Simon Carrington.
Dr. Madlen Batchvarova, DMA, is Professor of Music, Department of Music Chair and Director of Choral Programs at Hanover College, Indiana where she directs choral ensembles, teaches conducting, voice, piano and music history. She is a dynamic conductor, clinician, music educator, pianist, and singer, who is equally adept with classical and multicultural repertoire. A native of Bulgaria, Batchvarova has honed her ability to communicate with choirs while performing and recording under the baton of Maestro Robert Shaw and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and Chamber Chorus. Highlights of her participation with the ensembles include a GRAMMY Award, Carnegie Hall concerts, and participation at the Opening Ceremonies of the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. Dr. Batchvarova is in demand as a guest clinician and conductor. She has led festival, honor and all-state choirs in the USA and Europe and is a sought-after presenter of interest sessions and clinics on Bulgarian choral music and performance practice for musical organizations across the country. She has conducted and presented her scholarly work at celebrated venues such as Musikverein, Vienna; the Palace of Culture in Sofia, Academy for Music, Dance and Fine Arts, and Trakiya University, Bulgaria; the Royal Academy of Music, and King’s College, London; the University of Granada, Spain, and at state and region ACDA conferences. She is a frequent jury member for state, national, and international choral and conducting festivals and competitions. With organist David Lamb, Batchvarova has released a piano-organ duet CD, “Duetti Capricciosi,” found on amazon.com. She has served on the Indiana state and the ACDA Midwestern Region executive boards as World Musics and Cultures Chair and Repertoire-Specific Coordinator. Dr. Batchvarova is a voting member of the National Academy for Recording Arts and Sciences, NAfME, American Guild of Organists, College Music Society, and the Pi Kappa Lambda Music Honor Society.
Dr. Jennaya Robison is the Raymond R. Neevel/Missouri Professor in Choral Music and Director of Choral Studies in the Conservatory at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where she conducts the Conservatory Singers and leads the graduate program in choral conducting. She is in demand as a conductor, clinician, and soprano and has held previous positions at Luther College, the University of Arizona, and the University of New Mexico. Additionally, she was the Artistic Director of Scottsdale Musical Arts, a multi-generational organization composed of a professional orchestra and choir as well as children’s choirs and youth orchestras. She has taught in public schools in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Robison is a passionate advocate for the use of singers’ authentic voices in the choral ensemble. She has served as an invited conductor and clinician for numerous all state festivals and honor choirs throughout the United States and has presented at national, regional, and state ACDA, NAfMe, and NATS conferences. She has served as soloist with numerous choirs and orchestras including True Concord and the Dale Warland Singers. Her choral series is published with Pavane Music and she serves on the editorial board for Galaxy Music. Additional arrangements and compositions are published by Kjos Music, Morningstar Music, and Galaxy Music. Her chapter on Weston Noble is featured in the upcoming book, In Perfect Harmony: 50 Inspiring Stories from Choral Musicians Around the World. An active church musician, she is a frequent guest conductor and clinician for various music and worship conferences. She holds the Doctor of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting from the University of Arizona, the Master of Music in conducting and voice from the University of New Mexico, and the Bachelor of Arts in music from Luther College.
Ryan Beeken serves as Director of Choral Activities and Associate Director for the School of Music at Wichita State University where he conducts the Concert Chorale and Madrigal Singers, teaches graduate and undergraduate choral conducting and literature, and oversees the choral area. He received Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and Bachelor of Music Education degrees from Drake University and Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts Degrees in Choral Conducting from Michigan State University. Dr. Beeken’s choirs have performed at State, Regional, and National Conventions of the American Choral Directors Association and for state and regional NAfME conferences. Beeken is regularly engaged as a conductor, clinician, and adjudicator. His engagements include over 70 All-States and Honor Choirs in twenty-one states, the Czech Republic, Austria, Ireland, Oman, and Estonia, and many invited presentations for symposia across the United States and in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He has served on the executive committee of the American Choral Directors Association at both the state and regional level and also served a term as the President for District 3 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. Prior to his appointment at WSU, Dr. Beeken served as director or choral studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and taught at Michigan State University. While residing in Des Moines, Iowa, Beeken directed the Drake Chorale at Drake University. He also taught elementary, middle school, and high school music for sixteen years, most recently serving as Director of Vocal Music for Waukee Schools in suburban Des Moines where he led a program of over 300 students and twelve ensembles to national distinction.
Dr. Riikka Pietiläinen Caffrey is currently a Professor of Music at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, MA. Pietiläinen Caffrey, a native Finn, has toured Europe and South America with the internationally-acclaimed Finnish choir Philomela. While in New York, she founded and conducted Las Sirenas, a treble chamber choir, at the City College of New York. Riikka has also taught choirs and conducting at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, and Whitman College in Washington. Pietiläinen Caffrey holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Jazz Performance from the City College of City University of New York as well as Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in Choral Conducting from the University of Colorado. Pietiläinen Caffrey is an active conductor, soloist, and vocal coach, and is frequently invited as a soloist, adjudicator, and guest clinician for schools and choral ensembles, both in Europe, and within the United States. Her compositions have been published by Alliance Music Publications and Kandinsky Music. Her article “Monkey See, Monkey Do – The Choral Conductor and the Mirror Neuron System” was published in the United States in Choral Journal as well as in the Australian National Choral Association’s national publication Sing Out! Riikka’s research is focused on cross-disciplinary collaborations and challenging the patriarchal narratives in music. One of her recent projects A String Only She Could Play features her as a vocalist with poet Proshot Kalami (Norfolk State University) and harpist/composer Felice Pomeranz (Berklee College of Music). She works closely with composer Kristin Vining; together they facilitate workshops for choirs to explore improvisation, collaborative poetry, and composition. In her role as the chair of the advocacy committee for the International Alliance for Women in Music, she is passionate about working together to celebrate historically excluded music, composers, and musicians.
Alex Gartner serves as the Artistic & Executive Director of the Pensacola Children’s Chorus in Pensacola, FL. Under his leadership, the organization has grown to impact nearly 25,000 individuals throughout northwest Florida, including over 5,000 youth, through innovative programs, performances, and organizational practices. He previously served the American Choral Directors Association as the Children’s and Youth R & R Coordinator for the Southern Region, is an all-state coordinator for the Florida Music Education Association, and previously served on the national arts education council with Americans for the Arts. An active clinician, guest conductor, and composer, his arrangements are available through many reputable publishers. Check out his latest work on social media or at www.AlexGartner.com.
Dr. Tim Westerhaus is passionate about transforming humankind through choral music that fosters empathy, builds inclusive community, and deepens understanding through diverse programming and collaborations. He seeks to advocate for singing among all ages and to engage choral beauty with contemporary issues relevant to society, justice, and culture in local and global communities. In 2021, he joined Northern Arizona University’s Kitt School of Music as Director of Choral Studies, conducting Shrine of the Ages Choir and directing the graduate choral conducting program. In fall 2022, he will begin serving as Artistic Director of Choral Arts Northwest in Seattle and Master Chorale of Flagstaff. From 2010 to 2021, he served as Director of Choirs and Vocal Studies at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. He has served as President of the Northwestern Region of the American Choral Directors Association and on the boards of the Washington Music Educators Association and the National Collegiate Choral Organization. Westerhaus has conducted choirs in Europe, Colombia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Korea, and ensembles under his leadership have performed at regional ACDA and NAfME conferences. As a tenor, he sings professionally in the Oregon Bach Festival Chorus; he performs as a solo and collaborative pianist; and he leads baroque performances from the harpsichord. Dr. Westerhaus received his music degrees from the University of Saint Thomas, studying with Angela Kasper, and from Boston University, where studied with Ann Howard Jones. An outdoor enthusiast, Tim enjoys running, cross-country skiing, and backcountry camping, whether in the Washington Cascades or Arizona San Francisco Peaks.
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