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A Note from the School of Music

Fall 2023

kim-councillKC’s Corner

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about." ~Margaret J. Wheatley

From the moment I first stepped on campus for my interview in February 2022, “community” has been a resounding message that I have focused on in every conversation with students, staff, faculty, alumni, and donors.  Continuing to strengthen community since the pandemic, re-imagining community with a new director, and supporting people in our community – all of these have been significant priorities for me, and I am extremely proud of the work we have done in the School of Music in this area.  In addition to fun things such as the new, now-annual Community Picnic and the new “Donuts with the Director” program I’ve started this year, we are working together to communicate, lead and connect.  I continue to enjoy meeting our fantastic alums through events on campus and conferences such as the Utah Music Educators Association (UMEA) and Utah Music Teachers Association (UMTA).  Our community is strong and since July, our community has expanded to embrace local, regional, national, and international performers, composers, teachers, conductors, and scholars who have had the pleasure of finding musical excellence and a welcoming and beautiful home here at the U School of Music.

In July, Dr. Donn Schaefer hosted the International Trombone Festival which brought over 1000 trombonists from all over the globe to campus.   In September, we welcomed 40 in-person and many more virtual composers to campus to take part in the 2nd Annual Pedagogy of Composition conference, co-founded and co-hosted by Dr. Jessica Rudman.  Early October found us welcoming nearly 300 music teacher educators from all over the continent for the Society for Music Teacher Education (SMTE) conference, co-hosted by our former U colleague, Dr. Jared Rawlings and me and supported greatly by Dean Scheib and our wonderful music education colleagues and graduate students.  And, the very next week, we hosted around 180 members and honor choir participants from the Utah chapter of the American of Choral Directors Association (ACDA) led by Dr. Emily Mercado.  I cannot tell you how my heart swells with pride as I watch our colleagues from across the state, nation, and planet smiling at the kindness of our staff, falling in love with our facilities, engaging with our passionate students, and being led by our tremendously talented faculty.  The reach of the School of Music is expanding and finding a space where people, music, research of all kinds can be heard and supported is our goal.  

I have always been inspired by the life of Helen Keller and the powerful mentorship of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, so I will leave you with one of Helen’s impactful quotes, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” 

Together, the School of Music at The University of Utah is doing amazing things.  We will endeavor to learn, listen, grow, and work together to continuously discover what we care about and how we move our profession forward.  Happy Holidays and come see us soon!

Kim Councill
Director of the School of Music 


Fine Arts Ambassadors from the School of Music


The Fine Arts Ambassadors at the University of Utah is a group of College of Fine Arts alumni, now professionals active in the arts community and eager to advance the mission of the College of Fine Arts. Formed in summer of 2020, the FAA seeks to increase representation and advocacy for the University of Utah College of Fine Arts in local and national arts communities, provide mentorship to current students, and connect alumni back to the ongoing work of the college.  

Interested in learning more about the FAA? Contact Emeri Fetzer at

Mitchell Atencio completed his Honors Bachelor of Music degrees in Flute Performance and Instrumental Music Education at the University of Utah in 2019. His primary flute teachers include Lisa Byrnes, Caitlyn Valovick-Moore, and Tiffany Sedgley. He works in the Utah Symphony Music Library during the USUO summer season, previously winning the audition for the library fellowship at the Sarasota Music Festival and working for Utah Festival Opera preparing their materials. He also completed a degree in mathematics through Utah State University during 2021. Mitchell currently plays with the Utah Wind Symphony. He also freelances and plays with orchestras in the Salt Lake City area. Presently, Mitchell teaches instrumental music and music theory at Corner Canyon High School in Draper, Utah, additionally conducting the pit orchestra for the school’s musical. He serves on the boards for the Canyons Education Association (UEA/NEA); on the Utah Flute Association, coordinating a nationwide competition for Adult Amateur flute players; and is a member of the Utah Music Educators Association (UMEA). He loves working as an educator, performer, librarian, and advocate.

Olivia Custodio has built her career in development in the arts sector, holding positions of leadership at Salt Lake Acting Company, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and currently serves as the Director of Major Gifts at the Sphinx Organization. She is deeply committed to social justice work within the arts and the advancement of equity, inclusion, diversity, and accessibility. Olivia holds a BFA in Vocal Performance from Carnegie Mellon University and a MM in Vocal Performance from the University of Utah. On top of her life as a development professional, Olivia is an opera singer, actor, and playwright. She has appeared in numerous productions in the Salt Lake Valley, and most recently was the playwright for Salt Lake Acting Company's 2023 Summer Show: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

Amanda Moreton Hales holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Bassoon Performance from the University of Utah. She is currently an active freelancer having worked with various orchestras including Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, Ballet West, Orchestra at Temple Square, Sinfonia Salt Lake, and Chicago Civic Orchestra among others. She enjoys teaching privately as well as on faculty at the Gifted Music School. She has participated in multiple music festivals including Aspen Music Festival, Le Domaine Forget, and Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Amanda holds a Master’s of Music and Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music as well as a Bachelor’s of Music from Brigham Young University in Bassoon Performance.

In addition to working in the U's Real Estate Administration office, Justin Morgan is the Grants Manager for Gifted Music School and the Principal Bassist for the Bozeman Symphony. After graduating from the University of Utah with a BM in Double Bass Performance, he furthered his graduate studies at Bard College and The Orchestra Now (TŌN). Prior to his current position at the U, Justin held the roles of Dean and Interim Executive Director at the Gifted Music School. In addition to his administrative experience, Justin also volunteers on the Board of Directors for the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City. A true artist-administrator, Justin balances a career as a performing musician in addition to his work in nonprofit leadership. His varied experiences span performing at world-renowned stages such as Carnegie Hall and Jazz at Lincoln Center; participating in tours across North America, Europe, and Asia; and collaborating with a diverse array of acclaimed artists, composers, and conductors like Tan Dun, Joan Tower, Valery Gergiev, Hans Graf, and many more. Beyond his engagements with the Bozeman Symphony, he freelances with Ballet West Orchestra, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, Utah Chamber Artists, among other prestigious Utah-based ensembles.

Librarian Claudia Restrepo joined the Utah Symphony in 2021. She came to Salt Lake City after working two seasons at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Library. Prior to joining the DSO, she was the Library Fellow for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, where she was mentored by the librarians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Claudia has served as the Head Librarian for the Aspen Music Festival. She also worked for the National Symphony Orchestra assisting with music preparation for performances at Wolf Trap and the nationally televised concert “A Capitol Fourth.” In 2017 Claudia was a Library Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center where she worked with the Boston Symphony Orchestra librarians. Claudia holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Utah.


Joins us at the UMEA Alumni Reception

Feb. 2, 2024 | 5 PM
Utah Tech
Alumni House in St. George, UT

Alumni Updates

mylerDerek Myler (MM ‘18, Music Theory) accepted a tenure-track job at Eastern Carolina University as Assistant Professor of Music Theory.

Ashkan (Fakhr) Tabatabaie (PhD ’20, Music Composition) is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music and Digital Media at the New College of Florida.


Kelariz Keshavarz (DMA ‘22, Flute Performance) accepted a tenure-track job at Western Carolina University as Assistant Professor of Flute.


Brenden McCauley (MM ‘23, BM ‘21) has been appointed music director for the West Jordan Symphony.


Michael Leavitt (DMA ‘22) was appointed as an Assistant Professor and Director of Music for Opera at Texas State University.



Matthew Mainella (DMA ‘18) is the founding conductor of the Utah Medical Orchestra, an ensemble for medical students and professionals housed at the U School of Medicine.



Larry Spell (DMA ‘15) has been appointed Director of Instrumental Ensembles and Assistant Professor at Guilford Technical College in North Carolina. He also serves on the national executive board of the College Orchestra Director’s Association.



Stephanie Rhodes Russell (DMA ‘19) recently conducted the Cincinnati Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Washington National Opera, and is an Associate Professor of Opera at the University of North Texas.


Nicholas Harker (DMA ‘18) is founding conductor of the Canyon County Symphony in Idaho.


Bo Wu, (MM ‘13, DMA ‘17) has been appointed Director of the Art Education Center at Hunan University in China, where he is also on the faculty as orchestra director at Wuhan University. 


baeJong-hun Bae (DMA ‘12) is on the music faculty at the University of Utah’s Asia Campus in Incheon, South Korea.

zhouZheng Zhou (PhD ‘22) currently an Assistant Professor of Music Composition at Central China Normal University.




Mathew Makeever (DMA ’22) is Concert Manager for the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra, where both alumnus Justin Morgan and current student John Allen, play.


What have you been up to since your time at the School of Music?
We want to hear your update. 




School of Music highlights

  • Alina Baron was a soloist at Utah Symphony's Salute to Youth concert. She performed Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto 3rd mvt and Navarra by Sarasate.

  • At the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) 2023, School of Music students Zach Clawson and Aidan Smith took 1st place, and Madilyn Bowles and Brandon Lulups received 3rd place in the Mixed Chamber Ensemble competition.

  • Protectress: a new Opera by Rudman and Leonard
    Opera Contempo presents a working performance of Act 1 from faculty member Jessica Rudman's new opera with text by Kendra Preston Leonard. The cast includes faculty members Julie Wright-Costa and Kirstin Chávez, and Emily Nelson, as well as U students, alums, and other local professionals. Supported by an Artist Career Empowerment Grant from the Salt Lake City Arts Council.

  • The School of Music recently hosted the WA! Four Corners Tour, a powerful exchange of culture and music, highlighting six extraordinary Japanese musicians in performances across the Mountain West. Supported by a grant from the Council of Dee Fellows at the University of Utah, and led by School of Music Professor Kirstin Chávez in partnership with Assistant Professor Ashton Lazarus from the Department of World Languages & Cultures in the College of Humanities.

  • The 2023 Utah Liszt Festival  and competition included masterclasses, competitions, and solo and ensemble performances.

  • Alumni Melissa Garff Ballard (BM ‘92, MM ‘94) and Alex Marshall (MM ‘20), made their Carnegie Hall debut performance with David Park in early October.

  • The US Army Field Band’s Jazz Ambassadors made a special visit to perform in Libby Gardner Hall. First formed in 1969, the acclaimed 19-member ensemble brings jazz to all types of audiences nationwide and abroad.

  • Dr. Steve Roens (emeritus faculty) released a new book: “Insights Into Music Composition” by Gregory Young and Steve Roens, Routledge 2022. 



Camerata Gala is coming!

The Camerata Awards Concert Gala celebrates community musicians and patrons of the arts for their contributions to the University of Utah and the broader community. Each year, the School of Music honors two Camerata Award recipients at a private dinner and public concert.




Last Updated: 12/7/23