ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Alex Underwood is a choral conductor and music educator originally from Russell, KS. He is in his final year as a doctoral candidate in Choral Music at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) where he studies with Andrew Megill and served as the conductor of the University Women's Chorus. He earned an undergraduate degree from Sterling College (KS) in music education and voice performance before teaching vocal music at Ruppenthal Middle School and Russell High School from 2008-2012. He is the recipient of the 2011 Young Director Award from the Kansas Choral Directors Association and the 2010 Horizon Award for first year teachers from the Kansas Department of Education. Alex completed a Masters of Music in Choral Conducting degree at Westminster Choir College in 2014 where he studied with Joe Miller and James Jordan. He founded the Russell Arts Council's Summer Concert Series in 2014 which has grown into the Ad Astra Music Festival.
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR John Irving is director of choral studies at Christopher Newport University where he conducts the Chamber Choir and Women’s Chorus and teaches courses in choral conducting and literature. He has served as interim music director of the Denton Bach Society and men’s chorus director of Westminster Choir College Vocal Institute. Previously, John was director of choral music at Fordham High School for the Arts in New York City where he prepared his choirs for performances at Carnegie Hall and was founding choral workshop director to Weill Music Institute’s Count Me In program, an initiative that delivers musical instruction to middle school students whose schools are without a choral music program. The New York Times praised his choirs in performance as “not just exuberant but polished and precise.” John earned a doctorate in choral conducting from the University of North Texas. He holds a master’s degree in choral conducting from Westminster Choir College and a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Texas at Austin. His musical training began as a treble with the Texas Boys Choir.
FESTIVAL DIRECTOR Katy Lushman is a musician, educator, clinician, and arts and community advocate in Denver, Colorado. Currently teaching at Denver North High School, a Title I public school, Katy has taught in suburban and urban public schools, and international schools in Switzerland and China. Holding a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and a Master of Music in Choral Conducting from Westminster Choir College, Katy regularly serves as a clinician for honor choirs and has presented sessions at conferences around issues of equity and innovation in music education. In addition to her work as an educator, Katy is an active vocalist in the Denver area. Katy is passionate about pushing the boundaries of what vocal music education is: her students regularly perform masterworks at renowned concert halls as well as collaborate with local hip-hop groups and artists of all genres. In particular, Katy is interested in the potential that exists to create a bridge between the traditional choral education model, of which she is a product and strong supporter, and innovative and community-oriented music making.
FESTIVAL MANAGER Katie Bruton completed her undergraduate degree in Music Education from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) where she sang with the University of Illinois Chamber Singers under the direction of Andrew Megill. Katie is currently a choral music educator in Bloomington, IL, where she directs several middle and high school choral ensembles, and teaches elementary general music. She currently serves on the Illinois ACDA board of directors as the assistant editor of the Podium. Katie sings with the Ad Astra Chamber Choir, Community Choir, and Baroque Consort while managing various elements of the month-long Ad Astra Music Festival.
MEDIA DIRECTOR Austin McWilliams received his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in 2017 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There he studied voice with Dawn Harris, studied electronic music synthesis with Lippold Haken, and sang in the University of Illinois Chamber Singers under the direction of Andrew Megill and Kristina Boerger. This fall he will attend Western Michigan University to pursue a Master of Music in choral conducting. At Illinois, he was the teaching assistant for the Varsity Men’s Glee Club and several engineering courses, and he sang as the Tenor Choral Scholar at Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church. He also appeared as a countertenor in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea as Pallade. Austin hails from the illustrious micropolitan hub of Poplar Bluff, Missouri.