Ad Astra Music Festival

Est. 2014 in Russell, Kansas

Artistic Staff


ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Alex Underwood is a choral conductor and music educator originally from Russell, Kansas. He is all-but-dissertation (ABD) in his doctoral program in choral music at the University of Illinois at 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 (Kansas) in music education and voice performance before teaching vocal music at Ruppenthal Middle School and Russell High School from 2008 to 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 Master of Music in choral conducting at Westminster Choir College in 2014 where he studied with Joe Miller and James Jordan. He founded the Ad Astra Music Festival in 2014.


MEDIA DIRECTOR Austin McWilliams is a Michigan-based conductor and countertenor. In 2019 he completed his Master of Music in choral conducting at Western Michigan University, where he studied conducting with Kimberly Dunn Adams and voice with Ken Prewitt. At Western, Austin conducted the university operas and designed a recital on HIV/AIDS awareness in collaboration with several community organizations. He is a faculty member at Missouri Scholars Academy, an annual, month-long governor’s school for gifted high school juniors. Austin received his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering with highest honors in 2017 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This is Austin's third year on the artistic staff of Ad Astra. He hails from the illustrious micropolitan hub of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where he received his formative training from Rachael Bonk.


PUBLICITY DIRECTOR Grace Currie recently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Choral Music Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At Illinois, Grace was the president and undergraduate conducting assistant of the UI Women's Glee Club under the direction of Dr. Andrea Solya. She also sang in the UI Chamber Singers under the direction of Dr. Andrew Megill, and she managed all social media accounts for UI Choirs for 1.5 years. With the UI Chamber Singers, Grace performed in Vienna and Budapest in collaboration with the Conservatory at the University of Vienna. She is passionate about educating middle school and high school students and watching them grow in their knowledge, skills, and love for choral music. Grace is the recipient of the Outstanding Senior in Choral Music Education award at the University of Illinois School of Music.