Music Director & Conductor, Since 2006
Christopher Wilkins is passionate about community-oriented projects. He has made it a priority to develop partnerships with artists and organizations based in Northeast Ohio, and to develop educational programming for people of all ages, interests and backgrounds.
Christopher Wilkins has served as Music Director of the Akron Symphony since 2006. Under his direction the orchestra’s programming has reflected his strong interest in community-oriented projects. He has developed partnerships with many artists and organizations based in Northeast Ohio, including the Akron Art Museum, Akron-Summit County Public Library, Firestone High School, Summit County Historical Society, YEPAW 365, GroundWorks Dance Theater, Neos Dance Theatre, and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Recent major collaborative projects have included fully staged performances of Porgy and Bess, The Rite of Spring, Titanic, South Pacific, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and Carmina Burana. The orchestra’s community initiatives have been awarded a major grant from the Knight Foundation to support community engagement projects and collaborative programming over a five-year period.
Maestro Wilkins also serves as Music Director of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, a summer orchestra performing weekly on Boston’s Esplanade and throughout the neighborhoods of Boston. As a guest conductor, he has appeared with many of the leading orchestras of the United States, including those of Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. He has also appeared regularly with orchestras in Latin America, New Zealand, Spain and the UK.
He previously served as Music Director of the San Antonio Symphony and the Colorado Springs Symphony, and is currently Artistic Advisor to the Opera Theatre of the Rockies in Colorado Springs. Wilkins also served as resident conductor of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, helping launch that orchestra in its inaugural season, and leading it on tours throughout the Americas.
Wilkins won the Seaver/NEA Award in 1992. He has served as the associate conductor of the Utah Symphony, assisting his former teacher Joseph Silverstein; as assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, as assistant to Christoph von Dohnányi; conducting assistant with the Oregon Symphony under James DePreist; and was a conducting fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center.
Born in Boston in 1957, Maestro Wilkins earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. He received his master of music degree from Yale University, where he studied with Otto-Werner Mueller. As an oboist, he performed with many ensembles in the Boston area, including the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, and the Boston Philharmonic under Benjamin Zander.
Associate Conductor, Akron Youth Symphony Music Director, Since 2016
Active as a composer and arranger, Eric Benjamin’s works have been performed by orchestras nationally. Eric is a committed educator and has taught music at the elementary, secondary and college level.
Eric Benjamin graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music with degrees in music education and orchestral conducting. He began his professional conducting career as resident conductor of the Akron Symphony Orchestra and now serves as music director of the Tuscarawas Philharmonic and the Alliance Symphony.
He has appeared as guest conductor with orchestras in Canton, Columbus, Cleveland, Wooster and Erie, Pa. Active as a composer and arranger, his works have been performed by orchestras nationally. Recently, the Canton Symphony opened its season with the premiere of his An Occasional Overture.
Mr. Benjamin is a committed educator and has taught music at the elementary, secondary and college level. He is currently an adjunct faculty member at University of Mount Union where he conducts the orchestra, teaches conducting and a course on music and culture. He also directs the University Chorus and teaches at the Kent State Tuscarawas campus.
“I love to engineer interactions between young people and music,” Benjamin said, “events that hook up scholarship, creativity, performance and achievement with that electric current that makes a student want to do music in the first place.”
Douglas A. Bayda
Director, Akron Youth Philharmonic, Since 2012
Douglas Bayda has extensive experience teaching orchestra in Akron Public Schools, as well as string instruction for students since 2007. He is active in the Ohio Music Education Association and National Association for Music Education.
The Greater Akron Musical Association recently selected Douglas A. Bayda, the Director of Orchestras at Akron’s Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts, as the new Director of the Greater Akron Youth Philharmonic (AYP). He will begin as Director of AYP at the start of the 2012-2013 school year.
The Director oversees the Akron Youth Philharmonic and prepares members for performances during a 20-week season, which extends from November through March. The Director plans, programs and conducts weekly rehearsals and three annual concerts, selects appropriate music for the season, organizes auditions, and works with the Director of the Akron Youth Symphony (AYS) to coordinate an annual side-by-side concert.
“I am very honored to be working with the Greater Akron Youth Philharmonic,” said Douglas Bayda. “This ensemble has a long tradition of excellence. I’m excited to be part of the musical journey its members will take.”
Bayda has extensive experience teaching orchestra in Akron Public Schools at Miller South and in the East Cluster, and he has provided string instruction for students in grades 4-8 since 2007. He previously taught orchestra and band for grades 4-12 in the Princeton City Schools system in Cincinnati, where he directed the high school Chamber Orchestra and Freshman Band, and prepared the orchestra wind and percussion section. He is active in the Ohio Music Education Association (OMEA) and the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). He currently resides in Medina with his wife, Beth and their children, Laura, Nicholas and Nathan.
“My main goal with AYP is to provide high achieving student musicians with an opportunity to perform in a full orchestra with likeminded peers,” said Douglas Bayda. “I enjoy challenging students at this age with a variety of musical repertoire, and helping them perform it at a very high level of musicianship.”
Bayda received his Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Bowling Green State University, where he served as principal clarinet for three years with the Symphonic Band and principal clarinet in the orchestra. He received his Master of Music in Wind Instrument Performance from The University of Michigan, where he was awarded a fellowship to study clarinet with Fred Ormand and performed with the University’s Symphonic Band and orchestra. Bayda continued studies in string pedagogy, string instrument repair, conducting, and teacher enrichment at The University of Wisconsin, Madison, The University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music, and Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.
Director, Akron Symphony Chorus
Marie Bucoy-Calavan is the Director of the Akron Symphony Chorus as well as Director of Choral Studies at The University of Akron.
Marie Bucoy-Calavan has conducted a diverse range of ensembles, from primary and secondary level choirs, to community, collegiate, and professional choruses and opera productions. She is currently the Director of Choral Studies at The University of Akron, where she conducts The University of Akron Chamber Choir, Concert Choir, and Men’s Chorus, and teaches courses in undergraduate and graduate conducting and choral literature.
Bucoy-Calavan finished her Bachelor of Arts in Music and Master of Music in Choral Conducting at California State University, Fullerton, serving as the Graduate Assistant Conductor of both the University Singers and Chamber Choir. She completed her Doctorate of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting at University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, where she directed the University of Cincinnati Men’s Chorus and taught introductory courses and private lessons in conducting for undergraduate students.
She has prepared and performed with symphonic choruses under the batons of Carl St. Clair, Bramwell Tovey, John Williams, Eric Whitacre, Keith Lockhart, John Mauceri, Steven Mercurio, Louis Langrée, John Nelson, and John Alexander in distinguished venues, including Walt Disney Concert Hall, Hollywood Bowl, and the Liszt Academy in Budapest, Hungary. Bucoy-Calavan has continued her conducting training with Robert Porco, Robert Istad, Earl Rivers, Mark Gibson, Craig Hella-Johnson, Patrick Dupré Quigley, Ragnar Bohlin, Jerry Blackstone, Paul Rardin, Jacques Lacombe, David Hayes, Arthur Fagan, William Dehning, and Elmer Thomas. In addition, Bucoy-Calavan placed second in the 2013 American Choral Directors Association National Choral Conducting Competition, held in Dallas, Texas.
Bucoy-Calavan has an affinity for conducting and preparing choral-orchestral masterworks, having served as the Assistant Conductor to Robert Porco for the May Festival Chorus, the symphonic chorus for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. She has also conducted various opera performances in California and Ohio, including Gaetano Donizetti’s Elixir of Love and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Cosí fan tutte.
Bucoy-Calavan also appears as a guest clinician and conductor for honor choirs and masterclasses, both regionally and nationally. Most recently, she was invited to serve a residency teaching conducting and American choral music at the Hochschule für Musik und Theatre in Munich, Germany.
She serves on the National Board of Directors of Chorus America, the National Board for the National Choral Collegiate Organizations (NCCO) and as University Repertoire and Standards Chair of the state organization, Ohio Choral Directors Organization.
Her research interests lies in conducting pedagogy and its unification among choral, orchestral, and wind ensembles.
Jennifer Mekel Jones
Gospel Meets Symphony Chorus Master
Jennifer Mekel Jones is a member of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Akron, where she serves in the area of pastoral care, worship, and administration. She is also an accomplished writer, composer and arranger.
Jennifer Mekel Jones has been involved in music since age three and performed her first concert at age 17 with all original compositions. She formed a singing group called “Bread of Heaven’” in 1989. Their signature sound consisted of tight intricate harmonies sung a cappella. Mekel has written, composed and arranged over 50 songs. As a performer, Mekel has appeared: at the dedication of the new Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center (1991); at Akron’s First Night Celebration (1999); as a background vocalist for the Millennium Clock Tower Celebration Commercial (2000) with Mr. Charles Myricks, Director and Writer of “PAUL – A Musical Journey;” as a guest soloist for the Akron Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas Pops (2009); as a guest conductor and soloist for the 2010 and 2011 Gospel Meets Symphony concerts; as a Choral Master for the Balcony Chorus for Akron Symphony orchestra’s production of Porgy & Bess (2011).
Mekel recently completed a live recording project entitled “Destiny Live,” with guest artists, H. Doobie Powell, Jonathan Dubose, Jr., Denise Powell, Eddie Brown and Kevin Powell, which is scheduled for national release in March 2012. It was produced by H. Doobie Powell, gospel recording artist, producer, singer, songwriter, composer and multi-faceted musician.
Mekel is a member of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Akron, where she serves in the area of pastoral care, worship, and administration. As a licensed and ordained minister, she leads the worship services, teaches Bible Study and conducts worship and music workshops for church and community members. Mekel is the Pastor of Worship at Heart for the City Church in Akron. She also serves as a coordinator of the Pastors’ Project, a community initiative that focuses on raising awareness and education within the clergy community and the community regarding drug abuse, chemical dependency and mental illness.
Mekel is a graduate of the University of Akron and Ashland Theological Seminary where she is currently pursuing her Masters of Divinity degree.