Artistic Leadership

Exceptional educators and music professionals

The GYSO artistic and administrative staff is composed of knowledgeable and experienced musicians and educators. Our staff teaches in prominent musical institutions in and around Atlanta and has performed across the U.S. and abroad.  Their educational backgrounds include leading conservatories and universities and collectively posses a wealth of musical knowledge.

This varied and encompassing background of unique perspectives allow GYSO directors to create rewarding musical environments and build foundations of success that last a lifetime. Guided by a dedication to youth education, the musical experience and education of GYSO students is unmatched.


Artistic Staff

A talented and versatile musician, Nathaniel F. Parker has conducted orchestras in the United States, Peru, Russia, Poland, England, and the Czech Republic. Equally at home working with professionals and training future generations of musicians, Dr. Parker is Director of Orchestral Studies at the Kennesaw State University School of Music—serving as Music Director and Conductor of the Kennesaw State University Symphony Orchestra and Conductor of the Kennesaw State University Opera Program—and Associate Conductor of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra. His recent guest conducting engagements include appearances with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra (Michigan), the Connecticut Music Educators Association (CMEA) All-State Orchestra, the Fulton County High School Honor Orchestra (Georgia), and the Georgia Music Educators Association (GMEA) District 9 High School Honor Orchestra.

Dr. Parker is the recipient of numerous honors, awards, and scholarships. He was named a finalist for a Conducting Fellowship with the New World Symphony, a semi-finalist for a Conducting Fellowship at Tanglewood, and a Candidate for the Respighi Prize in Conducting; he also received a Citation of Excellence in Teaching from the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. An active scholar, Dr. Parker’s writings have been published by the Conductors Guild and the College Orchestra Directors Association (CODA). He has presented research at the College Orchestra Directors Association’s national and international conferences and is Editor of the Journal of the Conductors Guild.

Dr. Parker has served as Music Director and Conductor of the Concert Orchestra and faculty at New England Music Camp (Maine), and Interim Music Director and Conductor of the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra’s (GYSO) Symphony and Camerata orchestras. Before relocating to Georgia, he was Director of Orchestral Activities and Assistant Professor of Music at Marywood University (Pennsylvania) where he was Music Director and Conductor of the Marywood University Orchestra and taught courses in conducting, instrumental methods, musicology, and analytical techniques. Other previous positions include Associate Conductor and Production Manager of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra (Michigan), Music Director and Conductor of the Jackson Youth Symphony Orchestra, Director of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra Community Music School, Graduate Conducting Intern at Michigan State University, Music Director and Conductor of the Mason Orchestral Society’s Community Orchestra and Youth Symphony (Michigan), Assistant Director of Music at Xaverian High School (New York), Conductor of the New Music Festival of Sandusky Orchestra (Ohio), and Graduate Assistant Conductor and Teaching Assistant at Bowling Green State University (Ohio).

Parker earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in Orchestral Conducting from Michigan State University, where his primary instructors were Leon Gregorian and Raphael Jiménez. During his time at MSU he regularly appeared with all the university orchestras and focused his doctoral research on Leonard Bernstein, specifically the composer’s Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety.” He earned a Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting from Bowling Green State University, where he studied with Emily Freeman Brown. His other conducting mentors include Stephen Osmond, Gary W. Hill, and Timothy Russell. In addition to his training in academia, Dr. Parker participated in numerous conducting master classes and workshops, conducting orchestras under the tutelage of nationally and internationally renowned conductors and conducting pedagogues including Christoph Eschenbach, George Hurst, Arthur Fagen, Markand Thakar, Mark Gibson, David Itkin, and Paul Vermel. Parker began his collegiate education at Arizona State University, where he studied bassoon with Jeffrey G. Lyman and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Music in Bassoon Performance.

Nat resides in Kennesaw with his wife, Melody, their son, Jacob, and their dog, Sammy.

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Dr. Kelly Thomas is the Philharmonic director of the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra. She also serves as the orchestra director at Kell High School. Through her instruction, students have consistently received superior and excellent ratings at district festivals and are active performers in the community. Her students have been chosen to perform with Georgia All-State Orchestra, Cobb Honor Symphony, and the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Dr. Thomas previously taught high school chorus at Kell High School and elementary strings in the Sharon and Braintree Public Schools in Massachusetts. She has presented at the NAfME Music Research and Teacher Education National Conference, NAfME National In-Service Conference, and Georgia Music Educators Association In-Service Conference. Dr. Thomas is also on faculty at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia, where she teaches String Methods.

Dr. Thomas received her B.M. in Music Education from Boston University, M.M. in Music Education from Boston Conservatory, and educational doctorate from the University of Georgia. The focus of her doctoral dissertation was sight singing for string students in the high school classroom. Beyond teaching, Dr. Thomas is an active violinist and vocalist with the Georgia Symphony Orchestra, Uncommon Practice, and Keltic Kudzu. She enjoys traveling and has visited all seven continents and over 100 countries.

David Metrio is currently the Director of Orchestras at Lanier High School in Buford, GA as well as the conductor for the Georgia Youth Symphony Camerata Orchestra.

He is currently working on a masters degree in Music Education from the Florida State University, and has an undergraduate degree in Music Education from   Kennesaw State University.

While at KSU, Metrio served as the president of the KSU chapter of the American String Teachers Association. Mr. Metrio has studied double bass under Dr. James Barket (Kennesaw State), Mr. Joseph Mcfadden (Atlanta Symphony), and Mr. Michael Kurth (Atlanta Symphony). Mr. Metrio has also performed with several orchestras in the Atlanta area such as the Georgia Symphony, the Kennesaw State University Orchestra, the Gwinnett Symphony, and the Emory Symphony.

Mr. Metrio is an active bass clinician in the Atlanta area. He has presented bass clinics at various middle schools and high schools in the Gwinnett, Cobb, and Fulton County School Districts as well as the Atlanta Public School District. Metrio has served on staff at the Upbeat! Summer orchestra camp as well as the Georgia ASTA summer orchestra camp. Mr. Metrio also maintains a small private bass studio.

Mr. Metrio’s professional affiliations include the National Association For Music Education, the American String Teachers Association, and the Georgia Music Educators Association. Mr. Metrio currently serves as the GMEA District 13 Treasurer, and as the Membership Ambassador for the Georgia chapter of ASTA.

In his free time, Mr. Metrio enjoys traveling and considers himself an avid foodie. He resides in Suwanee, GA with his beloved Shih-Tzu dog, Mozart.

Whitney Tinley is the director of the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Sinfonia ensemble and Orchestra Director at Shiloh Middle School in Gwinnett County. She also serves as the coordinator for Georgia’s 11th and 12th grade All-State Orchestra as well as for Gwinnett County’s 6th grade Honors Orchestra. She has worked as the bass coach for the Gwinnett County Youth Honors Orchestra and has served as a conductor and bass instructor and ENCORE and ASTA orchestra camps.

She maintains an active string bass studio and a career as a freelance bassist. She is a member of the Saint Cecilia Saints, the orchestra for the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Whitney graduated from DePauw University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education, and has her Masters in Music Education from the University of Georgia.

Mrs. Evelyn Champion graduated Magna Cum Laude with High Honors from the University of Georgia in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education, and holds her Master of Music Education and Education Specialist degrees from the University of Georgia as well. Mrs. Champion taught orchestra at Daniell Middle School in Cobb County for nine years before transferring to Sprayberry High School in 2003. Mrs. Champion also chartered the Tri-M Music Honor Society chapter at Sprayberry. In 2016, Mrs. Champion moved to Northwestern Middle School in Fulton County.

Mrs. Champion is the 2011 Georgia American String Teachers Association String Teacher of the Year and the 2012 Georgia Music Educators Association Music Educator of the Year. Mrs. Champion is a 2013 “Woodruff Arts Center Salutes Georgia Arts in Education Leaders” finalist for Music Education.

Mrs. Champion has been a member of the Georgia Music Educators Association (GMEA) since the early nineties and is currently serving as President. An active clinician in the North Georgia area in middle school and high school, Mrs. Champion has judged performance evaluations and conducted honor orchestras throughout Georgia, and is also a GMEA Certified Head Adjudicator. She has also been involved in the selection process for Governor’s Honors Program music candidates at the state level. Mrs. Champion was elected Vice-President of the Georgia Music Educators Association and served a two-year term from 2007-2009, followed by a two-year term as the GMEA Orchestra Division Chair, also an elected position, from 2009-2011.

A freelance violinist, Mrs. Champion performs with the Georgia Symphony Orchestra and is the Co-director of the Encore Orchestra Camp. She lives in Marietta with her husband J. Champion, and sons David, Charlie, and Sam. Her hobbies are gardening, biking, and of course, playing violin!

Bryan Black has worked as a conductor, educator, church musician and arts advocate since moving to Atlanta in 1994. He first trained as an organist and pianist at the undergraduate level (BM, Samford University), then followed a passion for choral music and conducting at the graduate level (MM, Florida State). While at FSU he was deeply influenced by Rodney Eichenberger – the internationally regarded pedagogue and conductor. Bryan also holds the “Certificate of German” granted by the Goethe-Institute in Berlin. As a church musician, Black has served the 4,200 member First United Methodist Church of Marietta as Director of Music since 2003. Previous church appointments have included work with the 1996 “Celebrate Faith and Arts” Olympic event and an invitational choir festival tour to Kristiansand, Norway.

Black was invited by Michael Alexander to form the GSO Chorus in 2007. Over seven seasons it has performed masterworks such as Orff’s Carmina Burana, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Poulenc’s Gloria, Bach’s Magnificat, Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast and Vaughan William’s Sea Symphony. The chorus now numbers some 90 voices and draws talented professional and amateur singers from across the area. In 2012, the Chamber Chorus made its first international tour to Spain under his direction.

For ten years Black conducted The DeKalb Choral Guild, a community chorus based in Tucker. Over this time the choir tripled in size, made tours of Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic, appeared three times at the Piccolo Spoleto festival in Charleston, performed for the Georgia ACDA state convention and released its first professional recording. In the late ‘90s, Black sang with the ASO Chorus and Chamber Chorus – including Mr. Shaw’s final performance of Bach’s B-minor Mass in Carnegie Hall. During this time he also taught on the faculty of Georgia State University and was a visiting conductor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. For his contributions to the city’s cultural life he was named a “Lexus Leader in the Arts” by Atlanta Public Broadcasting in 2003.

After a successful musical project with the Atlanta Goethe-Institute (Hugo Distler’s Totentanz), Bryan was awarded a cultural ambassadorship in 2004 which allowed him to attend an intensive course offered in Weimar, Germany. He currently serves as president of the American Choral Director’s Association (ACDA) in Georgia and assisted John Rutter as organizer for a conductor’s honor chorus during the 2013 ACDA National Conference.

Sam Skelton is the Director of the GSO Jazz! Repertoire Orchestra, GSO Jazz! Ensemble and the youth jazz ensemble of the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra (GYSO) Program – all dedicated to bringing new age and traditional big band charts alive with every performance.

A native of Conyers, Georgia, Skelton has been active on the Atlanta music scene for well over two decades. Skelton graduated summa cum laude from Georgia State University and the private studio of Tony Carere with a degree in jazz studies. During his course of study at GSU, Skelton was a Montgomery Music Scholar and a two-time fellowship recipient to the Aspen Music Festival. He continued his saxophone studies with Kenneth Radnofsky at Boston University in 1991.

As a woodwind doubler, Skelton is well versed in any genre of music. His grasp of saxophone, clarinet and flute has enabled him to remain very busy in live performance as well as in the studio.

Skelton has performed and/or soloed with The London Symphony Orchestra, The Atlanta Symphony, The Atlanta Pops, The Peachtree Pops, The Atlanta Ballet Orchestra and the Georgia Symphony Orchestra as well as numerous local high school and civic ensembles. World Premiers include James Oliverio’s Children of A Common Mother, Lee Johnson’s Ora Pro Mi: Concerto for Winds Soloist (clarinet, flute and soprano saxophone) and Seaside Symphony (clarinet and soprano saxophone soloist). Skelton also played the premier recording of Ora Pro Mi and Seaside Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra.

As a sideman on over 175 compact discs, Skelton remains very active in the studio and can be heard on recordings by such artists as: Elton John, December Radio, Babbie Mason, Howard Tate, Matchbox 20, Train, Edwin McCain, The Gap Band and The Ohio Players. Television and radio jingles include The Georgia Lottery, Glen Beck, The Weather Channel, The Travel Channel, Ford, The Cartoon Network, CNN, Nature’s Own, Popeye’s, Papa John’s and Turner South. Television appearances include In the Heat of the Night, Savannah and Sinbad’s Summer Jam II on HBO.

Skelton is currently Director of Jazz Studies and Lecturer in Saxophone at Kennesaw State University. He is also Artistic Director of GSO Jazz! and GYSO Jazz!. Skelton served as Professor of Saxophone at Georgia State University from 1991 to 2004 and was Jazz Ensemble Director at Georgia Tech from 2002-2004 and Artist-in-Residence at The University of Georgia Jazz Department. He served as Visiting Professor of Saxophone at Furman University 2001-02. Professional associations include: Georgia Music Educators Association, Georgia Association of Jazz Educators, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (voting member) and the American Federation of Musicians. Skelton is a Conn-Selmer Artist. He resides in Buford, GA.

For his contributions to the city’s cultural life he was named a “Lexus Leader in the Arts” by Atlanta Public Broadcasting in 2003.

John Lawless became Director of Percussion Studies at Kennesaw State University in 2004. Principal Timpanist of the Atlanta Opera since 1979, Mr. Lawless was appointed as Principal Timpanist with the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Orchestra in 1986.

Since 1978, Mr. Lawless has performed and recorded as an extra with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra while maintaining a thriving freelance career as studio and pit percussionist.A founding member of the Atlanta Percussion Trio, Mr. Lawless performs more than 600 school concerts a year for audiences totaling 300,000 annually. In 2004 the Atlanta Percussion Trio performed as concerto soloists with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in “The Glory and the Grandeur” by Russell Peck.

A graduate of Georgia State University, Mr. Lawless’s teachers include Tom Float, Jack Bell, Cloyd Duff, Paul Yancich, Bill Wilder, and Mark Yancich. Mr. Lawless’s previous faculty appointments include those at Georgia State University, Clark Atlanta University, and West Georgia State University.

Harrison Cook received a BA from Georgia State University and his MFA from Carnegie Mellon University. He has played in various orchestras, including the Columbus Symphony, Savannah Philharmonic, Greenville Symphony, and the Symphony Orchestra Augusta, and various recording studios. He has had the opportunity to play around the world, including performances in Italy, Monaco, and China. Harrison currently teaches at Simpson Middle School, gives recitals, and plays with various ensembles around the Atlanta community. He also continues to teach a robust private studio, with students going on to perform at the Brevard, Suwanee, and Interlochen summer institutes, and go on to colleges including the University of Georgia, Furman University, and the University of Texas to study music.

In high school, Harrison spent one year in the Buckhead Youth Orchestra and the following three years with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. He attended the Brevard Summer Institute twice, the Franklin Pond Chamber Music Program, and spent a summer in Spoleto, Italy through the Cincinatti Conservatory as a part of the Spoleto Music Festival. He continues to study with Joel Dallow, as well as various other members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, including Christopher Rex and Brad Ritchie. Harrison has played in various chamber ensembles throughout his career, including the newly formed Arche String Quartet, and is excited to coach Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra's strings.

Bruce Mangan is a freelance bass trombonist and an active music educator in the Atlanta area. As well as working with the GYSO Brass Quintet, Mr. Mangan works with school brass programs in Gwinnett, Hall, Jackson, Cobb, and Cherokee counties. His primary teachers and mentors include educators Freddy Martin and Dr. Irv Wagner as well as Richard Brady of the Atlanta Opera and Atlanta Ballet; and Colin Williams of the New York Philharmonic.

Being a member of such organizations as the Georgia Symphony Orchestra (GSO), the GSO Jazz!, the Henderson Symphony (NV), Hollywood Pops Orchestra, and the New Sigmund Romberg Orchestra; Bruce has had the opportunity to share the stage with such performers as the Indigo Girls, Take 6, Byron Stripling, Bob Shepard, and Naomi Mauro.

In the summers Bruce is the Director of Production for the Sewanee Summer Music Festival at the University of the South in Sewanee TN.

Christin Lawhorne is currently the Director of Orchestras and the Associate Director of Bands at River Ridge High School in Woodstock, GA. She has been teaching band and orchestra in Cherokee County for 6 years. Ms. Lawhorne graduated from Reinhardt University in 2010 with a BA in flute performance, having studied with Kelly Bryant and Lisa Mahoney. She then obtained her BS in Music Education in 2013, and most recently achieved her Master's in Music with an emphasis in conducting in 2016.
Christin is an avid performer, currently playing with the Georgia Wind Symphony in Canton, Ga. Previously, she has performed with the Atlanta Musician's Orchestra, The Flute Choir of Atlanta, Tara Winds, and the American Patriot Winds. In addition to teaching band and orchestra in Cherokee County, Ms. Lawhorne has had the privilege to direct several high school-aged flute choirs and even a saxophone choir in the past 6 years. She is delighted to help start the GYSO Flute Choir for the 2019-2020 school year. Ashton, her 13-year old son, plays clarinet in the GYSO Camerata and is her greatest accomplishment.

The award-winning Timothy Verville’s performances are hailed by reviewers as “a dazzling musical experience.” His enriching programs, spirit of collaborative creation, and promotion of the arts has produced enrichment and genuine impact in communities. These innovative and engaging approaches in the concert hall position him as a uniquely multifaceted and multitalented conductor in the modern orchestral world.

In Japan, Timothy’s performances at the Kyushu International Festival received widespread musical praise and standing ovations. This includes appearances with the Kyushu Symphony Orchestra, Hita Civic Orchestra, the Chikushi Jogakuen Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Kyushu Philharmonic Orchestra. This season he will also make his conducting debut in Russia. U.S. guest conducting appearances have included the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, as well as other orchestral and theatre organizations across the country.

Timothy Verville is the Robert W. Hagan Family Foundation Music Director and Conductor of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra. Beginning his tenure in 2016, he has energized audiences while increasing and diversifying concert offerings.

His strong focus on audience engagement and outreach is recognized throughout the community and in the League of American Orchestra’s Symphony magazine. His creative and collaborative programing has expanded the organization’s performance footprint and served to build bridges into underrepresented populations.

Notably, the 2018 Georgia premiere of William Grant-Still’s And They Lynched Him On A Tree… combined the performing forces of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with the Morehouse College Glee Club, Spelman College Glee Club, Uzee Brown Society of Choraliers, and the Georgia Spiritual Ensemble.The performances were praised as a unifying moment in the arts and stand as an example of the power of music to coalesce communities.

Other performance partnerships and collaborations have included the Georgia Conservancy, Acworth Cultural Arts Center, Booth Western Art Museum, Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art, The Lyric Theater, and the Young Artist Competition at Kennesaw State University.

In addition to conducting classics, pops, and special performances, he has also designed the Georgia Symphony’s Sensory Friendly concerts which have been supported by National Endowment for the Arts.

In 2008, Timothy began a relationship with the Boston Chamber Orchestra that would encompass over a decade of music making. Initially serving as Associate Conductor and later Principal Guest Conductor, he continues an ongoing association with the ensemble. Timothy recorded music by Vaughan Williams for the orchestra’s 2013 international CD release.

In Phoenix, he served from 2010-2015 as the founding Artistic Director and Conductor of Arizona Pro Arte. His presentations of unique and anticipated collaborative events resulted in exponential audience growth and sold out performances.

During this time, the orchestra grew to include a regular masterworks season, a summer orchestral series, educational performances, a chamber music program, a dance ensemble, and establish a composer in residence. He instituted an annual “Call for Scores” competition that at its height received over 920 applicants from forty countries.

Previously he has served as Music Director and Conductor of the North Valley Chamber Orchestra, Scottsdale Baroque Orchestra, and as Conductor of the Pollard Theatre.

With an interest in a wide range of repertoire, Timothy commissions and conducts regional, national, and world premiere compositions which have encompassed operatic, chamber, and symphonic music. He has counseled young and emerging composers across the country and worked with the Tucson Symphony’s Young Composers Project, which Yo-Yo Ma praised as an “extraordinary program.”

An award winner in the American Prize for Orchestral Performance, Timothy was mentored by esteemed conductors James DePreist, Bruce Hangen, Timothy Russell, and additionally in masterclasses with David Effron, Markand Thakar, and Neil Varon.

At the renowned Monteux School and Music Festival, Timothy was selected as an orchestral assistant while studying with Michael Jinbo. He earned degrees in music from the University of Oklahoma, Arizona State University, and the Boston Conservatory.

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Administrative Staff

Melody Richardson’s goal as Education Director for the Georgia Symphony Orchestra is to organize and develop solid infrastructure for the GYSO ensembles and educational outreach programs. She believes strongly in providing a challenging and meaningful musical experience that sparks curiosity, improves musicianship, and fosters a lifelong love of the arts.

Melody began her musical-life as a cellist but became most passionate about early education and classical voice. Melody studied at both Kennesaw & Georgia State Universities’ Schools of Music to earn her Bachelor of Music in Music Education. Her vocal pedagogy includes coaching in the private studio of Dr. Oral Moses, singing with the KSU Chamber Singers and performing with the KSU Opera Theater. In 2008, Melody had the privilege of studying Opera History abroad with the GSO’s Concert Master, Dr. Edward Eanes. Melody also holds specialized certifications in the Orff and Weikart methodologies, which focus on the inherent correlation of music, movement and culture.

As an educator, Melody is certified and has taught a total of 6 years in both Cobb County, GA & Greenville County, SC. During her time teaching in public schools, Melody built multiple music programs from the ground up. Through this experience, she learned that it takes incredible educators to balance delivering curriculum with raising funds, program management, rehearsals, and performances. Because of this, she is now determined to support music educators across the state of GA.

To challenge herself, Melody maintains an active membership with the GMEA and has enjoyed performing with the Georgia Symphony Orchestra Chorus since her inaugural experience in 2007.

Susan H. Stensland, Executive Director for the Georgia Symphony Orchestra is a Georgia native. Prior to accepting her position with the GSO, Ms. Stensland was employed for 15 years as lead accountant and office manager for Hammond Accounting Services, and as a freelance artist and designer. She has been an active volunteer in a variety of capacities, including fundraising, volunteer coordination, events designing, coaching, and arts coordinating for a variety of non-profit organizations including Boy Scouts of America, Cobb County Community Emergency Response Team, and Odyssey of the Mind. She joined the staff of the organization in 2006 and began serving as Executive Director of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra in January, 2013.

Susan Stensland holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Arts Education from Georgia State University and certificates in Nonprofit Organizational Management, and in Management and Supervision from Nonprofit University. Ms. Stensland was a member of the 2013-2014 CEO Peerspectives cohort and the 2015-16 class of Arts Leaders of Metropolitan Atlanta. She currently is a member of the Audience Building Roundtable initiative of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

Melissa Ake

Christopher Bowers

Brandon Cali

Josh Inglis

Michael Karantonis

Stephane Nazaire

Zachary Opitz

Rachel Reaves

Eli Rickles

Clay Rogers

Jessica Shaw