Success Stories

Dr. Blair Williams

Assistant Professor of String Music Education, Texas Tech University

"My experiences as a student in the School of Music taught me about music, leadership, teaching, teamwork, friendship, worship, life... and so, so many other things. The skills that I learned as a student at Baylor have opened doors for me that I could not have imagined as an entering freshman, and I am eternally grateful to all that have guided me and continue to support me on this journey."

Dr. Blair A. Williams (PhD, The Ohio State University, MM, Kansas State University, BME, Baylor University) is Assistant Professor of String Music Education at Texas Tech University. Her duties include supervising string student teachers, teaching courses in string music education, providing instruction in instrumental/orchestral conducting, team-teaching the upper level music education courses, and directing the Texas Tech University String Project.

Dr. Williams has presented invited clinics at the National Association for Music Education National In-Service Conference, the annual American String Teachers Association conference, the annual Ohio State String Teacher Workshop, and the annual Texas Music Educators Association Conference. Her research interests include: rural string music education, music teacher education, secondary music teaching, and viola. She has been published in The American String Teacher and SmartMusic.

Dr. Williams is an experienced school, youth symphony, region, and festival conductor. She has conducted ensembles in Texas, Kansas, and Ohio with notable performances at: The Midwest Clinic (2010: The Gold Orchestra; Manhattan, KS), District 2 Junior High School Festival Orchestra (2014, 2015: OH), TMEA Region XVI Middle School Symphony Orchestra (2016: TX), and the upcoming TMEA Region XI High School Symphony Orchestra (2017: TX).

Dr. Williams served as Director of Orchestras and the Associate Director of Orchestras for Midway ISD, Waco, TX teaching grades 5-12. Dr. Williams' ensembles consistently received superior ratings at UIL Solo and Ensemble, UIL Concert and Sight-Reading Contest, and other regional music festivals.

Jake Hale

Principal Clarinet, Shreveport Symphony Orchestra

"Although I trained to be a Music Educator, I became a performer and professional musician because of the well-rounded education from Baylor University's Music Education Program and the opportunities that were presented to me."

Jake Hale is currently the principal clarinetist of The Shreveport Symphony Orchestra. He has performed as the second/Eb clarinetist of the Waco Symphony Orchestra and has performed with The Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra, The Odessa-Midland Symphony Orchestra, and the Round Top Festival Institute Orchestra. He has competed in the International Clarinet Association Competitions making several appearances as a semi-finalist and finalist. In 2015, he won the Orchestral Audition Competition and the same year made finals in the Young Artist Competition as the only American to advance.

Jake is from Fort Worth, Texas and currently studying with Richie Hawley at Rice University pursuing a Master in Music Performance. He received his undergraduate degree in Music Education at Baylor University in Waco, Texas where he studied under Dr. Jun Qian, Dr. Vanguel Tangerov, and Alan Olson. While at Baylor, he played in the final round of the Baylor Concerto Competition in 2014 and 2015 and his woodwind quintet, Connect5, advanced to the Semi-finals of the Coltman Chamber Competition. Jake has also studied with Dr. Richard Shanley and Ivan Petruzziello of the Fort Worth Symphony.

Jake enjoys running, exercising, and teaching his clarinet studio in Texas. Jake is a sports fan and during the football and basketball seasons, he supports the Baylor and DFW sports teams. He owes his success to his friends and supportive parents who give him inspiration to create music and to pursue exquisite music making.

Jamie L. Yarbrough

Associate Attorney, Baker Botts L.L.P.

"The consistent preparation and professionalism cultivated by the Baylor Music Program are valuable assets from the band hall to the boardroom."

Jamie Yarbrough (BME 2008) is currently an associate attorney with Baker Botts L.L.P. in Houston, Texas. Jamie graduated from Baylor with a Bachelor of Music Education with an emphasis in euphonium in 2008. He spent 3 years as an assistant band director in the Azle ISD band program. In pursuit of a new challenge, Jamie then attended law school at the University of Texas School of Law where he graduated with high honors and was a member of the editorial board of the Texas Law Review.

Following graduation, Jamie went on to receive the highest score on the July 2014 administration of the Texas bar exam. Jamie currently practices corporate law with a focus on capital markets, mergers and acquisitions and Exchange Act reporting. During his first 2 years of practice, he has been involved in transactions worth approximately $50 billion and has served as counsel to several members of the Fortune 500.

Sarah Council

Associate Director of Choirs, Plano West Senior High

"The Baylor School of Music provided me a family-like atmosphere and all of the opportunities of a large university. With the encouragement and knowledge gained from top-notch professors and talented peers, I felt I was able to enter a competitive field with real-world education experiences and endless support."

Sarah Council (BME 2006) is in her 11th year as a choral music educator, and her fourth as Associate Director of the Plano West Senior High School Choirs where she co-teaches Varsity Women, Men and Mixed Choirs as well as directs the two a cappella pop choirs. Previously, she held the position of Director of Choirs at Shepton High School, one of the two 9th and 10th grade feeder campuses to Plano West. Her choirs have received many honors, including Best in Class and consistent UIL Sweepstakes awards; and her 9th and 10th grade Chorale was an Invited Performing Choir for the 2011 TMEA Convention, making it the first Non-Varsity performing ensemble from Plano to be selected for a TMEA convention performance. Mrs. Council's students frequently earn chairs in All-Region and All-State choirs. Mrs. Council has served as an all-state Mixed Choir section leader, and has spent summers teaching several All State Choir Camps. Recently, choirs under her preparation have performed with Eriks Esenvalds, Eric Whitacre and have been invited to work with Voces8. Mrs. Council is an active member of TMEA, TCDA, TMAA and ACDA, and currently serves as the Vocal Chair of TMEA Region 24. Sarah Council resides in Plano with her husband, Doug, and son, Mason.

Jeff Theiss

Musical Theatre Director & Musician, New York City

"I often work with actors who have very diverse levels of musical backgrounds - from little or no formal music training to Master's Degrees in performance. Baylor Music Ed gave me the awareness to recognize and acknowledge everyone's unique learning process and the tools to be able to tailor my teaching approach to a wide variety of skill levels."

Jeff Theiss (Baylor - BME 2005, Ithaca College - MM 2009) is an active music director, conductor, coach, and audition pianist in New York City. Jeff most recently joined the music team of The Book Of Mormon on Broadway as rehearsal pianist, keyboard 2 sub, and conductor sub. He is also the associate music director for the critically acclaimed Off Broadway hit The Band's Visit. Outside of NYC, Jeff has served as the music director at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in upstate New York since 2009, as well as various other regional theaters across the country. Aside from performing, Jeff also enjoys teaching and most recently was a lecturer in the Theater Department at Ithaca College for the Spring semester of 2016. He has also taught music/theater at AMDA, CAP21, Pace University, New York University, Hofstra University, and The Dalton School in NYC.

Michal (Nelson) Taylor

"As a fourth-generation Baylor Bear, and third-generation alumna of the School of Music, I had always planned on making Baylor my home. The faculty at Baylor taught me how to strive for excellence and never settle for anything less - not only for myself, but also for my students."

Michal (Nelson) Taylor is currently in her fifth year of teaching elementary music. She has worked in multiple districts teaching students aged 5 to 18 and also continues her work as a private percussion teacher and consultant. Michal was graduated with a Bachelor of Music Education, emphasis in Percussion, in 2010 and again in 2012 as a part of the inaugural class of the Master of Music Education degree program at Baylor. During her time at Baylor she was named the Larry Vanlandingham Outstanding Instrumental Graduate Student and had the opportunity to work with renowned composers, Steve Reich and David Lang. Since her departure from Baylor in 2012, Michal has been sought out to lead professional development within her districts regarding educational legislation and elementary music curriculum. During her time in Odessa she also served as a substitute percussionist for the Midland-Odessa Symphony and Chorale. Michal and her husband Nathan both currently serve on the Baylor University School of Music Board of Advocates and live in Buda, Texas.

Michael Dean

Choir Director, Trinity High School

"The Baylor Music Education department prepared me in many ways as a choral director. There are obvious skills I learned, like how to lead a rehearsal, how to select literature, and how to manage a classroom; but as I look back on my time at Baylor, I appreciate most the relationships and mentorship fostered by my professors who truly demonstrated their care for me. Now, I feel as though I am paying it forward in my care for my students and families as well."

Michael Dean is in his 27th year as a choral director in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District. After teaching eight years at Hurst Junior High, he moved to Trinity High School in 1998. While maintaining superior ratings at UIL competition, the choirs at Trinity have also been awarded "Best in Class" at various music festivals across the country. Mr. Dean's choirs have performed with the King's Singers in the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center and Chanticleer in the Fort Worth Bass Hall. In both 2004 and 2012, Mr. Dean's Trinity High School A Cappella Choir sang at the TMEA Convention as one of the 5A invited choirs. In 2009, the A Cappella Choir was chosen the National Mixed Choir winner for the Mark of Excellence Choral Honors Project.

Mr. Dean received his Bachelor of Music Education with honors and Master of Music in Conducting from Baylor University. There he was named ACDA Choral Musician of the Year in 1987 and 1990 as well as Outstanding Graduate Student in 1990. Mr. Dean was selected Teacher of the Year for Hurst Junior High School in 1998 and Trinity High School in 2007. In 2010, Mr. Dean was the recipient of the Score a Goal in the Classroom's "Outstanding Choral Music Educator Hero" award.

Mr. Dean has served as adjudicator for numerous choral competitions and Solo and Ensemble contests throughout Texas. He frequently serves as guest clinician for All-Region performances and preparatory clinics for UIL Choral Contest. His professional affiliations include the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) where he currently serves as President of Region 5, Texas Choral Directors Association (TCDA), American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Texas Music Adjudicators Association (TMAA), Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), Phi Kappa Lambda and Kappa Kappa Psi. He and his wife Lori have been married for 29 years and are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Kaylee, 24, and Kendall, 21.

Julie Blackstock

Director of Orchestras, Liberty High School

"The particular care and love that was shown to me by my professors at Baylor influences me greatly as an educator. I directly attribute any professional success I have had as an educator to my string professors who went above and beyond to help me find that ever-important first job. I wouldn't be here without them."

Julie Blackstock (BME - 1998) is currently in her 19th year of teaching, her third year as the Director of Orchestras at Liberty High School in the Frisco Independent School District. Prior to teaching at Liberty, Julie taught in the Carrollton/Farmers Branch Independent School District for sixteen years, twelve of those at Creekview High School. Under her direction, the orchestras at Creekview consistently received top ratings in UIL contests and at festivals around the country and were twice named first runner-up in the TMEA Honor Full Orchestra Competitions. During her first year at Liberty, the Camerata Orchestra placed 5th in the finals for the TMEA Honor String Orchestra Competition and the Liberty Symphony Orchestra was named first runner-up in the TMEA Honor Full Orchestra Competition. The symphony orchestra was also invited to perform at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago in December 2015. This past fall, the Camerata Orchestra placed 3rd in the TMEA Honor String Orchestra Competition.

Julie has also been a frequent adjudicator and clinician for UIL, Solo/Ensemble contests, festivals, and All-Region Orchestras around the country. During the summers, she regularly works at the Baylor University High School Orchestra Camp as a cello section leader and directs one of the chamber orchestras.

Formerly the Region 24 Orchestra Division Chair, Julie is proud of her memberships in the Texas Music Educators Association, Texas Orchestra Directors Association, Texas Music Adjudicators Association, Mu Omicron, and is honored to be a member of Who's Who Among American High School Teachers. She also served on the University Interscholastic League's Prescribed Music List committee which chooses selections to be included on the PML for UIL contest performances.

Dr. Christopher Knighten

Director of Bands and Associate Professor of Music, University of Arkansas

"The knowledge and experiences I received as a Music Education student at Baylor University did more than just prepare me well for a career in instrumental music education. The opportunity to participate in the ensembles while learning from such talented and caring music education and studio faculty was inspirational."

Dr. Christopher Knighten is Director of Bands and Associate Professor of Music in the University of Arkansas Department of Music. His duties include conducting the Wind Ensemble, leading the graduate instrumental conducting program, teaching conducting and band literature courses, and overseeing all aspects of the band program. Under his direction the University of Arkansas Wind Ensemble performed at College Band Directors National Association divisional conferences in Fayetteville, AR in 2014 (as hosts), in Boulder, CO in 2016, and at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX in March, 2015. In his previous role as Director of Athletic Bands the Razorback Marching Band grew to more than 350 members and performed at the FedEx Liberty Bowl, BCS Sugar Bowl, and AT&T Cotton Bowl. He has also served on the faculties at East Carolina University and Baylor University and taught instrumental music at Richland High School in North Richland Hills, TX.

Dr. Knighten has presented sessions on band literature and pedagogy at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, the College Band Directors National Association Conference, the Music Educators National Conference, and the North Carolina and Tennessee Music Educators conferences. His articles on conducting and band literature have been published in The Instrumentalist, The Journal of Band Research, The North Carolina Music Educator, Today’s Music Educator, and in the Teaching Music Through Performance in Band series. He is a member of the College Band Directors National Association, the Music Educators National Conference, the SEC Band Directors Association, the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles, Kappa Kappa Psi National Band fraternity, and the Golden Key International Honor Society.

Dr. Knighten holds the Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Instrumental Conducting and the Master of Music Degree in Wind Conducting from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Bachelor of Music Education Degree from Baylor University. His primary conducting teachers were Michael Haithcock and Allan McMurray.

Courtney Neva

Assistant Choir Director, East View High School

"The Baylor Music Education Program was not only the best four years of my life, but it provided me with a firm foundation upon which I built my musicianship, artistry, professionalism, appreciation for education, and desire to teach and mold fine musicians. My time there grew me into a capable and prepared teacher."

Courtney Neva (Baylor BME, 2009) currently serves as the Assistant Choir Director at East View High School in Georgetown ISD (Georgetown, TX). Ms. Neva is a graduate of the Baylor School of Music, having earned a Bachelor's of Music Education Degree with a Choral Emphasis. Currently, Ms. Neva is in her seventh year of teaching, and has previously taught in Austin ISD at Fulmore High School, and in Clear Creek ISD at Clear Lake High School. Additionally, Ms. Neva has been involved in numerous choral ensembles and music organizations, including the Baylor A Cappella Choir and Chamber Singers, the St. Matthew's Episcopal Church Choir in Austin, TX, the St. David's Episcopal Choir, the Amphion Youth Choir, the Conspirare Symphonic Choir under Craig Hella Johnson, and currently serves on the worship music team at Life in the City United Methodist Church. She is also a member of such professional organizations as the Texas Music Educators Association and Texas Choral Directors Association, and is a faculty sponsor for the East View Chapter of Texas Future Music Educators (under TMEA), and The Ruby Slipper, a student-led organization whose mission is to inspire and empower young women.

Brenda Johnson

Director of Orchestras, O'Connor High School

"I have the fondest memories of Baylor, and of the School of Music in particular. I remember feeling so welcomed and immediately part of the culture and community. I always felt challenged academically, but more importantly, I felt cared for. I always tell people that certain professors were like family to me. I do believe the music education department did it's best to prepare me for teaching orchestra. I would recommend anyone who wants a quality education, fine and caring professors, and a smaller, more intimate environment, to attend Baylor's School of Music Education."

Mrs. Brenda Johnson is the Director of Orchestras at O'Connor High School (Northside ISD) in San Antonio, Texas. From McAllen, TX, she received her Bachelor of Music Education degree from Baylor University. Upon graduation, Mrs. Johnson began her teaching career with the Plano Independent School District at Haggard, Carpenter, and Bowman Middle Schools. While teaching in Plano, Mrs. Johnson earned a master’s degree from the University of North Texas in Curriculum and Instruction.

Prior to the 2016-2017 school year, Mrs. Johnson was the head orchestra director at Hector Garcia Middle School (Northside ISD) in San Antonio, TX where she opened the school and established the Gladiator Orchestra program. In their first year as a brand new school, the top Advanced Orchestra received fourth place in the TMEA Honor Orchestra Competition. Each year, both varsity and non­-varsity groups have received Sweepstakes ratings at the U.I.L. Concert/Sight­Reading Contest. Under the director of Mrs. Johnson, the orchestra program at Garcia MS grew to over 250 students.

In her eighteenth year of teaching orchestra, Mrs. Johnson is also an active clinician/adjudicator in the San Antonio area and serves as a cooperating teacher for music student teachers from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She is also consistently invited to conduct All-Region Orchestras around Texas. Last school year, Mrs. Johnson began conducting for the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio (YOSA) Sinfonietta Strings group as well as the YOSA Summer Symphony Strings camp.

In 2004, Mrs. Johnson was one of four teachers in Texas to receive an award for excellence in music teaching named the Majorie Keller Young Music Educator's Award rewarded by the American String Teacher Association (ASTA). In 2008­2009, she received the Teacher of the Year and PTA Life Member Awards at Bowman Middle School. And in 2015-2016, she received the Educator of the Year Award at Hector Garcia Middle School. Most recently, she was chosen for the Kens5/SACU ExCEL in teaching award given to only one teacher in each San Antonio district.

Mrs. Johnson is currently a member of the Texas Music Educator's Association, Texas Orchestra Directors Association, Texas Music Adjudicators Association, and the American String Teacher Association with National School Orchestra Association. She is the proud wife of Walker Johnson and mother of two children, Jacob and Aleena. She enjoys reading, outdoor activities, and spending quality time with her family.

Sabrina Behrens

Director of Orchestras, Travis High School

"Baylor Music taught me that there is more to the music than the notes on the page. There is a story and world of emotion behind every piece and behind every student."

Sabrina Behrens is the Director of Orchestras at Travis High School. She has previously taught at Clements High School, Bowie Middle School, Bush High School and Garcia Middle School- all in Fort Bend ISD.

Mrs. Behrens has frequently assisted the surrounding districts by hosting regional and state events including sectionals and master classes, and she is consistently in demand as a respected area judge, clinician and conductor. She has also served as a respected chaperone and assistant conductor to other orchestra programs in the district, having performed at locales ranging from Orlando, Florida to Austria and the Czech Republic. In 2010, Mrs. Behrens had the privilege of conducting the Clements Chamber Strings at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago, IL. In 2016, she conducted the Travis High School Orchestra at her Carnegie Hall debut.

As a student at Bryan High School, Mrs. Behrens was selected as a member of the Texas All-State Orchestra in both 1995 and 1997. She received her degree in Music Education from Baylor University, and she also holds a Masters in Double Bass Performance from the University of Michigan. Mrs. Behrens has studied bass performance under respected professors Chris Buddo, Diana Gannett and Lawrence Angell, as well as conducting with Jeffrey Grogan, Michael Alexander and Stephen Heyde.

In her free time, Mrs. Behrens enjoys watching ice hockey, spending time with her husband and their dog as well as training for triathlons. She has completed eight half Ironman races and two full Ironman races. She is an avid sports fan and follows the Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Rangers.