Adjudicators 2020

Band Craig Johnson
Band Tom Spila
Band Kirk Wassmer
Choral Marni Strome
Junior Piano Eric Nyland
Musical Theatre Ron de Jager
Senior Piano Dr. Jacques Després
Speech Cheryl Vandergraaf
Strings Jeff Plotnick
Voice Melanie Baux


Craig Johnson

Originally from Winnipeg, MB, Craig Johnson studied privately with a long list of classical and jazz instructors on his primary instruments (Trumpet & Piano). After high school he attended the University of Manitoba, furthering his studies in the Performing Fine Arts program. He went on to study Jazz Arranging, Orchestral Composition, and Writing for Motion Picture and TV, earning his General Music Studies degree at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Now living in Calgary with over 30 years of teaching and performing experience, Craig remains an active clinician and hosts workshops within the Calgary Board of Education band and music programs. He maintains a large private student base, and has had a number of former students go on to pursue musical careers at the professional level.

In 2003 Craig accepted the position of Musical Director for a Calgary-based big band association where his roles include writing and arranging a large portion of the bands' repertoire for performance.

In addition to performing and adjudicating music festivals throughout Alberta and across Canada, as a band leader he leads his own groups of various sizes and has been commissioned by different artists both locally and nationally to write music for their specific recording and/or performing projects.


Tom SpilaA graduate of the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Education degree majoring in secondary music, Tom Spila recently retired after having taught music at the elementary, junior and senior high school levels for a total of 43 years. The past 39 of those were spent at Camrose Composite High School where the music program consisted of concert and jazz bands, mixed chorus, chamber choir and vocal jazz, as well as beginner and advanced guitar.

He has been the director of the Camrose & District Community Band since its inception in 1983, is a past recipient of the Tommy Banks Award [AFA], was presented with the first Vondis Miller Legacy Award in 2004, and is a member of the International Bandmasters fraternity Phi Beta Mu – Mu Alpha Chapter. He has been recognized for his work by Alberta Education, the University of Alberta (Augustana Faculty), the Alberta Band Association, the Alberta Choral Federation, the city of Camrose, the Alberta Government, and the Governor General of Canada.

In 2017, he directed the Southern Alberta Jr. High School Honour Band for the Alberta Band Association. Mr. Spila has served on the board of the Alberta Band Association and is presently on the board of Choir Alberta.

He is honoured to have been invited to be part of the adjudication team for this year’s Airdrie Rotary Festival of Performing Arts and looks forward to working with everyone.


Kirk WassmerKirk Wassmer is currently the Director of Music at Didsbury High School in Didsbury, Alberta, a rural community situated midway between Calgary and Red Deer off the QEII Highway. In a school of only 270 students, 160 participate in one of the school’s two concert bands or three jazz ensembles. In addition to numerous local and regional performances, groups from Didsbury High School have travelled across Canada and to Scotland, England and Spain.

Kirk received his undergraduate degree from the University of Saskatchewan. He has a Master of Music degree in Wind Conducting from the University of Missouri – Columbia, where he studied with Dr. Dale Lonis. During the summer Kirk serves as the Band Department Head for the Kamloops Interior Summer School of Music.

In 2008, he was honoured to be recognized as a semi-finalist in Alberta Education’s Excellence in Teaching Awards. In 2017 Kirk received the David Peterkin Award in recognition of exemplary and consistent contribution to bands and band education from the Mu Alpha chapter of Phi Beta Mu. In 2019 he was presented with the Elkhorn Band Director of the Year award by the Alberta Band Association. In addition to being Past-President of the Alberta Band Association, he is also a member of Phi Beta Mu (Mu Alpha chapter), Pi Kappa Lambda, Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.


Marni Strome

BFA, B.Ed, M.Mus. ARCT

For over 30 years, Marni Strome has been a public school music educator and choir director. She has worked with the Calgary Children’s Choir as conductor since 1988, and as Artistic Director since 1993. Marni has also directed the St. Giles Presbyterian Church choir for over 20 years. The Calgary Children’s and Calgary Youth Choirs have toured to various parts of Europe, North America, Japan, and Canada. Her choirs have worked with internationally recognized conductors such as Henry Leck, Dr. David Flood, and Dr. Will Kesling.

Marni is active as teacher, clinician, guest conductor, adjudicator, and conference presenter. She has worked as a summer sessional instructor at University of Calgary, the Silverwinds Hutterite colony in Manitoba, and University of Alberta, teaching Musicianship, Conducting, and Choir to music teachers in Kodály summer programs.

Marni recently completed her Master of Music degree at Holy Names University in Oakland, CA, with an emphasis in Kodály-inspired music education.

She is a passionate advocate for music education. Mentors include Rosemarie Sherban (founder of the Calgary Children’s Choir), David Ferguson, Janos Horvath, and her mother, pianist and conductor Marian Smith.

Marni is looking forward to working with choirs at the Airdrie Rotary Festival of Performing Arts.

ERIC NYLAND | Junior Piano

Eric Nyland

For over 20 years, actor and pianist Eric Nyland has worked professionally in theatre, film, music, and music pedagogy throughout Canada, (and briefly in Italy). Eric runs a private teaching studio in Calgary and is and is a highly sought-after accompanist, adjudicator, and clinician.

He has studied with Dr. Lillian Upright, Dr. Irena Kofman, and Linda Kundert, and has taken masterclasses from Dr. Jennifer Snow, Dr. Jacques Després, Dr. Ludmilla Lazar, and Roman Rabinovich. He has developed and taught two courses for the Conservatory at Mount Royal University, has served as the musical director for the theatre improvisation company The Kinkonauts and for the long-form theatre improvisation duo One Lions (winner, Best Show at Vancouver International Improv Festival 2016).

This fall, Eric served as clinician for the Alberta Piano Teachers’ Association annual teacher conference, where he presented his workshop From the Private to the Public: An Actor’s Approach to Piano Practice, Performing, and Teaching.

In 2015, Eric appeared as soloist in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto for the inaugural concert of the Calgary Arts Orchestra. Also in 2015, Eric was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Play by the Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards for his work in the world premiere of Nicholas Billon’s Butcher.

DR. RON de JAGER | Musical Theatre

Dr. Ron de JagerA native of Nova Scotia, Dr. Ron de Jager is Professor of Music and Voice at Briercrest College in Caronport, SK. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts in Vocal Performance degree from Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA. Ron has had the privilege of being mentored by Lorna MacDonald, Elvira Gonella, Greta Kraus and most recently, Dr. Janette Ogg.

In 2012, Dr. de Jager had the honor of singing for Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall at the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The ceremony was broadcast nationally on CBC and CTV. At the request of the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, he was the guest soloist at the inauguration of Pier 21 on Canada Day 2000.

Ron has enjoyed performing opera, oratorio, solo recitals, musical theatre, film and ballet. Select performances include Dichterliebe; The Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams; Papageno in Die Zauberflöte; Billy Budd in Billy Budd; Harry Easter in Street Scene; Major General Stanley in Pirates of Penzance; Eli Black in Without a Hitch?; Curly in OKLAHOMA!; and the title role in Maury Yeston’s Phantom. In 2013 he started Briercrest Summer Stage where he serves as Artistic Director.

Ron has been honored as a winner in the National Auditions of the American College of Musicians, MATS competition and Kiwanis Festival. He has been awarded the Monica Rychman Award, William Cary Award, Nova Scotia Cultural Development Grant and was nominated to the Golden Key Society.

As a full professor at Briercrest College, he enjoys teaching private voice, vocal pedagogy, vocal master class, musical theatre workshop and acting. Additionally, he provides leadership to the performance and worship arts department while maintaining a performance schedule.

“I am incredibly grateful for the many teachers, collaborators and performers who have generously given of themselves. These people chose to pass on what was given to them and their years of experience and wisdom remain an inspiration to me each day. I hope to do the same.”


Dr. Jacques DesprésPianist Dr. Jacques C. Després has concertized for four decades on three continents through his recordings, performances as a soloist with orchestras, solo recitals and collaborative work.

An intelligent, refined, highly sensitive and disciplined artist, Després’ performances and recordings are praised by critics who cite his “crystal-clear pianism,” and his abilities “to bring humanity, integrity and an enormous expressive range to the pieces.” His “pianistic control is flawless, the sonority magnificent, and the playing is utterly and consistently clear.”

Since his 1978 debut with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Després has appeared as a soloist with many orchestras under the baton of conductors including Otto-Werner Muller, Franz-Paul Decker, Jens Nygaard and Simon Streatfield. Després’ tours have included performances aired on CBC Radio and at summer festivals in North America and Asia. Notable recordings include the world premiere of the complete piano works of Joseph Martin Kraus and the Kraus’ complete chamber music works on the Naxos label, which received widespread critical acclaim and exposure.

A leading lecture-performance artist on both period and modern instruments, Després has been invited to numerous schools in North America and Asia, including the Juilliard School, Northwestern University, Vanderbilt University and the Central Conservatory of China (Beijing).

Després completed his doctorate in performance at the University of Stony Brook. He holds a Master’s degree from the Juilliard School of Music, a Unanimous First Prize from the Quebec Conservatory, and the Artist Diploma with High Distinction from Indiana University as a student of György Sebök. Other teachers include Adele Marcus, Gilbert Kalish, William Masselos and Christiane Sénart.

He has been a Professor of Music at the University of Alberta since 2005.

CHERYL VANDERGRAAF |Cheryl Vandergraaf Speech

Cheryl Vandergraaf is a professional actor, playwright, and improviser who has spent 15+ years in the performing arts. She trained at the Company of Rogues and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Drama and English from the University of Alberta. As a previous student of the Speech Arts and Drama Program at Mount Royal University, she is excited to now be back as an instructor at the Conservatory.

While at school in Edmonton, she taught drama at a homeschool program for Grades 1-12, and held the position of Executive Director of the New Works Festival for two consecutive years. In 2016 she led a playwriting and development workshop at the Edmonton Youth Council for Social Equity, providing an opportunity for underprivileged youth to express their voice through theatre. Her scripts have been produced for the New Works Festival and the Collaborative Faculty Development Conference at the U of A, and she was recently awarded the Frank Bueckert Prize for Playwriting. 

Cheryl believes in the importance of fostering creativity and imagination, celebrating excellence, and refining the art of speech and drama to a level of expertise worthy of its full potential.


Jeff PlotnickA native of Dayton, Ohio, Jeff Plotnick recently retired after completing his 30th season as Principal Second Violin with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.  After graduating from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, Mr. Plotnick performed with orchestras in Cincinnati, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and Caracas, Venezuela before assuming his position in Calgary.

In addition to performing in the Calgary Philharmonic, Mr. Plotnick also served as concertmaster of the Calgary Bach Society and the Calgary Festival Chorus Orchestras. Mr. Plotnick often appeared as violin soloist with the Calgary Philharmonic as well as the Calgary Bach Society, and has been heard in frequent performances as a solo and chamber recitalist. In October of 1998, Mr. Plotnick participated in a cultural mission to Kazakhstan, which included solo performances for its President.

Mr. Plotnick has been a member of the faculties of the University of Calgary, Mt. Royal College and the Amici String program in Calgary, and was the founding director and conductor of Mt. Royal’s Intermediate String Orchestra. Mr. Plotnick has been a faculty member of the Banff International Youth Orchestra Festival, the Valhalla, Nelson, Strings and Keys, and Los Angeles Suzuki summer music institutes, and has appeared as guest artist and clinician at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  He is currently in demand as a string adjudicator at numerous music festivals. 


Melanie Baux

Soprano Melanie Baux has a Diploma in Music Performance from Mount Royal University and a Bachelor of Music Performance from The University of Manitoba. She has studied under Winston Noren, Karen Jensen and Tracy Dahl.

In concert, Melanie has performed Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate with the University of Manitoba Orchestra, Schubert’s Mass in C with The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, opera excerpts with the Calgary Youth Orchestra and premiered Elizabeth Raum’s Prairie Alphabet with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. She has appeared as Venus in Offenbach’s  Orphee aux Enfers and Beth in Adamo’s Little Women. Recently she performed Handel’s  Arcadian Duets with the Calgary Bach Festival society as well as Rameau’s In Convertendo and the Charpentier Te Deum. Recently, Melanie performed Bach’s Easter Oratorio as well as Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with the Cantare Children’s Choir and The Bach Festival Orchestra.

As a young singer, Melanie participated in the Mount Royal Choral Program, Alberta Youth Choir, Ad Libitum Vocal Ensemble, Spiritus Chamber Choir and The Winnipeg Singers. She is the artistic director of the Cochrane Young Singers choral program, and has been a vocal coach and rehearsal lead for The Calgary Boys Choir.

Melanie has been a musical director for Grease (Winnipeg, MN); The Sound of Music (Winnipeg, MN); and Eve: The True Story (Pincher Creek, AB). Melanie teaches private voice lessons as well as group and private musical theatre classes and master classes. Her greatest joy comes from sharing her love of music with her students and her three little boys.