Music Director and Conductor
Christopher E. Johnston is a native of the Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia area. A composer, conductor, and pianist, he has been a prominent figure in the D.C.-area music scene for over 25 years. He received his Bachelor’s of Music in composition from Indiana University and his M.A. in conducting from George Mason University. He is the author of numerous choral, orchestral, and jazz ensemble works. In 2002, he composed From Far and Away, a work for narrator and orchestra commissioned by the Reunion Music Society, Inc. The NOVA-Annandale Symphony premiered the work in October of that year to commemorate the RMS’s 10th anniversary. Chris has been praised by The Washington Post for his work as conductor of the 1997 world premier of Nancy Binns Reed’s “The Blue Opera.” As instructor of Music and Computer Technology at the Fairfax Academy for Communications and the Arts, he designed the state of Virginia’s first music technology curriculum, and for the past 17 years has been a pioneer in developing music technology programs nationwide. In 2005, he received national recognition for his work in music education as a recipient of the Claes Nobel Distinguished Educator Award. In 2006, he was a recipient of the Wolftrap Foundation Scholarship Award in which he designed and produced a project where eight young composers created and premiered a new multi-movement work entitled “Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra.” In 2008, he was the recipient of the LFI 2008 Virginia Leadership in Education Award and was honored by approximately 400 business and community leaders for his innovative work in music education. He is a three-time Grammy “Music Educator of the Year” nominee. An advocate for performances of works by young composers, he has conducted many of these during his tenure with the NOVA-Annandale Symphony Orchestra.
Sharon Jones hails from Portsmouth, Virginia. She started piano studies at the age 9 and started cello age 12. She played in junior high and high school string orchestras and attended All-State and regional orchestras where she had the honor of playing under the baton of Aaron Copland. Sharon is a charter member of Bay Area Youth Symphony and was awarded a music scholarship for lessons with cellist Janet Kriner. Ms. Jones attended West Virginia University and Wheaton College (Illinois) Conservatory of Music, where she earned her Bachelor’s of Music in Cello Performance. Her undergraduate cello teacher was Mr. David Szepessy. She is a member of Mu Phi Epsilon. She is an alumnus of the Eastern Music Festival, Greensboro, North Carolina for three summers where she studied cello with Owen Carman, Nancy Stensen, and Jonathan Catchings. In her free time, Sharon enjoys singing in the choir and playing for worship services at St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church, Trinity Episcopal Church, St. John’s United Methodist Church, and Hope Lutheran Church in Annandale, Virginia. Ms. Jones has performed with the Georgetown Symphony Orchestra, the Arlington Forest United Methodist Church Orchestra, the Prelude Chamber Ensemble, The Hollin Hall Band, and the VA Medical Music Group. She is a charter member of The Annandale Strings.
Brendan Nicholaus Slocumb is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a degree in Music Education with concentrations in violin and viola. His primary teacher was Dr. Rachel Vetter Huang for violin and Michelle LaCourse for viola. He has been a frequent guest clinician and conductor for various district and county orchestras in North Carolina and Virginia, and has performed with the Washington Metropolitan Symphony, the Prince George’s Philharmonic, the McLean Symphony, and the Alexandria Symphony. Brendan is the founder of the nonprofit organization, Hands Across the Sea, based in the Philippines. He has been named a Nobel Teacher of Distinction, Who’s Who of American Teachers, as well as Teacher of the Year in 2005 for Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia. Brendan maintains a private music studio in Alexandria, Virginia. In his spare time, he enjoys writing, collecting and reading comic books, and performing on keyboards and lead vocals with his rock band Geppetto’s Wüd.
Caitlin Hillyard began her violin studies in fourth grade through the Des Moines Public School District’s strings program in Des Moines, Iowa. She also played in the symphony orchestra during her time at American University, where she majored in broadcast journalism with minors in audio technology and studio art. Caitlin currently works as a web producer for Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Prior to that, she was an employee of C-SPAN and C-SPAN Radio. In her spare time, she loves to read, swim, draw and paint. She joined the NVCC-Annandale Symphony Orchestra in 2012 and moved to the second violin section in the fall of 2017.
Marjorie Bassman was born in New York but grew up in Connecticut. She started playing piano at the age of six. Her study of the viola began at age nine, and her love for the alto clef continues to this day. Margie has a B.A. degree in music with a minor in elementary education from Connecticut College and a M.Ed. in Special Education with a concentration in Learning Disabilities from George Mason University. She was an LD Self-Contained teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools. Margie has been principal violist of the NOVA-Annandale Symphony Orchestra since 2002, and assistant principal violist of the American Festival Pops Orchestra since 2011. Previously, she was a member of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, the McLean Symphony, and principal violist of the George Mason Symphony Orchestra. Margie maintains a private studio of viola and violin students. She is the viola and violin teacher at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, a narrator for children’s shows sponsored by the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, and an early childhood music educator for Little Hands.
Ralph Brooker grew up in a musical family in Melbourne, Australia. He began cello at the age of eight, studying with John Kennedy (former principal with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), and played actively in wide range of youth orchestras and chamber ensembles. After emigrating to the U.S. in 1976 and enrolling at the University of Illinois, he focused on an engineering career in microwave and satellite communications, eventually settling in Alexandria, raising three Russian children and many greyhounds, and establishing an online technical training business reaching thousands of vocational students worldwide.
Andrew Johnston has been playing bass with the NVCC Annandale Symphony Orchestra since 2009. While a member of the orchestra, Andrew was also the principal bassist for the Annual Cappies Galla at the J.F.K. Center for the Performing Arts from 2010 – 2014. In 2013, he attended the Senior Regional Orchestra and was a first alternate for the State Orchestra. Along with being a classical bassist, Andrew was the principal Jazz bassist at his high school. In 2014, he pursued his interests in Jazz at the University of Virginia, where he was the principal Jazz bassist for 2 years.
Mitch Bassman is a native of Virginia. He started playing the piano as a toddler, began formal piano lessons at age eight, and continued throughout high school. Mitch began study of the clarinet at age thirteen. He then added other woodwinds, brass, and percussion instruments during the next few years. Mitch earned a B.S. degree in Mathematics from Duke University and an M.S. in Computer Science, with Ph.D. studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a charter member of the Durham (North Carolina) Symphony Orchestra and served as co-principal clarinetist. Mitch is the principal clarinetist and occasional guest conductor of the NOVA-Annandale Symphony. He joined the orchestra in January 1996 after fifteen years of performing with the George Mason University Symphony Orchestra. He has been heard frequently on multiple woodwinds in close to 200 musical show productions all around the Washington area and occasionally he plays alto saxophone in jazz bands. Mitch has been the music director of the choir at Congregation Adat Reyim in Springfield since founding it in 1983. His career in the information technology field supported his active music habit for many years. Since retiring from that non-musical day job in 2013, he has increased his music activities and has accepted the responsibility of being the music director of local theater productions.
Lou Brundidge began his trombone studies at age 12 in Panama City, FL. As a young trombonist, he made first chair in 7th grade and maintained that position throughout High School. He auditioned and was selected for All District Band six consecutive years for the Florida Panhandle. As a sophomore, he auditioned and was selected to play in the Florida’s State Orchestra. Lou competed and scored superior in numerous semi-annual ensemble and solo competitions. Upon graduation, he attended the United States Air Force Academy at which point he placed his musical ambitions on hold to serve the nation. He retired from the Air Force in 2014 and has since played in several local concert and jazz bands. He joined the NOVA Annandale Symphony Orchestra in the fall of 2016.
Claiborne T. Richardson, II, is a graduate of West Virginia University’s School of Music (B.M.Ed.), and The College of William and Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law (J.D.). He studied trumpet with John Wright (Principal Cornetist, Marine Band) and Jack McKie (Pittsburgh Symphony); percussion with Dr. Claiborne Richardson (Lake Braddock S. S., Virginia State University and Howard University) and Frank Delpiano (Principal Percussionist, Marine Band); and studied conducting with Professor Don Wilcox, Frederick Fennell, and Dr. Claiborne Richardson. Clai is a former high school- and middle school-music educator who has also served as a guest conductor and clinician for high school and college instrumental ensembles in Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. He has played for TV, radio and a touring company. He has played drum set with Herb Smith, Wes Biles, Herman Burney, Michael Thomas, Dr. George Ross, Jacques “The Saxman” Johnson, Kenny Rittenhouse, Joe Kennedy, Jr., Charlie Byrd, Lew Soloff and Randy Purcell, as well as in the WVU Jazz Ensemble, the Leonard Hannigan Big Band, the Doc Dikeman Big Band, and the Russell Wilson Trio. He is a co-founder of the band Nightmusic.
He currently holds the drum set chair for the Reunion Music Society Jazz Orchestra and The Chris Johnston Trio. He is the timpanist and principal percussionist with the NOVA-Annandale Symphony Orchestra. He is an original member of the orchestra and has been a guest conductor for NOVA-ASO. He is President of The Reunion Music Society, Inc. and he plays trumpet and percussion for the Annandale Brass Ensemble and for St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. He also plays with various artists and groups on a freelance basis. Clai is a Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Prince William County, Va., where he has prosecuted several nationally reported cases.