Christopher Hisey (he/him)
Music Director/Principal Orchestra Conductor/Chamber Orchestra Conductor
Music Director and Alumnus of the Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras (GCTYO), Christopher James Hisey, has conducted concerts throughout the United States…
Music Director and Alumnus of the Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras (GCTYO), Christopher James Hisey, has conducted concerts throughout the United States, Europe, Mexico and China with such notable musicians as Sir James Galway, Tim Janis, Jackie Evancho, James Dunham, Chris Finckel and Deborah Wong.
In addition to his duties with GCTYO, Maestro Hisey serves as Music Director of the American Chamber Orchestra and is Co-founder and Music Director of the Connecticut Philharmonic and was recently named Music Director of the Mendelssohn Choir of Connecticut. He has also served as Music Director of the Civic Orchestra of New Haven, Connecticut Valley Chamber Orchestra, Troupers Light Opera Company, and Perrysburg Symphony Chorale, and as Associate Conductor of the Perrysburg Symphony, Bowling Green Philharmonia and Opera Theater Orchestras.
Maestro Hisey has been a guest and cover conductor of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony and has made appearances with the Ruse Philharmonic and Pleven Philharmonic in Bulgaria, and the St. Petersburg “Klassika” Symphony, formerly the Leningrad State Philharmonic, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
A champion of new music, Maestro Hisey frequently premieres new works. Emmy award-winning composer Rex Cadwallader recently said of Maestro Hisey’s work, “He is an advocate for new music, and a caring and careful medium through whom my music has been brought gracefully and powerfully to life.“
A passionate and sought after music educator, Maestro Hisey frequently appears as guest adjudicator and clinician at schools and festivals throughout the region. His student orchestras have won top prizes in competition and have been invited to appear at Carnegie Hall, NAFME Eastern Music Festival and other festivals and concerts in the United States and abroad. He has served as Professor of Conducting, Orchestration and Music Director of the Orchestra at Manhattanville College and Professor of Conducting and Music Director of the Orchestra at Fairfield University.
Maestro Hisey is currently the Chairman of the Performing Arts Department and has been Director of Orchestras and Chamber Music at Greens Farm Academy in Westport for more than 20 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Viola Performance from the Eastman School of Music and a master’s degree in Conducting from Bowling Green State University. He has been fortunate to study conducting with Emily Freeman Brown, David Effron, Gustav Meier, Donald Portnoy, and Donald Hunsberger.
Polina Nazaykinskaya (she/her)
Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor
The music of award-winning composer Polina Nazaykinskaya, is performed regularly in the United States, Russia, and Europe. Her first symphonic poem, “Winter Bells,” is in high demand every season.
In the 2023-2024 concert season, Ms. Nazaykinskaya’s orchestral music will be performed by the Utah Symphony, Portland Youth Philharmonic, Grays Harbor Symphony Orchestra, and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra. Her new ballet for MorDance will be premiered at the Chelsea Factory in New York and her chamber opera, “Her New Home,” will be performed at the Garth Newel Center. 2022-23 season highlights included the premiere of two new ballets, “The Rising” and “Emily,” performed by the San Francisco Ballet and MorDance in New York City.
Ms. Nazaykinskaya’s collaborators include internationally renowned choreographers Pascal Rioult, Yuri Possokhov, Jonah Bokaer, Morgan McEwen, and Ulyana Bochernikova and conductors Osmo Vänskä, Teodor Currentzis, Fabio Mastrangelo, Sarah Hicks, Toshiyuki Shimada, Lawrence Loh, Hannu Lintu and David Hattner. Her compositions are actively performed by internationally acclaimed soloists such as trombonist R. Douglas Wright, violinist Elena Korzhenevich, and pianist Anton Nel.
With her larger chamber music works, Ms. Nazaykinskaya frequently turns to the tragedy of humanity’s collective history, in particular, the Holocaust. Her work “Haim” is performed annually around the world and has become an important ensemble composition.
Ms. Nazaykinskaya has formed a creative alliance with award-winning pianist and librettist, Konstantin Soukhovetski. Together they have premiered many works of diverse genres, from solo piano to ballets. Currently, they are working on an opera commissioned by Opera Mississippi to commemorate the company’s 75th anniversary.
Among Ms. Nazaykinskaya’s honors and awards are the Charles Ives Scholarship from The American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.
In 2021, Ms. Nazaykinskaya was named Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor for Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras. Previously she led The British Youth Music Theatre, RIOULT Dance NY, The University of Southern Mississippi Orchestra, and The Russian Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Ms. Nazaykinskaya’s musical language embodies the diversity of multicultural education. She graduated from the Tchaikovsky Conservatory College in Moscow as a composition/violin double major. She earned her Masters’ and Artist Diploma in composition at the Yale School of Music. Currently she is a Doctoral Candidate at The Graduate Center CUNY under the mentorship of Tania León, an Adjunct Lecturer of Composition at Brooklyn College Conservatory, and a Teaching Artist at the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven.
Britney Alcine (she/her)
Virtuosi Orchestra Conductor
Britney Alcine has had a passion for conducting and music education since the age of sixteen. Currently a doctoral student studying Instrumental Conducting with conductor Edward Cumming at The Hartt School…
Currently a doctoral student studying Instrumental Conducting with conductor Edward Cumming at The Hartt School, Ms. Alcine conducts the Hartt Symphony Orchestra and Foot in the Door new music ensemble. Ms. Alcine has also conducted regional orchestras in Connecticut, including the Southern Region High School Orchestra in January 2023 and Western Region High School String Orchestra in February 2022. Before beginning graduate school in 2019, she began her music directing efforts in her teaching career as an elementary school music director of chorus and recorder ensemble in the Elizabeth NJ Public schools. Ms. Alcine holds a Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Rutgers University.
A native of New Jersey, Ms. Alcine has always lived a life involved with music. She grew up performing in many different ensembles and taking on any necessary roles. Although primarily a violist, Ms. Alcine considers herself a multi-instrumentalist and multi-faceted musician, having working knowledge of instruments in the brass family, flute, percussion, and voice. Ms. Alcine is delighted to be joining GCTYO for her third year, sharing the culture of the symphonic orchestra and fostering a love for different styles of music in her students.
Gjorgj Kroqi (he/him)
Sinfonia Orchestra Conductor
Gjorgj Kroqi started playing cello at the age of six. He attended the music school “Prenk Jakova” in his native town of Shkoder, Albania. Mr. Kroqi earned his degree in cello performance…
He attended the music school “Prenk Jakova” in his native town of Shkoder, Albania. Mr. Kroqi earned his degree in cello performance and teaching from the “Academy of Fine Arts” in Tirana (Albania). From 1994-1998, he studied in Graz (Austria). During that time he was an active performer with various groups in the region including the orchestra of the Cathedral of Graz. Since arriving in Connecticut, Mr. Kroqi has performed with many orchestras including Waterbury Symphony, Bridgeport Symphony, Wallingford Symphony, New Britain Symphony and many other groups. From 2001-2016, Mr. Kroqi was the Music Director, Chamber Orchestra Conductor and Cello Coach of the Greater Waterbury Youth Symphony. Currently Mr. Kroqi is the orchestra director at Roger Ludlowe Middle School in Fairfield. He is also the cello teacher at The Taft School in Watertown, CT. Mr. Kroqi also teaches cello privately in the Fairfield and Cheshire areas. He joined GCTYO in the 2018-19 season as a String Coach, then taught Bravura Orchestra for 2 years before becoming conductor for Sinfonia.
Bruce Sloat (he/him)
String Orchestra Conductor
Bruce Sloat, a GCTYO alumnus, graduated from Western Connecticut State University with a Bachelor of Music Degree in Viola Performance. There he was a recipient of the James Furman Memorial Chamber Music Award.
Mr. Sloat is a violinist in the Donn Trenner Orchestra and has performed at Mohegan Sun with Josh Groban, Celtic Woman, and Earth, Wind & Fire. He currently performs in the Danbury Symphony where he has served as Principal Violinist and Principal Violist. He is also a member of the Ives Festival Orchestra and American Chamber Orchestra. As the violist of the Barber String Quartet, he performed concerts throughout Poland on a U.S. Embassy endorsed tour. An active chamber musician, Mr. Sloat is a member of Trio Dolce and the Ives Chamber Players. He has performed regularly throughout New York and Connecticut, including venues such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Stamford’s Rich Forum, Danbury Music Centre and benefit performances for OXFAM and the Kosciusko Foundation. Mr. Sloat has taught in the Fairfield County area for nearly 20 years, and currently serves on the string faculties of Fairfield University, Greens Farms Academy, Westport School of Music, Enchanted Garden and Music & Arts. He has also served as a strings coach for the Western Connecticut State University Summer Strings Camp and conducted at the Monroe Music Enrichment Program.
Peyton Johnson (he/him)
Wind Orchestra Conductor
Mr. Johnson received a Master of Music degree in Trumpet Performance at The Hartt School in Hartford, CT, studying with Professor Phil Snedecor. At the Hartt School, he performed with the Hartt Wind Ensemble and Orchestra and was a featured soloist with the Hartt Brass Ensemble. Mr. Johnson plans to pursue a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Trumpet Performance.
Jim Clark (he/him)
Saxophone Orchestra Conductor
Jim Clark is a world-class saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist. Whether in the recording studio, performing in a local venue, or on stage at Carnegie Hall, his goal is the same – play from the heart with the highest level of musical excellence.
Jim Clark is a world-class saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist. He studied jazz with Warne Marsh, composition and theory at The Juilliard School of Music, and is an associate Fellow at Yale University Davenport College. Mr. Clark is the first artist to be contracted to arrange, perform, and record horn sections (saxophones, flute, trumpet, flugelhorn) for Band-in-a-Box®, a long-established software product by PG Music Inc. that provides intelligent, musical auto-accompaniment for musicians. He is an award-winning composer, having scored soundtracks in a wide variety of styles for numerous corporate clients. His most recent scoring project for strings and brass was “Christmas on Broadway” with CeCe Winans (Dec. 2021).
Mr. Clark’s passion for the saxophone and jazz has led him to create numerous themed multimedia programs, including “From Sea to Shining Sea – A Musical Journey Across America,” “Top Ten African American Jazz Saxophonists, “and “What is Jazz?” to entertain and educate his audiences. During the isolation of 2021, he was able to perform for live audiences virtually by converting his audio studio to include video broadcast and greenscreen capabilities. Mr. Clark has an ongoing private music practice. Whether in the recording studio, performing in a local venue, or on stage at Carnegie Hall, his goal is the same – play from the heart with the highest level of musical excellence.
Aimee Toner (she/her)
Wind Orchestra Conductor
Aimee Toner is dedicated to relationship-building through music-making and expanding the scope and accessibility of the musical arts.
Ms. Toner serves on the Artist Roster for the Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York. Her performance experience has involved serving as the principal flutist and piccolo player in orchestras including the Enigma Chamber Opera Orchestra, the New Amsterdam Opera, the Du Bois Symphony, and the New York Youth Symphony, and collaborating in chamber groups that have ranged from jazz trios in Italian restaurants to wind quintets on stage at Carnegie Hall. Ms. Toner made her solo debut with the Columbia University Orchestra in April of 2019, where she performed “Poem” for flute and orchestra as the winner of the 2018 concerto competition. She then headlined a contracted solo recital series along the East Coast before the onset of COVID, where she performed in St Simons Georgia and Jamestown NY.
Ms. Toner is a recent graduate with a Master’s of Music from the New England Conservatory, where she studied with Cynthia Meyers of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and obtained a concentration in Music in Education. She is also a graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University (Phi Beta Kappa), where she majored in Ethnomusicology and Economics. In line with her performance values, Ms. Toner is dedicated to the accessibility of classical music, and has expressed this passion through her work as faculty at the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School, founder of the “Music in Motion” chamber series and “Virtual School Song” project, and as the Manager of the Brockton Symphony Orchestra’s Marketing and Fundraising initiatives.
Read more at aimeetoner.com
Brian Ente (he/him)
Percussion Orchestra Director
The Jim Royle Drum Studio Faculty is made up entirely of former students from the Drum Studio with college degrees in music performance or education. They all share the same philosophies and curriculum…
… that have been passed down to them, continuing a 30-year tradition of excellence.
Brian Ente, a GCTYO alumnus, is a musician and composer who studied at Ithaca College with Gordon Stout and Conrad Alexander. A Connecticut native, he is a former vice president of the state’s chapter of the Percussive Arts Society, and works to improve the performance standards and education of percussion both in his local area of Bridgeport/Fairfield, and across the state, taking part as a composer and judge for the Western Region Music Festival on both the middle school and high school levels. Mr. Ente coaches the GCTYO Percussion Ensemble at weekly rehearsals and conducts at concerts. He also teaches at the Jim Royle Drum Studio and is an active performer.
Jim Royle (he/him)
Steel Pan Orchestras Director
Jim Royle is an expert steel pan performer and the premier steel pan educator in the area. He has won numerous awards with his steel pan ensembles and received the 2018 ACE Educator Award from Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County.
Mr. Royle is a native of Connecticut and former president of the state chapter of the Percussive Arts Society for sixteen years. He was 2000 Chapter President of the Year. Mr. Royle attended the University of Bridgeport as a percussion and education major under the direction of Howard Zwickler, Arthur Lipner, and Bill Finegan. He has also studied various aspects of percussion with world recognized masters such as Max Roach, Alan Dawson, Keith Copeland Akira Tana, Norbert Goldberg, Vernal Fournier, and Pan Master Professor Philmore. Although Mr. Royle enjoys his own performance career, his love of music and the pleasure of passing this love onto future musicians are equally important to him. His studio, now in its 20th year, is well known for turning out remarkable performers, and all of his students are exposed to many aspects of percussion.
Dr. Rex Cadwallader (he/him)
Jazz Program Director/Jazz Orchestra I Director
Dr. Cadwallader is one of the most respected jazz instructors in the area. He also performs as a jazz pianist and composes music. Several of his compositions have been performed by Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras.
Currently Director of Bands in the Performing Arts Department at Greens Farms Academy in Westport, Connecticut, Dr. Cadwallader has served as Assistant Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Texas in Arlington and Associate Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Northern Colorado. He has taught at the Royal Academy of Music in London, England, Marlborough College in Marlborough, England, Southern Connecticut State University, and the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven. He received his Doctor of Arts Degree in Composition and Music Theory from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and his Bachelor of Music Education and Master of Music in Composition degrees from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
Dr. Cadwallader has played with such jazz luminaries as Rufus Reid, Bob Mintzer, Eddie Daniels, Ed Shaunessey, Bill Watrous, Don Menza, Clark Terry, Ali Ryerson, Joe Beck, Giacomo Gates, and many others. He appears as performer or composer on over twenty-five albums including his most recent cds, “A Balm in Gilead,” featuring Tiffany Jackson. That was preceded by “Sweet Perfume In An Alabaster Jar,” and “Quicker Than The Eye,” with bassist Mike Asetta and drummer Artie Dixson and “Broadway – West Side Story,” with flutist Ali Ryerson, bassist Mike Asetta and drummer Artie Dixson. A CD of original contemporary jazz with drummer Rich MacDonald entitled “The Cadwallader/MacDonald Project – YOUR SMILE” was released in 1998 on Jaybird Records. Two other recordings, “Christmas In The Neighborhood” with bassist Mike Asetta, and “In A Mellow Tone,” a tribute to the music of Duke Ellington, were released in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Dr. Cadwallader has also composed several works that have been debuted by the Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras under the baton of Christopher Hisey, including “Citizen” in March 2018.
Dr. Cadwallader’s compositions for jazz band have been performed and recorded worldwide. With more than 100 published in the U.S., Japan and England, he is the recipient of awards from downbeat magazine, the NEA and the NEH.
Geoffrey Brookes (he/him)
Jazz Orchestra II Director
Mr. Brookes joined GCTYO in the 2017-18 season. He has been directing both middle school and high school level jazz ensembles since 2006. He is passionate about teaching young musicians…
He is passionate about teaching young musicians to develop their creativity through the jazz idiom.
Mr. Brookes completed his undergraduate studies in music education at the University of Connecticut in 2006, receiving a BA in Music and a BS in Education. At UConn, he studied jazz with Earl MacDonald and Kenny Davis, as well as trumpet with James Ackley. He earned an MA in conducting through the American Band College of Sam Houston State University in 2013. Mr. Brookes started his teaching career in the Litchfield Public Schools in 2006 and joined the Fairfield Public Schools faculty in 2010. Mr. Brookes has composed many jazz audition etudes for the Western Region Music Festival. He currently teaches music in Derby, CT.
Damali Willingham (they/them)
Damali Willingham is a Black, Queer, Nonbinary artist, musician, and activist, born and raised on Muscogee/Creek lands, colloquially known as Atlanta, GA.
They began their musical journey with saxophone at the age of nine, then started bassoon at eleven. Damali began to compose at thirteen, eventually having pieces read and performed by youth orchestras and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Recently they were commissioned by bassoonist Dr. Amy Pollard for a solo bassoon recording project highlighting underrepresented composers.
Damali began conducting at the age of fourteen. They recently received their Bachelor’s degree in Composition from the Berklee College of Music, where they also studied conducting with Eric Stern and Francisco Noya. In their time at Berklee, Damali conducted the Berklee Musical Theater Orchestra and the Berklee Film Scoring Session Orchestra and served as music director for the Berklee Motion Picture Orchestra. Additionally, Damali was awarded the Tibor Puzati Scholarship for Conducting and was a fellow for the inaugural Girls Who Conduct fellowship residency for women and nonbinary conductors with the Georgia Symphony Orchestra.
Outside of music, Damali enjoys skateboarding, stargazing, and community-centered volunteer work. Their passion lies in music that both blends and defies genre, and Damali hopes to pursue a career that advocates for musical innovation and universal accessibility.
Christopher Hisey has been Music Director and visionary at GCTYO for fifteen years.
His artistic leadership inspires the entire music staff to bring out the best in every student musician. Mr. Hisey is also a graduate of GCTYO and has been involved with the organization for more than 30 years. Under his leadership, GCTYO has grown from two ensembles to more than a dozen.
Watch “A Portrait of Chris Hisey” by alumnus Christoph Russi.
Get to know the Maestro even better! Listen to a 2021 podcast interview.
GCTYO’s Principal Orchestra is one of the most acclaimed youth ensembles in the region. Principal Orchestra takes a deep dive into the world’s great symphonic literature, including world premieres and collaborative projects. Students are challenged to achieve the highest level of musical performance with rehearsals that are inspiring and designed to stretch students beyond what they thought possible. Principal Orchestra is conducted by GCTYO alumnus and Music Director Christopher Hisey.
Philharmonic Orchestra is designed to give students their first experience with advanced orchestral repertoire, including world premieres and collaborative projects. Students will be inspired to take the next steps in their musical development through challenging repertoire, training in advanced orchestral techniques, and fast-paced rehearsals. Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Polina Nazaykinskaya.
Virtuosi Orchestra, GCTYO’s first full orchestra experience, is designed to get students excited about the world of orchestral repertoire. Virtuosi provides its musicians with the opportunity to perform at an advanced level while gaining valuable experience and training that will prepare them to enter the highest levels of the GCTYO program. Virtuosi Orchestra is conducted by Britney Alcine.
Sinfonia Orchestra, a strings-only ensemble, provides its students an opportunity to reinforce fundamental skills (key signatures, rhythm and intonation), gain confidence, and build the solid technique needed to advance through our program. Sinfonia Orchestra is conducted by Gjorgj Kroqi.
Wind Orchestra, for intermediate woodwind and brass players, provides its students an opportunity to reinforce fundamental skills (key signatures, rhythm and intonation, breath control, and sound production), gain confidence, play in an ensemble, and build the solid technique needed to advance through our program. Wind Orchestra students may play flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, french horn, trumpet, trombone, or tuba. Wind Orchestra also accepts “non-orchestral” instruments such as bass clarinet and baritone. Students who play these instruments will be encouraged to also learn trombone or bassoon, which they can play in one of GCTYO’s full orchestras when they become proficient. GCTYO offers free lessons for one year on these instruments. Wind Orchestra is conducted by Peyton Johnson.
Saxophone Orchestra provides its students an opportunity to reinforce fundamental skills (key signatures, rhythm and intonation, breath control, and sound production), gain confidence, and build the solid technique needed to play in a saxophone ensemble.
Most saxophone musicians in GCTYO also participate in an afternoon Jazz Orchestra. Saxophone studnets are strongly encouraged to also learn an orchestral instrument such as bassoon, French horn, trombone, or oboe, so that they can move into GCTYO full orchestras when they are ready. GCTYO offers free lessons for one year during GCTYO rehearsals to teach second instruments to saxophone players. Saxophone Orchestra is conducted by Jim Clark.
String Orchestra provides fundamental ensemble experience to string students. Students learn what it’s like to play in an orchestra and become part of a team. They will learn key skills such as rhythm, intonation, sound production, bow technique, and key signatures. String Orchestra is conducted by Bruce Sloat.
Woodwinds Orchestra provides fundamental ensemble experience to our youngest woodwind students. Students learn what it’s like to be part of a woodwind section. They will learn key skills like rhythm, intonation, sound production, breath control, and key signatures. Woodwinds Orchestra is instructed by Aimee Toner.
Percussion Orchestra was formed in 2017 to improve the experience of percussionists in the youth orchestra setting. Members of Percussion Orchestra are each assigned to another ensemble such as Principal, Symphony or Concert Orchestra so that they can rehearse and perform with the full orchestra. In addition, Percussion holds its own sectionals where students learn to play the full range of orchestral percussion instruments. At concerts, Percussion Orchestra performs its own set and plays with the other orchestras. Percussion Orchestra is managed by the staff of the acclaimed Jim Royle Drum Studio and is conducted by GCTYO alumnus Brian Ente.
Steel Pan Orchestras
Steel Pan was added to GCTYO offerings in Spring 2021. It is intended as a gateway to the benefits of high-quality music education that GCTYO provides. Steel Pan is a non-audition, no experience necessary, ensemble. It is open to students of all ages who want to learn different musical genres and skills. GCTYO offers three different levels of Steel Pan for beginner, intermediate, and advanced players. Steel Pan is conducted by expert pannist and educator Jim Royle.
The GCTYO Jazz Orchestras play jazz classics with a “big band” sound. They explore and perform repertoire from past and present to keep this exciting musical medium alive. Both Jazz Orchestras meet after the other ensembles finish rehearsal. Students who wish to audition for Jazz must be enrolled in one of the other GCTYO ensembles. Jazz Orchestra 1 is conducted by renowned jazz pianist Dr. Rex Cadwallader and is for more experienced musicians. Because of the popularity of GCTYO’s Jazz program, a second Jazz Orchestra was added in the 2017-18 season. It is conducted by Geoffrey Brookes.
Chamber Music with Orchestra Lumos (formerly Stamford Symphony)
GCTYO provides chamber music training for both beginner, intermediate, and advanced level students in partnership with Orchestra Lumos. Chamber music is an important learning experience for all string musicians and complements performing with an orchestra. Students are placed in small string groups and receive weekly private instruction from an Orchestra Lumos musician. The program is available to current GCTYO students. Concerts are held twice a year.