Meet Our Instructors
INCLUSIVE ARTS * YOUNG CHILDREN
Piano & Piano Lab
DeNeil Hartley has served as Administrative Director of Aspire! Conservatory of Fine & Performing Arts since it’s conception in 2015. This new chapter in life and re-direction of her career from public music education is a fresh and welcome change. She feels like she’s living a dream helping others find their passion and watching them grow in the arts . DeNeil prays that this program will be a blessing to the community, provide a void in arts related experiences, and will inspire talented artists throughout the Tri-State to dream, believe and achieve their individual greatness.
DeNeil holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from Ohio University and a Master’s Degree in Music Education from Marshall University. In her twenty-three years of teaching in the public schools of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, DeNeil has taught both middle school and high school band and choir, and elementary general music. In addition to her service in the public schools, DeNeil served as Musical Director for the ACTC Theatre Department for eight years conducting more than 20 musicals, and has played with the Brass Band of the Tri-State, The Huntington Symphony Orchestra and the Huntington Pops Orchestra. DeNeil has also maintained a private music studio for more than 20 years, and has served in church music ministry.
DeNeil is a member of Music Teachers National Association and currently serves as co-chairperson of WVMTA District V in Huntington, WV. Her private students participate in performance and testing events with WVMTA regularly.
FUN FACT: DeNeil enjoys cycling and swimming. In 2013, she was part of a relay team which swam a race around the island of Key West. Her favorite color is HOT PINK and her bike’s name is The Pink Princess (because it has pink on it, of course). She is also a certified scuba diver.
Site Administrator, Aspire – Louisa
Annie Johnson is originally from Louisa, KY. She received her bachelors and masters degree in music from Morehead State University. Mrs. Johnson taught music in the Boyd County Public School system for 18 years. Her duties included middle school band, guitar, general music, and theater. During her time at BCPS she directed several district-wide theater productions. Annie is an active member of the Paramount Players. Some of her favorite roles include General Cartwright in Guys and Dolls, Mrs. Montague in The Haunting of Hill House, and Elle’s mom in Legally Blonde. She is an active member of KMEA and WVMTA.
Annie has taught piano and voice at Aspire! for three years, and served as an assistant administrator and camp director for two years. Annie has been married to her husband, John, for 18 years. They have 2 children, Henry and Georgia.
Fun Fact: Annie is a HUGE fan of the Atlanta Braves. She never misses a game.
School of Music
Private Instructor, Voice
Ruth Crowe is a professional educator with over 30 years of experience in public school music education, elementary education, and gifted education. She has a BME from Morehead State University, specializing in voice (1979), a Master’s in elementary education from Marshall University (1985), and a Kentucky Rank 1 Certification in K-12 gifted education from Marshall University (1991). She taught in the Fairview Independent Schools in Ashland from 1979 until her retirement in 2017. During her time there, she served as an elementary music teacher, high school/middle school choral director, an elementary/middle school regular education teacher, Title 1 resource teacher for arts and humanities, and gifted resource teacher/coordinator for the entire district. She has experience teaching students from preschool through grade 12. She has also taught private piano and voice.
Ruth currently sings in the Marshall University Choral Union and is a part of the sanctuary choir and Praise Team at First Baptist Church, Russell, KY where she co-directs the Children’s Choirs and co-teaches an adult ladies Sunday school class. Over the years she has had many opportunities to perform and serve in both the community and church as a soloist, pianist, organist, and music director.
She is a past member of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), Kentucky Music Educators Association (KMEA), American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), National Association for Gifted Education (NAGC), Kentucky Association for Gifted Education (KAGE), and Northeastern KY Association for Gifted Education (NEKAGE).
Originally from Williamsburg (Whitley County),KY, Ruth lives in Ironton, with her husband, Tony, who is a drummer. They have four children: Micah, Joe, Kelsey and Abbie; one daughter-in-law, Ally; and one son-in-law Ryan. In her spare time, Ruth loves cooking and reading.
Fun Fact: Ruth loves to beach and going to Jazzercise 5 times per week.
Emily Harner is the vocal music and musical director at Wheelersburg High School. She is a graduate of Wright State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Music Education and is working to obtain her Masters of Education in Classroom Technology at Bowling Green State University.
Emily and her family are members of Bloom Free Will Baptist Church where her husband Allen is the associate pastor and music director. Emily has a music ministry with the youth choir and handbell choir. She and Allen have two young daughters, Olivia and Ellie.
Instrumental Music – Piano
Private Instructor, Piano
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Private Instructor, Piano
Karen Hopkins is a professional musician and music educator with a wide range of experience. She has both Bachelor and Master Degrees in music education from Marshall University, majoring in piano and also studying voice and choral music. Karen has taught K-12 music in private and public schools, taught Kindermusik, and has managed a large private piano and voice studio. Her experiences also include church music (pianist, singer, choral director, handbells, worship leader) and community accompanying/performing/directing theatre. She is currently the choral/vocal music teacher at Ashland Blazer High School and Ashland Middle School, teaching choirs, piano, and AP Music Theory, and is also pianist at Rose Hill Baptist Church. Karen is super excited to now be a part of Aspire!
Karen’s professional memberships include National Association for Music Education, Kentucky Music Educators’ Association, American Choral Directors’ Association, Music Teachers’ National Association, Ashland Area Music Teachers’ Association, and West Virginia Music Teachers’ Association.
Fun Facts: Karen’s hobbies include growing a backyard vegetable garden in the summer and home canning and preserving. She has a husband who is a singer and drummer, and two daughters who are also music educators and performers, one in Nashville, TN and one in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK. Karen is also a Kentucky Colonel and has a black cat named Schoenberg…after the influential 20th Century composer.
Private Instructor, Piano
Nick Blain studied composition and orchestration under Dr. Mark Phillips at Ohio University (2009) and Dr. Steve Rouse at University of Louisville (2011). Nick is a lifelong native of the Tri-State area who currently resides in Huntington, WV. He has taught music lessons for many years specializing in piano, strings, voice, and theory. He is an active member of the Music Teachers’ National Association and the American Choral Directors’ Association.
Nick is the assistant Director of Music at First Presbyterian Church, Huntington, WV where he directs various children’s’ choirs, the middle school hand bell choir, and assists with youth Bible study. Nick believes every student has a mind to appreciate music. His goal as a teacher is to make music relatable by drawing on the strengths and interests of young people, utilizing both popular and classical genres, and he and strives to foster discovery within the minds of his students.
Fun Fact: Nick and his finacé met in their high school orchestra in 2001.
James Newsome holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Piano Performance from Marshall University, under the guidance of Dr. Henning Vauth and is a collegiate member of the MTNA. During his time at Marshall, James has received first place awards from the WVMTA Mountain State Competition, the Marshall University Concerto of Soloists Competition, and the Jackson and Balshaw Competition, as well as competing in the Ashland-Area MTA Piano Competition. In addition to his solo performances, James is an avid collaborative pianist with many opportunities to play with many soloists and ensembles including the WVMEA All-State Choir, the WVACDA Honor Choir, the Marshall University Symphonic Band, Wind Symphony, University Chorus, Chamber Choir, a number of Marshall University students and faculty members, and high school ensembles. He also serves on the worship teams at his home church in Charleston, WV and Tenth Avenue Church of God in Huntington. James is so excited to be joining Aspire!
FUN FACT: James teaches martial arts classes.
Private Instructor, Piano
Sarah Damron-Brown received her Bachelor’s in piano performance from Morehead State University where she studied with Larry Keenan. Sarah attained a Masters of Pedagogy, piano performance from Vanderbilt under the tutelage of Enid Katahn, and a PhD in Musicology and Piano performance from Boston University with Bela Nagy. She has since taught piano in various colleges in Nashville and Boston including Atlantic Union College while simultaneously operating her own music school. In addition to solo performances, Sarah has performed Gershwin’s Concerto in F for piano – live radio broadcast with the Morehead State Orchestra, Ravel Piano Concerto with the Nashville Symphony, Rachmaninoff Concert #2 with Boston Orchestra, and recently Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Upper Valley Chamber Orchestra in Lebanon, New Hampshire. She has also performed with various chamber music groups, including Boston based MOSABA. While pursuing her performance career, Sarah received a Master of Divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. As an ordained pastor, Sarah has conducted various choirs, established music programs in churches while performing piano and organ. Prior to coming to Aspire! Conservatory, Sarah most recently taught at Upper Valley Music School in Lebanon, New Hampshire where she also served as the piano department coordinator. Sarah also serves as music minister at Beech Street Christian Church in Ashland, KY, and she is
currently pursuing a Doctoral Degree in music arts and Christian Education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.
Fun Fact: Sarah loves Corgidors! She has one. Do you know what a Corgidor is? A Corgidor is a dog that is part Corgi and part Labrador.
Instrumental Music – Winds & Percussion
Elizabeth “Libby” McClung
Private Instructor, Flute
Elizabeth “Libby” McClung, flute and piccolo, received her Bachelor of Arts in music education, and Master of Arts in flute performance from Marshall University. She has taught flute in the Huntington area for over 25 years, and her students range from middle school age through adult. She began teaching at the Pied Piper lesson department in Huntington, and then was co-owner and a flute instructor at Note By Note Lesson Center in Huntington.
She performs regularly with the Huntington Symphony, the Huntington Pops, and has also performed with the West Virginia Symphony, the Ohio Valley Symphony, and in the orchestras for Michael W. Smith and LeAnn Rimes. She has performed throughout the Tri-State area in many musicals, with the Greater Huntington Symphonic Band, and at various area churches, including First United Methodist, Ashland. She teaches band and choir at Barboursville Middle School in Cabell County, WV. She is a member of the West Virginia Music Teachers Association, The Delta Kappa Gamma Society, and the National Flute Association.
Libby enjoys teaching and performing music, and hopes to pass that enjoyment on to her students.
Fun Fact: Libby enjoys flute and traveling. She has attended 15 national flute conventions (so far!) which have taken her from Los Angeles to Boston, to Minnesota and Orlando. She has also driven her car into New York City four times!
Private Instructor, Reeds/Brass
Voice & Asst. Director for TheatreWorks
Kathy Leibee Saltsman graduated from Fairview High School in 1976 and was a member of the Kentucky All-Sate Band (clarinet). She attended Pikeville University and graduated with a Bachelors in Music Education (1980) and received her Masters of Secondary Education with an emphasis in music from Morehead State University (1991). Kathy has served more than 30 years as a private and public school music educator. She previously taught at Notre Dame Schools in Portsmouth , Ohio and is now teaching at Wurtland Middle School in Greenup County where she teaches both band and choir.
Kathy served as the musical director for the ACTC Theatre Department for 3 years and conducted musicals such as: Blood Brothers, Copacabana, A Little Night Music, and Chicago. Kathy has also conducted the KMEA District 8 All-District Choir in the past.
Private Instructor, Percussion
Shonté Revely is a native of Ashland, KY and a graduate of Paul G. Blazer High School. He received his BA in Music Performance from Morehead State University in 2004. Although he plays multiple instruments, his primary focuses are drum set and percussion.
While a student at MSU, Shonté was a member of the marching band, percussion ensemble, jazz bands, and various concert bands and ensembles. He traveled with the percussion ensemble to China and Brazil during his time at the University, and was a member of the Overall Champion of the 2002 PASIC indoor marching percussion ensemble.
Shonté has taught many different drumlines and percussion ensembles throughout the years in Kentucky and Tennessee. He also enjoys playing with various ensembles and praise bands throughout the tri-state when he has the opportunity.
Fun Fact: Shonté thinks chalk and stickers are gross.
Private Instructor, Percussion
Logan Skidmore has been dabbling with music ever since his mother started him on piano lessons at age seven. Having developed a love of music in junior high, Mr. Skidmore decided to give this music teaching thing a try.
While attending Marshall University, he studied piano and percussion from Dr. Leslie Petteys and Dr. Ben Miller. Since 2004 he has been band director at East Carter Middle and High School where he teaches band grades 6-12 band and high school general music. He has also taught private lessons at Kentucky Christian University and general music through Ashland Community and Technical College. When not teaching music or performing, he gives as much attention as he can to three beautiful and perfect cats and his wife, though not always in that order.
Fun Fact: Will Smith was best man at Mr. Skidmore’s wedding!
Instrumental Music – Strings
Private Instructor, Guitar
Clancy Hatfield has served as a music educator and performer for 50 years. He has taught at Morehead State University, Marshall University, and Kentucky Christian University. Clancy has also worked in numerous music stores and other colleges all over the Tri-State, and had his own studio and musical services business. He currently continues to teach at KCU on a part-time basis.
As a performer Clancy has been active playing guitar, bass, and singing in music groups of all genres including orchestras, jazz bands, rock bands, blues bands and more. The list of artists he has performed with is long and impressive indeed. Clancy says, “I think I’ve pretty much played it all – I was even in a polka band for a while.”
When asked about retiring, Clancy states that he still “loves teaching, still loves the kids, and still loves the new music the students bring to him. So, why retire?”
Fun Fact: Kentucky basketball and football fanatic. There will be no lessons during final four days!
Private Instructor, Guitar
Born and raised in Ashland, Kentucky, Phil Osborne started learning to play the guitar at the age of eight, had his first public appearance at the age of thirteen, and from then knew that music would be his dream in life. Phil’s early music influences were the Beatles, Kiss, Elvis and Chuck Berry, leading him to a love for rhythm & blues, funk, and soul.
Phil attended Morehead State University where he studied music performance, music theory, and classical and jazz guitar. Spanning more than three decades, Phil’s musical career of playing and performing has taken him to many cities and countries. He has played with everyone from country legends (Billy Ray Cyrus, Jeannie Sealey, Jack Greene, Jan Howard, Jean Shephard, Bobby Cyrus, Seth Bunting. Also, Craig Morgan and Stella Parton. Phil currently plays with groups such as Woodstock Nation, The Chase, and the Joe Freeman Bluegrass Band, as well as the Praise Team an Salt & Light Church.), well-known artists to the not-so-well-know. His proficiencies lie in lead and rhythm guitar, bass guitar, classical guitar, jazz guitar, and drums.
In addition to teaching privately, Phil continues to perform regularly with various groups, individuals, and as a soloist. His goal is to enrich lives by nurturing and developing individuals who desire to play and perform.
Fun Fact: Phil is a pizza-holic, a chocolate-lover, and yes…that IS his real hair color.
Private Instructor, Guitar
Charles Davis earned a master’s degree in music education and bachelor’s degree in music performance, both from Marshall University. Since then, he has worked as a music
educator for Wayne County Schools (WV) as well as teaching private guitar lessons. Outside of educational settings, Mr. Davis enjoys writing and recording music – experimenting with structure, tonality, and genre-bending.
FUN FACT: Mr. Davis maintains a vegan diet and plays way too much Sudoku in his free time!
Private Instructor, Violin
Chloé “Chlo” Sergent is a 22-year-old violinist and fiddler. She earned her Bachelor of Music in violin performance from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. She was the concertmaster of the Marshall University Symphony Orchestra, and a former Vandalia Festival winner. Chloé loves teaching music to all ages, and is capable of teaching violin at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels, as well as Appalachian folk fiddle. She is also enthusiastic about teaching music theory and ear-training. Chloé loves teaching music to anybody, regardless of skill or background.
School of Art
Art Instructor, Group and Private
Leasa Swint has been teaching middle school art for 30 years and just retired in 2019. Leasa has been married for 33 years. She and her husband have one son, and own a small farm near Grayson, KY where they raise cattle, chickens, dogs and cats.
Leasa is a graduate of fMorehead State University. She earned her undergraduate degree of Art and Art Education, her master’s degree in Secondary Education, and a rank 1 in Art Education. Leasa has worked with students in many art shows, helping to develop their artistic skills, and even developed an advanced art placement for students in her school. She has worked with local artists and been involved with her church youth. Leasa enjoys working with young people to help them discover their own talent in art. She has sold pieces of her own artwork locally.
Fun Fact: Leasa is a “chicken lady”. She loves chickens and has even decorated her chicken coop with fun signs and a chicken swing.
SCHOOL OF DRAMA
Auretta Hensley is looking forward to using her Theatre training once again in a classroom setting. She believes that her training in acting has helped her in all practical areas of her life from teaching in front of large audiences to homeschooling her three children. She is excited to teach young minds how to utilize the voice, body, and the imagination that God has given them in creative ways.
Auretta earned a Bachelor of Arts in both Theatre (with an emphasis of Shakespearean performance) and English from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. She was an acting apprentice during her Junior and Senior years in which she was cast in major roles in all Jelkyl Drama performances. Her training found her performing on all types of spaces including Proscenium, Thrust, and Theatre in the Round. She also studied stage movement in the Master’s program for Theatre at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro before returning to Kentucky to further her education by earning her Secondary Teaching Certification from Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond and her Master of Arts at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. She taught English, Theatre, and Humanities at East Carter High School in Grayson, Kentucky for eight years as well as English courses at both Ashland Community and Technical College in Ashland, Kentucky and Ohio University Southern in Ironton, Ohio. She has worked with students of all ages from pre-school to adult in various venues. Currently, she homeschools her three children: Seth (17), Noah (15), and Annah (11).
Fun Fact: Experiencing other cultures is a goal of Auretta’s. She manages this goal by hosting international students in her family’s home. She and her family have hosted eight international students mostly from Asian countries. She also loves to experience culture through travel. She has made a goal of traveling with her husband and children to all fifty of the United States before their childrens’ high school graduation. They have managed to travel to forty of the states so far and they plan on adding another eight this next summer. Auretta has also traveled to six foreign countries to explore their cultures and plans to travel more extensively upon retirement.
Musical Director for THEATREworks
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