Kent Jue, Artistic and Executive Director; Director of Concert Group and Choral Scholars
Kent Jue is an experienced choral conductor, music educator, and facilitator for lifelong learning in music. An energetic teacher, adjudicator, guest clinician, workshop presenter, and mentor, he is known for building high-level musicianship skills through his engaging style and rapport with students. He has a passion for uncovering the full artistic and expressive potential of individual choristers in an ensemble setting. Kent conducts Ragazzi’s most accomplished treble singers, Concert Group, and the select tenor and bass Choral Scholars. He has toured extensively with the Ragazzi program and has led Ragazzi choirs to numerous festivals. Kent has conducted Ragazzi in performances with the San Francisco Symphony and for Chorus America. An avid collaborator, he has prepared ensembles and soloists for organizations such as Symphony Silicon Valley and Opera San Jose. Kent has also conducted youth choruses at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and performed and recorded with the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus and the Gay Men’s Choruses of San Francisco and Boston. He has a Master of Music Education, with a Kodaly Emphasis from Holy Names University, a Bachelor of Music, Music Education from the University of the Paciﬁc, a certiﬁcate in the Orﬀ-Schulwerk method of music education and holds a CA teaching credential. Kent currently serves as the Children and Community Youth Chair for the California Choral Directors Association. As Ragazzi’s second Artistic Director, Kent is honored to continue Ragazzi’s legacy of musical excellence, and its tradition of developing choral artists of character and distinction.
Travis Rogers, Young Men’s Ensemble Director
Travis Rogers has been a professional choral conductor for 45 years. He retired from Napa High School in Napa, California, in June of 2017 after thirty-seven years as the choral music director. Mr. Rogers directed the activities of over 300 students (at least half of them boys) each school year in seven different ensembles. Choirs at the school toured frequently nationally and internationally, performing in world famous venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City, St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals in Dublin, Notre Dame in Paris, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, Westminster Abbey in London, and Sagrada Familia and the Barcelona Cathedral in Spain. NHS ensembles also earned top honors at several national and international competitions in New York City, Hawaii, Australia, Austria, and England as well as top ratings and awards at local, regional and state festivals and competitions.
In 1981, during his second year of teaching at Napa High, Mr. Rogers began the school’s first Men’s Choir with 20 students. In subsequent years, as many as 220 young men sang in one or more of three separate male ensembles at the school. Typically each year, up to 80% of new enrolling male singers did so with no previous choral training yet earned “Unanimous Superior” ratings at area choral festivals for the quality of their performances. The 2016-2017 NHS Beginning Men’s Choir was the subject of the documentary “Top Row,” currently available on Amazon Prime, which chronicled the group’s preparation and subsequent performance at their first choral competition.
Mr. Rogers has served the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) California Chapter in many capacities including repertoire and standards chair for high school and male choirs, summer conference chair and President. He is also a Past-President of the western region of ACDA. Travis Rogers has conducted over thirty honor and district choirs in northern and central California. He has been a choral competition/festival adjudicator and clinician for over thirty years as well as a frequent presenter at professional conferences for ACDA and California Music Educators Association (CMEA).
Thomas Wade, Avanti Director
Thomas Wade is a choral conductor and freelance singer based in the Bay Area. An alumnus of Ragazzi, Thomas brings over a decade of choral experience to the program.
He has taught and conducted at public schools and private music programs and worked with organizations like Chanticleer, San Francisco Symphony, Philharmonia Baroque, West Bay Opera, and Opera San Jose. From 2017-2020, he worked as a vocal coach and theory instructor for Ragazzi. In addition, Thomas sings with Ragazzi’s alumni ensemble, Ragazzi Continuo, and directed the group for two seasons. Before serving as the Avanti Director, Thomas directed Level I of the San Francisco Girls Chorus.
Thomas holds a B.M. in vocal performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has studied as a Choral Fellow for the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco, under the tutelage of Susan McMane, and pursued continuing study of the Kodály methodology at Holy Names University.
Kaori Nakano DeNoia, PREMIERE DIRECTOR, MUSICIANSHIP TEACHER
Kaori Nakano DeNoia graduated from Japan’s prestigious music school, Kyoto Horikawa Music High School, where she studied vocal performance. She earned her BA from Kobe College and graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with an MA in vocal performance, having studied with Herman Leroux and received a first place prize in the American Art Song Competition. She received preschool and teaching credentials from San Francisco State University, studied pipe organ with Wyatt Insko, and has Kodály training from Holy Names University. She teaches music for K-8th grades in San Francisco, as well as private piano and voice students at the California Conservatory of Music. She has worked with the San Francisco Girls Chorus, A.P. Giannini Middle School choir and bell choir, Oakland Army Base, College Avenue Presbyterian Church, Christ United Presbyterian Church, her own children’s choir Kirakiraboshi Children’s Choir in Japantown, and sings with The Merrie Olde Christmas Carolers. She is excited to share her love of music and teaching with the Ragazzi Boys Chorus.
Nathan Wilen, PREMIERE DIRECTOR
Nathan Wilen teaches 4th & 5th grade choir and instrumental as well as K-2 classroom music at McKinley and Hoover Elementary schools in the Burlingame School District. He also has a growing private voice studio. Nathan is a veteran of the Ragazzi program himself, having been a chorister from age 8 to 18. He enjoys passing on Ragazzi traditions as a Ragazzi Premiere director. Nathan graduated from Chapman University with a B.M. in Music with a vocal emphasis in 2016, and graduated from Holy Names University with a Master of Music Education (Kodály emphasis) in 2020. He performs with Ragazzi Continuo and appears as a professional soloist and chorister around the Bay area. He is the tenor section leader of the Chancel Choir and the Oratorio Society at First Congregational Church, Palo Alto.
Nancy Whitecar, Training GRoups Coordinator, PRIMARY GROUP DIRECTOR, YOUNG MEN’S ENSEMBLE Assistant DIRECTOR, COLLABORATIVE PIANIST, Prelude TEacher
Nancy Whitecar is a professional musician and music educator with over 35 years of experience. She teaches general music classes at The Music School at the Sunnyvale Presbyterian church, and accompanies for instrumentalists and choirs throughout the Bay Area. Nancy has directed children’s and youth choirs, and taught piano to students of all ages in her private piano studio. She served as accompanist and assistant director of the BeckRidge Chorale in Southeast Michigan for over 20 years, and as Associate Director of Music at the First United Methodist Church in Plymouth, Michigan. Nancy is a member of the Music Teachers National Association, and the California Association of Professional Music Teachers. She graduated from the University of Illinois, and holds a Piano Teacher Certificate from Schoolcraft College in Michigan.
ISABELLA CUSTINO, Primary Group DirectoR, Assistant Director of Concert Group and Choral Scholars
Isabella Custino is a passionate choral conductor and music educator from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a California state certified K-12 music teacher with degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University (MA Music & Music Education) and the USC Thornton School of Music (BA Choral Music).
When she is not working with Ragazzi, Ms. Custino conducts Allegra for the Peninsula Girls Chorus, a sister organization to Ragazzi, of which she’s a proud alumna. She feels lucky to be returning to the Bay Area choral scene as an educator after participating as a student.
In addition to teaching and conducting, Ms. Custino has participated in various choral ensembles. During her time at USC, she was a member of the prestigious USC Chamber Singers under the direction of Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe. She was also Conducting Intern for the Orange County Women’s Chorus under the direction of Eliza Rubenstein in 2021-2022. With these ensembles, she has performed at various venues such as Desert Trip with the Rolling Stones and Walt Disney Concert Hall as well as touring to destinations like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Carnegie Hall in New York.
Jane Rinard, Primary Group Director
Jane Rinard is a passionate music educator who has been sharing her love of singing with students for over twenty years. She has taught music at schools in the SF Bay Area and overseas, and currently teaches elementary music at San Francisco Friends School. In addition to her previous work at Ragazzi, Jane has also conducted at Peninsula Girls Chorus and was an assistant conductor at Piedmont East Bay Children’s Chorus. Jane holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, where she studied English and French literature as well as vocal and choral music. She also studied voice at San Francisco State University and received a Master’s Degree in Music Education with a Kodály emphasis from Holy Names University. She is certified in the Orff-Schulwerk approach to music education, holds a California Teaching Credential, and is currently pursuing training in the Alexander Technique. When she isn’t singing, Jane also loves hiking, cooking, dancing, yoga, and travel.
Peter Bassford, COLLABORATIVE PIANIST
Starting piano lessons at age 8 and clarinet at age 10, music became a vital part of Peter’s life. At San Francisco University, he earned degrees in Piano Performance and Music Education. While working for Bank of America, Peter pursued music through church work as organist and choir director and through community theater both as an actor/singer and music director. Peter is retired from teaching music in the Burlingame School District and is currently the organist at First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame.
Yongyu Gao, COLLABORATIVE PIANIST
Music has been a part of Yongyu Gao’s life from a very early age. She began playing the accordion at age four, establishing a strong musical foundation for piano studies she began at the age of 10. In 2005, Yongyu won first place in the Beijing National Accordion Competition, and third place in the Beijing National Piano Competition. This experience helped her focus on piano, and in 2009, she graduated with a BA from South China University in Music Education with an emphasis in piano performance. After moving to the United States, she played for the Inna Opera Group at the Community Music Center in San Francisco. Yongyu continued her study in piano performance as a Walker Scholar at San Jose State University, earning her Master’s degree in 2013. She accompanies for the Burlingame School District and Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, and is an active performer throughout the Bay Area. She also serves as a pianist and organist at Burlingame United Methodist Church. She is a member of the Music Teachers Association of California, and her piano students regularly participate in the Certificate of Merit and Royal School of Music programs and exams.
Dace Samta, COLLABORATIVE PIANIST
Dace Samta graduated from Sigulda Music School in Latvia prior to obtaining BA degree in Piano Performance from Pacific University in Oregon. Dace worked as a staff accompanist at Pacific University for 5 years in addition to accompanying multiple high school choirs, theatre companies and church choirs. Currently Dace works as a Music Teacher and Choir accompanist at Episcopal Day School in San Mateo, plays piano for St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church and teaches music at San Francisco Latvian School.
Marilyn Wells, COLLABORATIVE PIANIST
After graduating from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s degree in choral education, Marilyn taught high school music and humanities in Tempe before moving to the Bay Area in 1984. Marilyn created and implemented the music curriculum for a magnet school in Pacifica, teaching all grades from K-8. She has also directed adult and children’s choirs including a swing choir of college students and has a private piano studio. Marilyn’s three sons all sang with Ragazzi and she has accompanied the various groups as her boys moved through the program. Her other passion is quilting and sewing and to the delight of many, she has generously donated her handwork for many Ragazzi gala auctions.
Christine (YachuN) Yu, COLLABORATIVE PIANIST
Yachun Yu holds a Master of Arts degree in music and music education from Teachers College at Columbia University, and a bachelor degree from National Taiwan Normal University, majoring in flute and minoring in piano. Her teaching experience includes a faculty position as the director of the music department at Chung-Hsing Junior High School in Taiwan, where she conducted the choir and concert band. She was awarded the distinction of “Outstanding Teacher of the Year” for Nantou County in Taiwan in 2005.
Christine currently teaches flute and piano in the Bay Area, and plays piano for local churches. She enjoys sharing her passion for music with Ragazzi choristers.
Carol Panofsky, DIRECTOR OF THEORY EDUCATION, OBOIST
Carol Panofsky can be heard in performances at the library as part of Munching with Mozart, with the Santa Cruz Chamber Players, Ragazzi Boys Chorus, and, on occasion, with the Santa Cruz County Symphony, and the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. She is an active free-lance musician, which has provided her with opportunities to perform on both coasts as well as in Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, China, and Korea. Ms. Panofsky directs Ragazzi Boys Chorus’ theory program, which serves to teach choristers to read music and to understand the theoretical foundation of the music they are singing. She has also been a collaborative pianist for several of their beginning choirs. She received a Master of Music in the Performance of Early Music from the New England Conservatory of Music. She performs and teaches early music, modern oboe, and piano, and has been on the faculties at the Music School of the University of Idaho and at U.C. Santa Cruz. She has many private music students, both children and adults. Carol serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony and is Past-President of the Santa Cruz County Branch of Music Teachers’ Association of California, for which she is currently Corresponding Secretary. She is also the founder and organizer of “Munching with Mozart,” a series of free concerts presented at the central branch of Santa Cruz Public Library. Carol began serious study of the piano eleven years ago and is currently studying with Kumaran Arul, a faculty member of Stanford University.
JON ELLIS, VOCAL COACH
Jon Ellis has brought his powerful tenor voice and dramatic presence to numerous concerts, operatic performances and solo recitals throughout the United States and Europe, as well as several televised and radio performances. Mr. Ellis has sung with Opera San Jose, Opera International, Torrey Pines Opera Theatre, Contemporary Opera of Los Angeles, OperaWorks, Chelsea Opera, Novato Concert Opera, Scholar Opera, Monterey Opera, Cleveland Opera Theatre, Seattle Civic Light Opera, appearing in a wide variety of roles including Cavaradossi (Tosca), Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly), Eisenstein (Die Fledermaus), and Don Ramiro (La Cenerentola). Mr. Ellis earned a Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Performance from Seattle Pacific University, a Master of Music Degree from Cleveland Institute of Music and a Master Degree of Music from Case Western Reserve University, focusing on Vocal Performance and Vocal Pedagogy.
Mr. Ellis has enjoyed a long association and collaboration with Ann Baltz performing operatic improvisation, including two one–act operas with the Bay Area Playwrights Festival where the music was entirely improvised every performance. Mr. Ellis and Ms. Baltz have performed numerous operatic improv concerts in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles; performing improv recitals for several Classical Singer conventions, fundraisers and in 2020, performed at the National Opera Association conference in Cleveland, OH.
Mr. Ellis serves on the Board of Directors of Music in the Schools Foundation and OperaWorks. Jon currently is a Certified Personal Trainer, Licensed Zumba Instructor and Certified Aqua Fitness Instructor specializing in the Senior Adult and Active Aging populations. Mr. Ellis has served for a number of years as a vocal coach for Ragazzi Boys Chorus’ Concert Group, working with soloists and choristers alike and also maintains a voice studio in the San Francisco Bay Area. His students have sung with many opera companies and symphony orchestras including, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony and Opera San Jose.
Joyce Keil, Founder and Artistic Director Emerita
Joyce Keil has served as panelist, adjudicator and guest conductor for music teachers and choirs throughout the Western United States. An experienced teacher, she has served on the faculties of the College of Holy Names, Notre Dame de Namur University, and Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco. She holds a B.A. from Occidental College, where she studied with Howard Swan, known as the “Dean of Choral Music”. She holds M.A.s from the New School for Social Research and California State University Northridge, where she studied with John Alexander. Ms. Keil has prepared choirs for San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony, for conductors such as Herbert Blomstedt, Michael Tilson Thomas, David Robertson, Donald Runnicles, Raymond Leppard and James Conlon. She is the founder of the choral program and Advanced Placement Music Theory curriculum at Crystal Springs Uplands School, where students received unanimous superior ratings for their ensemble and solo work. Ms. Keil has served as the Western Division and California State Chair of the Boychoir Committee for the American Choral Directors Association, and has sat on the College Board for Advanced Placement Music Exams. Ragazzi Boys Chorus, under Joyce Keil’s leadership, received a Grammy Award for participating in the San Francisco Symphony’s recording of Stravinsky’s Perséphone. Under her baton, Ragazzi was named a CBS Best Choir of the Peninsula in 2013, made its Carnegie Hall debut in 2014, and has been cited by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of four elite youth choruses in the Bay area. At the 2016 Western Regional Conference of American Choral Directors Association, Ragazzi was acclaimed for its innovative programming and moving performance. Recognized nationally and internationally, Ms. Keil’s leadership built Ragazzi’s stellar reputation among American boys choruses.