About the program
The Akins Choral, Piano, and Music Theory Department is an organization open to all Akins High School students, opened in August of 2000. Our goal is to be inclusive, supportive, and further each student's music education, ensuring access for students of all different backgrounds and walks of life. Each student that enters in our space deserves an opportunity to express the emotion of music through proper technique, sight reading, and concert experiences.
About our Choirs
1st Period Men’s Choir:
This is our developing men’s ensemble, featuring Freshman-Seniors, and anyone is welcome to sing, though previous musical experience is a plus. No audition is required. Each fall, students in this choir participate in Texas State University’s Men’s Choir Day, and enjoy singing alongside college level musicians and other students from around central Texas. Students in this choir sing music from all time periods, but specialize in Renaissance and pirate-themed music in the fall semester to prepare for the Madrigal Dinner in December. Here, in collaboration with the other two choir classes, the men present a play, sing songs, and entertain while guests in the audience enjoy a catered meal. It’s a night to remember and a ton of fun! In the spring semester, this choir prepares for and performs at UIL Concert and Sightreading contest. Students in this choir are encouraged to participate in the TMEA All-State audition process, and sing at UIL Solo and Ensemble
2nd Period Women’s Choir:
This is our developing women’s ensemble, featuring Freshman-Seniors, and anyone is welcome to sing, though previous musical experience is a plus. No audition is required. Each fall, students in this choir prepare for the Madrigal Dinner by singing music from the Renaissance. At the Madrigal Dinner, students collaborate with their peers to present an evening of singing, entertainment, and a fantastic catered meal. It’s a night to remember and a ton of fun! In the spring semester, this choir prepares for and performs at UIL Concert and Sightreading contest. Students in this choir are encouraged to participate in the TMEA All-State audition process, and sing at UIL Solo and Ensemble. In January, students from this choir are encouraged to audition to be a part of Vocal Ensemble in the following school year.
6th Period Vocal Ensemble/Madrigals:
This is our top ensemble, featuring Sophomores-Seniors, and placement is by audition only. If an exceptional freshman would like to audition, please contact Mrs. Ballard before May 1st, Students in this choir sing music from all time periods, focusing in the fall semester on music from the Renaissance and the Madrigal tradition. Each December, this choir puts on a Madrigal Dinner where they sing a large range of music, present a play, and entertain while guests in the audience enjoy a catered meal. It’s a night to remember and a ton of fun! Preparation for this event starts in the summer with Choir Camp. In the spring semester, this choir prepares for and performs at UIL Concert and Sightreading contest. As the premier vocal ensemble on campus, members are called upon to sing at many events around campus and in the community. This ensemble has sung for the Mayor, participates in the annual African American Heritage Ceremony, sings the National Anthem at football homecoming and basketball games, and is the primary recruitment choir for middle schools in our vertical team. All students in this ensemble are required to audition for TMEA All-State, and participate in UIL Solo and Ensemble.
About our Piano and Music Theory Classes
4th/7th Period Piano One/Music Theory:
The first level in our Piano Department, this class is open to all students at Akins. No previous experience is necessary, but a desire and drive to learn about piano, music theory, and music history are needed. We start the year with the basics of music reading skills and piano technique, and continue to develop those skills throughout the fall semester. At the close of the fall semester, students are playing intermediate piano literature and can analyze music with roman numerals and chord symbols. In the spring semester, students begin a unit on music history that lasts until the end of the school year. We cover everything from music at the beginning of time through modern day compositions. At the same time, students are learning how to build on their skills developed in the fall semester, and begin composing their own music. Students that excel in this class are encouraged to continue their training with enrollment in AP Music Theory during the next school year.
5th Period AP Music Theory:
The second and final level in our Piano Department, this class is the most challenging music theory course available. As an Advanced Placement course, students are required to take the AP Music Theory exam in May. Work throughout the year works on continuing to develop skills learned in Piano/Music Theory One, and students learn everything from sight-singing, to counterpoint, to secondary dominants and beyond. After the AP Exam, students dive deep into a detailed music history unit Keyboard skills are not a focus of this class, but some keyboard skills are required at different times throughout the year. If a student wishes to take this course without taking Piano One/Music Theory as the prerequisite, instructor approval is required. There is a heavy workload, but the class prepares students for the AP Exam with a high pass rate. Students that are thinking about majoring in music in college are strongly encouraged to take this course.
About the director and voice teachers
Catherine Ballard is in her fourth year as Director of Choir at Akins High School in Austin, TX, serving as a long-term substitute for a few months prior to taking on the program full-time. Ensembles under Mrs. Ballard's direction have grown consistently, earning Excellent Ratings at UIL Concert and Sightreading Competitions. During her time with Akins, students have made it to Region, Pre-Area, and Area in the TMEA All-State Audition process, and sung in the Region Choir. In the Spring of 2017, her Varsity Women's Choir earned their first Sweepstakes rating that Akins had seen in 15 years. In addition, the choir program collaborates with the other Fine Arts groups around campus for various events including graduation, special performances of music, and during the Madrigal Dinner each December.
Under her direction, the Akins Choir and Piano program has grown to become a well-respected and admired group on campus. The choirs are regularly recognized by administration and staff for their sound and success. The piano program is incredibly competitive to get into (last year 100 students enrolled for 48 spots), and the AP Music Theory program is performing at the highest level ever, with the majority of students passing the AP Music Theory Exam each May and earning college credit.
Mrs. Ballard is forever grateful for her colleagues here at Akins High School - the collaboration, willingness to serve, and good will between each member of the Fine Arts staff is unprecedented. She is proud to work in such an inclusive, accepting, and successful environment.
She is also thankful for the mentorship she has received from master teachers such as Laura Lee Duckworth, Alexis Paxton, Noel Weaver, Dr. Greg Detweiler, Dr. Kent Hatteberg, and Cindy Couch. She hopes to continue her education at a future date at a Texas University, earning a Master's Degree in Choral Conducting.
Mrs. Ballard graduated from Morehead State University with a Bachelor's of Music Education (BME) in 2014 after studying voice and conducting with Dr. Greg Detweiler, Dr. Roma Prindle, Dr. Ricky Little, Eric Brown, and Andrea Trusty. While at Morehead State University, she held multiple leadership positions, serving as both President and President-Elect for the choral program, President of Student National Association of Teachers of Singing, a member of the Dean's Student Advisory Board, and was celebrated with the Walter Hannibal Smith Scholarship. Mrs. Ballard participated in the World Choir Games in Cincinnati, OH and with her choir, took home a gold medal. She then continued on to complete her student teaching at Kammerer Middle School with Melissa Weaver and at Eastern High School with Lori Knapke.
Mrs. Ballard started her teaching career here at Akins High School, and in her first full year, was awarded Teacher of Promise, a district-wide recognition. She was also awarded Teacher of the Month, and continues to have a positive rapport with administration, faculty, staff, parents, students, and the community. Mrs. Ballard has attended several continuing education classes in her time here at Akins, including a secondary focused Kodaly summer intensive, a conducting masterclass with Francisco Nunez, and a summer choral conducting institute at Texas Southern Methodist University. She attended an AP Summer Institute, and has sung in several TCDA choirs, under the direction of Sandra Snow and Eric Whitacre. She also regularly attends continuing education events at both state and national conferences, including ACDA Regional and National, the annual Texas Music Educator's Conference, and the annual Texas Choral Director's Association Conference.
Mrs. Ballard is an active adjudicator for the TMEA All-State process, and also judges various region's UIL Solo and Ensemble contests each spring. She is a member of the Texas Music Educator's Association, the Texas Choral Director's Association, and the American Choral Director's Association.
In April of 2017, Mrs. Ballard welcomed her first child, Emma, into the world. She and her husband Aaron enjoy cooking, being outdoors, and spending time with their Great Dane, Tabby.
Dallas native Emily Thomas, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Voice Performance and History from Texas State University. There, she studied with renowned mezzo-soprano Dr. Soon Cho, and tenor Cary Michaels. In 2012, she graduated with an Associates of Arts from Tyler Junior College, where she studied with soprano Jeanie Oxler. Emily has served as a professional soloist in church choirs throughout the Austin area and has been a part of many university ensembles and productions. During her time in university, Emily had the distinct honor of working under world class conductors and performers such as Cheryl Parrish, Karl Dent, Craig Hella Johnson and Dr. Anton Armstrong. Most recently, Emily was featured in Opera San Anotnio's production ofCarmen, and worked in collaboration with local composer Dr.Karol Ann Badgett to premier her song cycle entitled Homestead. As a voice teacher, Emily strives to help students find their own unique voice through a mix of the Alexander Technique and Bel Canto school of teaching. She resides in the Austin area where she works as a Registrar for Armstrong Community Music School, teaches voice privately at Akins High School, and continues her studies in voice with One Ounce Opera director Julie Fiore.