Thea Kano, Artistic Director

Thea Kano, Artistic Director, NYC Master ChoraleDr. Thea Kano, a Northern California native, became active in the arts at an early age. She started playing piano at age four and began taking ballet soon after, a background that has a strong influence on her conducting. Dr. Kano’s graceful yet commanding presence on stage and the robust performances she obtains from her musicians has basis in her formal training as a dancer.

In 2005 Dr. Kano founded the New York City Master Chorale and has served as its Artistic Director since its inception. The 70-member group is recognized as one of the finest vocal ensembles in New York City and has performed to sold-out audiences on two continents. Dr. Kano is known for her expressiveness and dynamic conducting and her Chorale has been praised for its balance and richness in tone in performing a variety of musical styles. Under her direction, the Chorale made its debuts at Lincoln Center (2006) and Carnegie Hall (2009), as well as its international debut in Paris, France (2011).

In addition to her work with the New York City Master Chorale, Dr. Kano has conducted an extensive range of repertoire with the Angeles Chorale, The Washington Chorus, and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, for which she serves as Artistic Director and directs its acclaimed chamber ensemble, Rock Creek Singers. Dr. Kano has prepared choruses for Zubin Mehta, Esa-Pekka Solonen, Emil de Cou, David Hayes, Craig Fleischer, Victor Vener, and Paul Salamunovich. Dr. Kano’s various ensembles have performed at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Disney Hall, Église Saint-Sulpice (Paris), and on the National Mall for the 2008 Inaugural ceremonies.

A champion of music education, Dr. Kano has devoted countless hours to students of all ages and backgrounds. She believes in the power of music to nurture and believes that classical music should be accessible to all. Dr. Kano’s substantial experience in this arena includes: building partnerships with organizations serving disenfranchised adults, hosting workshops with at-risk youth, leading youth arts programs of all sizes, as well as directing award-winning high school and collegiate choruses.

Dr. Kano received her doctorate in choral conducting from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2004. At UCLA, Dr. Kano studied under Donald Neuen, her professional mentor. For her dissertation on Duruflé’s Requiem, Dr. Kano completed research with L’Association Duruflé in Paris and studied privately with Paul Salamunovich. Dr. Kano holds a Master of Music degree from UCLA and a bachelor’s degree in choral music education and piano performance from Arizona State University.

Dr. Kano speaks French and actively conducts ensembles in New York City, Paris and Washington, DC.


Dusty Francis, Principal Conductor

Conductor and bass-baritone Dusty Francis enjoys an active career as a performer, clinician, and adjudicator in the New York metropolitan area and across the country. He currently serves as Principal Conductor of the New York City Master Chorale, Director of Choirs at Collegiate School, and Director of Children’s Choirs at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. Recent seasons have included performances at esteemed venues such as Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, among others. 

When not on the conducting podium, Francis can often be heard singing with some of the country’s finest professional choral ensembles, including the GRAMMY-nominated True Concord Voices & Orchestra, the Atlanta-based Skylark Vocal Ensemble, and the Manhattan Chorale. Recent solo engagements have spanned styles and periods ranging from Bach to Puccini and Schubert to Sondheim.

In addition to his Master’s degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Maryland, Francis earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Xavier University in Cincinnati, graduating summa cum laude. He is a member of the American Choral Directors Association and the National Association for Music Education. A native of Ohio, he currently resides in Manhattan.


Laura Inman, Assistant Conductor

Dr. Laura Inman is a conductor, educator, and soprano based in New York City. A native of Arkansas, her love of chamber music led her to work with some of the most prestigious ensembles and artists of today, such as the Phoenix Chorale, Michael McGlynn’s Anúna, and most recently Mark Morris Dance Group’s tour of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”. Another highlight was singing on The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Studio Cast Recording) album with Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz. She is currently working as soloist/chorister in the Bach Vespers series at Holy Trinity Lutheran in NYC.

Dr. Inman was the founding Executive Director of the Manhattan Chorale, overseeing projects such as the world premiere of Ola Gjeilo’s Dreamweaver at Carnegie Hall. She has also served as Assistant Professor of Music at Georgia Institute of Technology, Guest Artistic Director of Tennessee Chamber Chorus, Music Director of the BASIS School music theater productions in Brooklyn, Assistant Choir Master of the Phoenix Symphony Chorus, and was Anúna’s 2014 Education Outreach artist, leading choral workshops and masterclasses throughout Japan. She holds degrees in Voice and Music Education from University of Louisville and Arizona State University, where she completed her DMA in Conducting.

Dr. Inman has sung on 3 Grammy Award-winning albums under Charles Bruffy – with the Phoenix Chorale, she recorded Grechaninoff: Passion Week (Grammy for Best Engineered Album – Classical, 2009) and Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary (Grammy for Best Small Ensemble, 2009). She was also a featured soloist with Kansas City Chorale on Life and Breath, Choral Works of René Clausen (Grammy for Best Small Ensemble, 2012).

Laura Barger, Accompanist

Laura Barger, Accompanist, NYC Master ChoraleNew York-based pianist Laura Barger is increasingly sought after for her dedication to contemporary music, as well as for her energetic and committed performances. She has performed internationally both as a soloist and chamber musician at The Lucerne Festival (Switzerland), The National Gallery of Ireland, Västerås Konserthus (Sweden), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco), Darmstadt Festival for New Music (Germany), Bang on a Can Marathon at Mass MOCA and The Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada). Active in New York’s new music scene, she can be heard performing everywhere from John Zorn’s downtown experimental mecca The Stone to the Kaufmann Center’s Merkin Hall. She is a founding member of piano and percussion quartet Yarn/Wire, and performs frequently with other contemporary music groups such as the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Argento Chamber Ensemble, Skogensemble, Wet Ink Ensemble and Lost Dog New Music.

Ms. Barger has premiered numerous works by composers from around the world, and has been fortunate to work directly with composers such as Philippe Leroux, Augusta Read-Thomas, Yan Maresz, Dai Fujikura, Alexandra Dubois, David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Terry Riley. Ms. Barger also holds degrees from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (BM) and Stony Brook University (MM, DMA). She is currently on faculty at the 92nd Street Y School of Music in Manhattan.

Danielle Buonaiuto, Director of Development and Marketing

Danielle Buonaiuto enjoys a multifaceted career as a soprano and arts administrator in the musical community of New York City.  In addition to her work with New York City Master Chorale, Danielle has served as the Executive Director of Musica Viva NY since May 2017. She can also be found on the concert stage with many of New York’s professional choral ensembles, including the extra chorus of the Metropolitan Opera, Bard Festival Chorale, and the choir of Marble Collegiate Church. 

Further afield, Danielle sings standard, rarely heard, and freshly written music in intimate concerts throughout the United States. She is one half of new-music soprano duo REXDuo, and frequently commissions composers in Canada, New York, Baltimore, and beyond.  Her second solo album of song, by emerging American composers, will be released in 2018. 

Danielle is a volunteer grant writer with Live Music Project, a Seattle-based service organization, and also works as a consultant on grantwriting and development strategy. She holds Masters degrees in voice and musicology from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University. She resides in Brooklyn, where she can be found biking in the park or experimenting in the kitchen. 

Erica Kelly, Director of Operations

Kelly Headshot smallErica Kelly has been singing in choirs since the age of 4 and has a passion for working with choruses.  She most recently served as the Manager of Youth Programs for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s where she oversaw El Sistema-inspired youth orchestra programs.  Prior to her work at OSL, Ms. Kelly served as the Associate for Secondary School Programs of the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall. In this position, she helped create and manage multiple programs designed to open the pathways of musical engagement for students in grades 6–12.

Before moving to New York, Ms. Kelly was Executive Director of the Tallahassee Community Chorus under the direction of Dr. Andre J. Thomas, as well as Camp Director for Shrine Mont’s Music and Drama camp, working with campers ages 9–18. She has also held positions at the Florida State University College of Music and in the National Symphony Orchestra’s education department at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  She maintains an active musical life by serving on the board of the New York Choral Consortium and frequenting Broadway productions.

Ms. Kelly holds a Master of Arts degree in Arts Administration from Florida State University and a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Music Education from James Madison University in Virginia.