Laura Koenig teaches flute and music history at UAA. She received her Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Iowa as the first performer ever awarded the prestigious Iowa Fellowship. Laura’s performance expertise encompasses orchestral, contemporary, and jazz idioms as well as facility on both the modern and baroque, one-keyed flute. She has performed in CrossSound, as guest soloist with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra and the UAA Wind Ensemble, and is principal flute of the Anchorage Opera Orchestra. In addition to serving as Artistic Director for the Anchorage Festival of Music, Laura directs Fair Weather Flutes, coaches and coordinates chamber music for the Alaska Youth Orchestras, and is a founding member of Jomala, an ensemble devoted to new jazz compositions. Laura was a guest soloist at the 2012 National Flute Association annual convention and was a nominee for the 2013 UAA Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.


Elise grew up in Kansas City where she began playing the violin at age 3.  Over the years she studied classical violin and dabbled in various folk music genres, including Celtic and Klezmer.  She continued her violin studies at the University of Northern Colorado and then moved to Anchorage.  By day Elise enjoys her work as a private violin instructor, and at night she performs with the Anchorage Symphony, Opera, Concert Chorus, and Contra Cohos.  Besides playing and teaching violin, Elise loves urban and wilderness walks, hiking, traveling, reading, staying up all night doing art projects, and volunteering in the community.  Being an Alaska Youth Orchestra coach is a huge honor for Elise and brings back memories of her high school years with the Kansas City Youth Symphony. 


Growing up in Birchwood, Matt O’Connor started playing bass at Chugiak High School, and just couldn’t stop. He received a Bachelors in Music Education at UAA, and teaches orchestra at Mears Middle School. He has played with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra for 17 years.

When presented with bassoon, oboe and French horn in 8th grade and told “pick one,” Kirby Kauffman chose bassoon and never looked back.  This led to many musical adventures including performing with Seattle Youth Symphony, touring Japan with the Garfield-Roosevelt Orchestra under Marcus Tsutakawa, and playing along with the band Weezer at their Seattle Hootenanny.  Today Kirby is 2nd bassoon in the Anchorage Symphony and also performs with Anchorage Opera Orchestra, Anchorage Concert Chorus, and other groups.   

Kirby holds a Bachelors of Music degree in Music History/Musicology with high honors from University of Michigan and her principal teachers include Richard Beene, Robert Williams, Paul Rafanelli and Francine Peterson. 

Private teaching, ASO’s Coaching in the Schools program, and coaching the Youth Symphony bassoon sections bring out Kirby’s passion for working with youth: helping students develop a command of this challenging instrument, and an appreciation and enjoyment of the many different characters bassoon plays in large ensemble literature and chamber music.  



Bio arriving soon


Bio arriving soon


Bio arriving soon


Bio arriving soon​​


Nancy Darigo currently serves as Assistant Principal Violist with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, having played with the group for 22 years, and is a regular performer with the Juneau Symphony, Anchorage Concert Chorus, Anchorage Opera, rock band Unhinged Fiction, and string quartet Ensemble in Black & White.  Originally from St. Louis, Nancy began studying violin and viola at the age of 8, and is an alumnus of the inaugural St. Louis Youth Symphony under the direction of Leonard Slatkin.  As a geologist by day, she holds a Bachelors of Science degree with a Minor in Fine Arts from Duke University.

Darrel Kincade is a native of York, Pennsylvania, where he began his first association with music and the Horn in the 6th grade. His talent and ability with the horn continued to excel while a student at the Milton Hershey School. As a senior in high school, he received the coveted “John Phillip Souza’ award, given to a student whose ability, talent and attitude embody the best of band musicianship.

After graduation, Mr. Kincade enlisted in the United States Air Force. He became a member of the 724th Air Force Band stationed at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington. He was active in the Concert Band, Stage Band, Brass and Woodwind Quintets, and also served as the Drum Major for the Marching Band.

In 1979, Mr. Kincade was assigned to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska where he continued to play in the Concert Band and Brass Quintet and as Drum Major until his discharge. In 1980 Mr. Kincade joined the Anchorage Symphony as 4th horn. He also started performing with the Anchorage Opera and Bach Festival that same year.

Mr. Kincade received his Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Education Degrees in 1989. In the spring of 1990 Mr. Kincade started teaching band and choir at Wasilla High School. In 1991, Mr. Kincade started teaching band, choir, keyboard and guitar classes at Service High School

In 2004, Mr. Kincade became the Department Chairperson and Band Director of South Anchorage High School. 

In the spring of 2011, Mr. Kincade retired from the Anchorage School District. He continues to play with the Symphony and the Opera, and is also very involved in a recently formed Brass Quintet, The Glacier Brass. He continues to reside in Alaska.


Christopher Sweeney is an Associate Professor of Music, and Chair of the Music Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  He received a B.S. in Music Education and a B.S. in Music Therapy from Duquesne University, and an M.M. and Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of Miami.  His trombone teachers have included Robert Hamrick, Glen Dodson and Timothy Conner.  Prior to working at UAA, Dr. Sweeney served as Assistant Professor of Music at Limestone College, Gaffney, South Carolina.  In addition, he is an active clinician, having adjudicated and rehearsed bands in New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alaska. As a trombonist, Christopher currently serves as Principal Trombone for the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and Principal Trombone for the Anchorage Opera and has performed numerous times with CrossSound, the avant garde music organization based in Juneau.  With Linn Weeda and Cheryl Pierce, he is a founding member of the Chugach Brass.

As a Freelance Harpist and life-long Alaskan, Joanna Mergler Mayer has had the pleasure of teaching harp, performing as a soloist, and covering harp parts with symphonies and ensembles all over Alaska.  Joanna’s only claim to fame is that she was the first harpist with the Anchorage Youth Symphony. Joanna began her harp adventure at the age of 9, under the instruction of Alaska’s Mother Harpist, Margo Britch. Today, Joanna maintains a private harp studio in her home and has students of all ages on both pedal (Classical) and “non-pedal” or lever (Celtic/folk) harps.

Joanna received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alaska, having studied music and visual art in both Fairbanks and Anchorage. She also studied mixed media art, jewel-making, and graphic design at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington.

Joanna gives solo performances for wedding ceremonies, receptions, fundraisers, holiday, political functions, and private parties. Joanna is currently the Harpist for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra and the Anchorage Civic Orchestra. Joanna has also performed with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, the Anchorage Opera Orchestra, Anchorage Concert Chorus, Opera Fairbanks Orchestra, the Fairbanks Symphony, and the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival Orchestra.  

Joanna is the creator and director of the Aurora Harp Ensemble, Alaska’s only harp ensemble, established in 1999. The harp ensemble currently involves local harpists of all ages and levels, on all types of harps.  Joanna is a member of the American Harp Society and the International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen. In her free time, Joanna enjoys playing harp/guitar duets with her husband, micro-managing the lives of her two adult children, gardening, and playing with beads.

Alaska Youth Orchestras Coaches


Linda Ottum is the principal cellist of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and Anchorage Opera.  Before moving to Alaska she lived in the San Francisco Bay Area where she was the assistant principal cellist and soloist with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra under conductor Kent Nagano.  She was also a founding member of the Berkeley Trio as well as a member of the San Francisco Concert Orchestra, the San Francisco Lamplighters, Oakland Opera, Oakland Ballet and the Mozart Festival of Alameda.

Linda holds performance degrees from the University of Washington and has taken Suzuki teacher training.  She is thankful for the wisdom and guidance of her teachers. They include Seattle Symphony principal cellist Raymond Davis, Professor Eva Heinitz, soloist Lynn Harrell and San Francisco Symphony principal cellist Michael Grebanier.  

Besides being a member of the Anchorage Symphony and Opera, Linda is the principal cellist of the Anchorage Concert Chorus Orchestra and Alaska Chamber Singers and a frequent performer with the Anchorage Festival of Music.  She has served as adjunct faculty for the University of Alaska Anchorage.  In January 2016 it was her privilege to join Anchorage Symphony concertmaster Kathryn Hoffer in the premier of Eric Ewazen’s Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra.

In addition she has performed in CrossSound, Spirit-The Seventh Fire of Alaska and in the orchestras for touring productions of Lion King, Mannheim Steamroller, Mary Poppins and Les Miserables.  She enjoys an active private teaching studio as well as working with the cello sections in AYO.  


Using traditional and non-traditional technique, I teach violin and viola privately to students age 4 to 75. I am former adjunct faculty for the University of Alaska, Anchorage and passionate about teaching, practicing and performing. I am an active member of SAA (Suzuki Association of the Americas), and I am an approved Suzuki method violin instructor.

As a section coach for the Anchorage Youth Symphony and Anchorage Youth Philharmonic, I enjoy working with students who are new to symphonic literature and orchestral etiquette.

I have been a member of the music community in Anchorage, Alaska for over 30 years. Outside of private teaching and coaching, I am the second violin principal for the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Anchorage Opera, and Anchorage Concert Chorus and other local productions. In addition to performing chamber recitals, I also enjoy performing with my string quartet, ENSEMBLE in black & white. 

Meet the AYO Coaches