American Traditions Vocal Competition Appoints New Board Members To Lead Local Nonprofit Organization

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

Paul Chant, Tricia Guggenheim, Beverly Jaques, Susan Kleine, Samir Nikocevic, Daniel Rizzo, Judy Witbeck, and Mel Whitehead have joined the American Traditions Vocal Competition (ATC) Board of Directors. Artistic Director Mikki Sodergren, along with this 18-member board, will lead the ATC in its 27th anniversary competition, which runs Feb. 17-21, 2020.

Paul Chant is director of Music at Skidaway Island United Methodist Church. His career in music is vast, encompassing work as a professor, composer, organist, conductor, pianist, and choir director. He is a graduate of Queen’s University in Canada, with advanced studies in organ, choral and orchestral conducting, music theory, music history, and composition. In addition, he has been involved in the music theater industry.   

A native Savannahian, Tricia Guggenheim has been teaching for 31 years both in elementary and middle schools. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in teaching and creative dramatics and received her graduate degree from Georgia State University. In addition to being a total teacher nerd, she enjoys yoga, reading, and musical theatre. She is a past board member of the Jewish Educational Alliance, Shalom School, and the Royce Center and was on the Susan G. Komen Coastal Georgia race committee for five years. 

Beverly Jaques is a retired music educator and fundraising consultant, spending most of her career in Boston and New Jersey. Also, a singer, she has sung in and directed numerous a cappella singing groups. She and her husband now reside between Savannah and Maine.

Susan Kleine is past president of the ATC and returns to the board after a two-year hiatus. Her career includes work as a meeting and event planner, an educator for 25 years, and a project manager for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. Kleine is Past President of the Rotary Club of Skidaway Island, a Trustee for the Georgia Rotary Student Program, and is President for the Savannah Newcomers Club.

Samir Nikocevic was born in Zagreb, Croatia. He received his music degree in piano performance and piano pedagogy from the Music Academy at the University of Zagreb. There he studied with professor Hari Gusek and participated at several piano competitions, including the National Piano Competition for Young Musicians, where he was awarded third place in his category. Nikocevic has participated in many piano masterclasses, most notably with Professor Rudolf Kehrer, Sijavus Gadjiev, Vladimir Krpan and Arbo Valdma. Granted an opportunity to study with acclaimed pianist Peter Frankl, Nikocevic moved to the U.S. in 2000. Over the years, he has dedicated time to both performance and instruction. Currently a resident of Savannah and New York City, he is committed to volunteering time to nonprofit cultural organizations in the community.  

Daniel Rizzo is a human resources consultant based in Savannah, GA. His love of working with people led him to a career in human resources. During his 30 years in New York City, he held leadership positions in the fashion and media industries, most recently with David Yurman, Reed Krakoff, and Carolina Herrera. Dan’s roles focused on developing HR functions, including organizational development, employee relations, and leadership coaching. Today, Dan’s passion lies in executive coaching, where he can help senior leaders reach their fullest potential. In 2016, Dan and his husband relocated to Savannah and have spent the last few years renovating their home in the Victorian District, completing much of the work themselves. Dan is obsessed with spin classes, recently becoming certified to teach in his spare time.   

Katherine "Judy" Witbeck is a Michigan native where she was the controller for her husband's business while raising three children. During that time, she volunteered frequently at her children's school, their church and many local organizations. Judy and her husband moved to Savannah in 2006. They love life in the low country, and the chance to spend time with their four nearby grandchildren.

A native of California, Mel Whitehead earned his Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from California State-Fullerton. He then moved to Manhattan to study under the legendary bass, Jerome Hines. Whitehead sang opera professionally throughout the US and Europe for 15 years, polishing his bass repertoire with companies such as the LA Opera, Orange County Opera, Phoenix Opera and Madrid Opera. In 1995, he settled in Georgia with his wife and began teaching high school chorus. In 2006, he earned a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction Through the Arts from Lesley University, and in 2017, his EdS in 

Educational Leadership from Georgia College. After 20 years of high school choral directing, Whitehead is currently the performing arts supervisor for the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.

At the helm of the ATC is the Board of Directors, led by President Allen Henderson, Susan Whitaker Vice President and Danny Cohen Past President. Starr Holland serves as Secretary while Marc Tate as Treasurer. Mikki Sodergren holds the position of Artistic Director. Continuing board members are: Les Anderson, Carol Bell, Nathan Godley, Kellee Haselton, Debby Warner, and Jim Wann.

“We are very pleased these individuals have joined us to help us grow and prosper as one of the nation’s premiere professional vocal competitions,” said Board of Directors President Allen Henderson. “I know the energy of these talented individuals will aid our organization in furthering our mission and expanding our educational outreach.”