Our Carpe Artista Academy Instructors

Carpe Artista Academy – Grow Your Talents, Grow Your World

Mark Thomas

Piano and Voice

  • Mark holds both a Bachelor and Master degree in music and studied piano performance with concert pianist Evelyn Mitchell and world-renown pedagogue Maurice Hinson
  • Mark has taught at the University of Missouri at Kansas City Conservatory, Indiana University Southeast, and Tennessee Tech
  • He has 25 years experience in teaching and developing young artists, bands, and recording artists including Contemporary Christian Recording Artist Colton Dixon. For more information on Colton Dixson visit http://coltondixon.com
  • Mark’s unique approach to teaching emphasizes both a traditional, classical technique, as well as a very successful method of improv that has students playing commercial styles quickly
  • Mark is an published songwriter, has performed with the Nashville Opera and at the Grand Ole Opry. He is also an actor, director and acting coach.

Karen Smith


  • Karen is originally from Maryland, and has been a freelance photographer for the Cumberland Times-News, Miss America Pageant for Miss Maryland, and has served as state photographer for the Maryland Jaycees.
  • Her credits include Brooks & Dunn Summer Legend Series, Mark Collie Foundation Race for the Cure and Waldens Puddle Benefits as well as book covers such as Collector Steiff Values, German Life Magazine and album covers for Thom Bresh, Joe Stampley, Michael McGrew and Johnny Counterfit and Tammy Wynette’s last tour book.
  • Karen and her husband, Danny, have photographed concerts, portraits, wildlife, weddings, and major events as well as track photography at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
  • In Karen’s own words: “My passion for capturing a particular image, as it will never happen again, is truly a gift from God. “ Visit her facebook page “Moments Framed in Time” to see some of her work.

Geoff Butterworth

Voice, Piano, and Guitar

  • Geoff holds a Bachelor in Music Education from Evangel University
  • He has taught for over 14 years including two years with Lancaster Academy and video production at Studio One Media
  • He has also served both full-time and part-time on the music/worship staffs for area churches
  • Geoff has extensive experience and education in singing, playing, songwriting, and music scoring for multiple projects including Truth & Life Audio Bible among many others.
  • Geoff owns his own recording studio and also performs regularly with Wildfire Trio and other local acts
  • Geoff has been and instructor with Carpe Artista Academy since its beginning

Larissa Reed

Administrative Director for Visual Arts, Painting, and Mixed Media.

  • Larissa Reed received a Bachelor’s Degree from Belmont University and has extensive experience as an artist and teacher. She taught art at the Legacy Christian Tutorial and other homeschool organzationsand turorials.
  • She is a tireless supporter and advocate for young artists.
  • As a volunteer for LifePoint Church, she has been head costumer for numerous adult and children’s events over the past 14 years. Also, she has designed and implemented stage environments for sermon series, marriage events and children’s events.
  • Every school year, along with Carpe Artista COO and art instructor Susan Gulley, Larissa assists the drama departments of Thurman Francis and other local schools with the design and construction of sets and custumes.
  • Larissa also contributes to the look/feel of Carpe Cafe and the organization and programming growth of Carpe Artista.

Susan Gulley

COO of Carpe Artista and Visual Arts Instructor

  • Susan has a degree is in Fine Arts with a minor in Photography from Middle Tennessee State University. She is a freelance visual artist specializing in stage design and construction, mural painting and graphic arts for local and global initiatives.
  • She has over 25 years of performance and instruction experience in visual arts, graphic design, music and drama,
  • She is the COO of Carpe Artista, taking a daily role in the formation and setup of our non-profit. Prior to joining the Company full-time, she was the International Sales and Purchasing Specialist for Nissan Trading Corporation of America in Smyrna, TN.
  • Her passion for working in international settings and negotiation of business strategy and customer service expertise is used daily in the running of Carpe Artista.

Sammi Knell

Voice Instructor and Carpe Academy Admin

  • Sammi has B.S. Degree in Contemporary Music from Bryan College where she studied classical, jazz, pop, mix, and contemporary voice
  • She studied at the Contemporary Music Center in Brentwood, TN – studying music business, songwriting, recording, production, and the essentials stage performing.
  • She is the adult worship ministry vocalist and student worship ministry mentor/vocal leader at Christ Life Community Church. She has recording and live choral and individual singing, performance, and competition experience
    Sammi is also a student mentor for Carpe Artista’s Carpe Studio leadership development program.
  • In her own words: “My passion is to teach, equip, challenge, and encourage students to find and use their voices to the best of their ability. One of my main focuses is to encourage and affirm the student to be confident and feel confident in their vocal and performing abilities.”

Fred Legendre III

Guitar, bass, vocals, piano, and drum instructor

  • Fred holds and Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Performance (Guitar) from Evangel University and has more than a decade of experience teaching music.
  • He is also a former touring and recording artist with more than 20 years experience as a recording engineer, producer and studio musician with credits on hundreds of music projects. He served as audio producer, master engineer, and mixer on The Word of Promise Next Generation
  • Fred has produced and mixed audio devotional series for such well-respected authors/speakers as Dr Jack Hayford and Max Lucado and designed, recorded, mixed sound, and wrote and performed original music for a feature film.
  • He also has more than a quarter-century experience as a worship leader.


Elizabeth “Bitsy” Rawlings

Violin and Voice Instructor

  • Bitsy has taught private violin/voice/music lessons as well as violin and theory classes for more than seventeen years in a variety of church, non-profit and for-profit settings.
  • She has also served as assistant director/strings coach and directed vocal and instrumental ensembles, church orchestras and taught home-school tutorials.
  • Bitsy has played with the Jackson Philharmonic and Pops Orchestras, is a longtime member of the Nashville Praise Symphony and has appeared on more than twenty albums as both a background vocalist and as an instrumentalist, and has accompanied live artists such as Steve Green, Larnelle Harris, Jonathan Pierce, Michael English, Bruce and Lisa, Lee Greenwood, Aaron Tippin, PDQ Bach, Neil Diamond, The Gaither Vocal Band and David Phelps.
  • She is a graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University (Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry) and is working toward a Bachelor of Music Education degree with dual certification in both vocal and instrumental music.
  • Bitsy has been married to Bill for thirteen and a half years and also runs a large international encouragement ministry for Christian Young Widows, called Mourning into Dancing.

Tina Soloman Hutchison

Public Speaking and Stage/Acting Instruction

  • Tina Hutchison is a solid communicator with over 25 years experience on stage.  Tina has gained great insight for assisting artists in performance and presentation.
  • Experienced drama teacher at various arts academies for 7th – 12th grade students.
  • In 2005, Tina founded the nonprofit organization Holding Out Hope, Inc., which serves the incarcerated members of society. Tina was interviewed in 2014 by Diane Sawyer and her choir, Voices of Freedom, was featured in the ABC 20/20 special A Nation of Women Behind Bars.
  • From 2006 – 2010 Tina’s scripts were included in five consecutive children’s musicals. She has written and directed several shows in Rutherford and Davidson County.
  • In 2014, Tina Hutchison wrote and performed the signature song “I Remember” for the EMMY Award Winning film, Searching for Augusta.
  • In Tina’s own words: “My goal is to assist performers and speakers in building confidence as they refine their craft.  We will focus on the details and delivery that will create comfort on stage and enhance every experience in front of an audience.”

Ron Alley

Voice and Guitar Instructor, CEO and Founder of Carpe Artista

  • Founder and Executive Director of Carpe Artista
  • 16 plus years experience as Director of Worship Arts for Lifepoint Church
  • More than 30 years in Choral Conducting with a focus on Contemporary Worship music.
  • Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance, University of Tennessee Chattanooga
  • Graduate studies in Music Education at Belmont University, Nashville & Southwestern Seminary Ft. Worth
  • Over 23 years teaching Voice and Guitar.
  • Recording artist for Christian and Secular markets.
  • Ron has served on several board of directors for non-profit organizations


Jenny Johnson

Guitar and Vocal Instructor

  • Jenny is a singer-songwriter- guitarist from Nashville, TN.
  • She has released two independent albums of her own
  • Jenny also fronts a trio called SubFolk that plays coffeehouses and small venues in the middle TN. area. Her music is an eclectic mix of Americana Folk-Rock and she’s been perfecting her style and performance skills for almost 12 years.
  • It’s been a lifelong desire of hers to have the opportunity to assist others in realizing their potential as players.
  • In Jenny’s own words: “It’s an honor to be a part of the Carpe Artista staff. We are making a difference, no matter the age of the student.”


Steve Grossman

Drums, Music Industry and Leadership

  • Professional touring and recording drummer with The Gibson/Miller Band, India Arie, Russ Taff, Kim Boyce, Paul Smith, Greg Volz, Sweethearts of the Rodeo and many others.
  • Winner of Grammy Award with India Arie and Academy of County Music Award with The Gibson/Miller Band
  • BA in Jazz Performance from University of North Texas
  • Executive Director of Carpe Artista and Dale Carnegie Facilitator
  • Author of Why I FAILED in the Music Business and How NOT to Follow In My Footsteps

Our Carpe Artista Camp Facilitators

In addition to many of our instructors, the following folks assist with camps

Jason Lee McKinney

Songwriting and Music Business

  • MBA and BA in Music business
  • Recently completed his Doctorate in Business Leadership at Trevecca Nazarene University
  • 2 time Major Label recording artist
  • Published songwriter
  • National touring artist
  • Worship Arts Leader
  • Carpe Artista Camp lead staff and youth development


Jay Lowder

Bass, Cello

  • Bachelor Degree from Ohio State University
  • Jazz Studies major at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music
  • Professional Bass career with major artists such as Shania Twain, Paul Brandt, Bob Carlisle, Margaret Becker and more.
  • World Touring experience including Grand Ole Opry, Canadian Country Music Awards, Fan Fair, and Prime Time Country
  • Author of “Tears of Min Brock”  click on the book next to Jay’s photo to get your copy today!

Sharon Stueckle

Drama and Musical Theatre Instruction

  • Sharon is a teacher in Rutherford County

Joanne O’Kain

Drama and Musical Theatre Instruction

  • Joanne is a teacher in Rutherford County

Adam McKeown

Guitar, Marketing, and Music Business

Steve Marshall

Bass Guitar and Music Business

Brian Wilcox

Drama and Theatre Business

Brian Nelson

Guitar, Vocals, and Music Business

Amy Royer

Dance, Choreography, and Arts Business

Randy Smith

Bass Guitar and Music Business

Billy Crain

Guitar, Vocals, and Music Business

Special Guests

Subject Matter Expertise!

Sign-Up Today!

If you are ready to start, you have nothing to lose as we only want students who truly want to learn and we will not commit you to a long term contract.

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Lessons are first come first serve so use this form to arrange your first lesson or get more information today!


contactus@carpeartista. 101 Front Street, Smyrna, TN 37167 In the Historic Depot District

Offering quality arts lessons in piano/keys, voice, violin, viola, guitar, bass guitar, drums, ukulele, banjo, mandolin, drawing, painting, sculpting, photography and drama for kids of all ages in Smyrna, LaVergne, Murfreesboro and North Rutherford County, extended Rutherford County, Nolensville, Antioch and South Nashville.for Smyrna and North Rutherford County, TN.


Carpe Artista Academy – Grow your talents, grow your world!

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