Candidate for President-Elect
Alex Underwood is an advocate for rural music education, devoting his work to the development of music
structures in Northwest Kansas. Born and raised in Russell, Alex studied music education and vocal
performance at Sterling College before returning to Russell to teach 6-12th grade vocal music from 2008-
2012. From there, he earned a master's degree in Choral Conducting from Westminster Choir College in
Princeton, NJ where he performed regularly with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia
Orchestra. Upon completion of his dissertation, Alex will receive his doctorate in Choral Conducting from
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where his research focuses on rural music education and
interdisciplinary performance projects. In 2014, he founded the Ad Astra Music Festival, a series of
classical concerts in Russell each July that brings world-class music to rural Kansas. It draws artists who
regularly perform with some of the most well-known cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Opera, San
Francisco Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Choir at Trinity Wall Street. The festival is a space for
visiting artists to collaborate with local students, amateur musicians, and professional Kansas musicians
to create music together, a formula that has produced a thrilling result.
A core element of his music education philosophy is the teaching of music from students' own cultural
background as well as music unfamiliar to them. Alex implements this concept in his classroom by
creating diverse experiences for students. From opera to hip hop, Dolly Parton to Pentatonix, from 11th
century chant to musical theatre, his students perform the full range of vocal music. By affirming students'
own cultural music, it validates their heritage and strengthens their identity; by providing them authentic
performance opportunities outside their cultural background, students expand their worldviews and potential
selves. Being from and teaching in the rural Northwest District, he sees the beauty and dignity of our
communities. In a world geared for urban and suburban living, celebrating our way of life is more necessary
now than ever. Music is a perfect tool!
Alex teaches vocal music at Hays High School where he leads the choral music program, teaches AP
Music Theory, a Musical Theatre Class, and directs the musical. He believes that all students deserve a
robust and impactful music experience and is passionately interested in tackling the challenges facing
teachers and students in rural schools. He sees KMEA as an organization existing to serve local music
teachers and students. He wants it to continue fostering the betterment of music in our schools, providing
support for teachers, and creating real-world solutions. KMEA can be a place where teachers learn from
each other, lift one another up, and share resources to promote a powerful music education for every
Outside of his work, Alex enjoys travelling, spending time with his family in Russell, binging shows on
Netflix, drinking a great iced coffee or a well-crafted cocktail, and reading trashy novels.