Staff & Board of Directors

Iowa Youth Chorus Staff

John Cook, Executive Director

Hi everyone, my name is John Cook and I am beyond excited to join you here at the Iowa Youth Chorus. I was born outside Atlanta, Georgia and as a child was a member the Cobb Youth Chorus which like IYC fostered in me a love of singing.

I have a Bachelor’s in Vocal Pedagogy from Valdosta State University and a Master’s in Choral Conducting from Butler University in Indianapolis. And because I am slightly crazy, I am currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration from Drake. I am married to Lisa Cook, an ELL teacher at East High School and we have 4 kids. I have lived and worked in Georgia, Indiana. California (twice), Colorado and Iowa and been involved with choral music for over 35 years. I am an avid reader and soccer coach and I can quote large chunks of “The Empire Strikes Back” from memory.

Over the next few months look for me at rehearsals from time to time, know that you can always reach me via email, and don’t forget to follow Iowa Youth Chorus on Twitter and Facebook for information, updates, and some fun along the way.

Happy singing everyone!

Jim Shutt, Artistic Director, Conductor, Concert Choir

Mr. Shutt has taught vocal music for more than twenty years. He received his undergraduate degree (B.A.) from Luther College and his Master of Arts in Effective Teaching from Viterbo University. In 2005 he attended the well regarded Comprehensive Musicianship Project at Drake University designed specifically for choral directors. Mr. Shutt is an active member of the Iowa Choral Director’s Association and served as 7-8th grade Opus Chair, hosted the SC-ICDA (South Central Iowa Choral Directors Association) 5-7th grade Youth Festival Honors Choirs. This year he will host the 7-8th grade treble and 7-8th mixed Youth Festival Honor Choirs.

Mr. Shutt is currently the vocal director in the Dallas Center-Grimes School District. He directs choirs in the 6th grades, the show choir ILLUSION, spring musicals and teaches voice to all students in the middle school vocal program. He has taught all levels (K-12) vocal/choral music in schools, churches and private lessons. Additionally, he has directed numerous ensembles including hand-bells, brass, pit orchestra, and a STOMP ensemble.

Jane Johnson, Outreach Director for the Newton Children’s Choir

Jane Johnson received her undergraduate degree in music education from Iowa State University and her Master of Arts in Effective Teaching degree from Viterbo College. She has been teaching music at various levels of public education for 34 years, most recently at the elementary level in Newton Iowa. She has directed church and community choirs and taught piano lessons at various times in her career. Jane is active in Iowa Choral Directors as an occasional workshop presenter as well as hosting the annual south central regional 5th/6th honor choir. Further training has been taken in Music Learning Theory, Kodaly and Orff Methods, World Drumming, and the Iowa Comprehensive Musicianship Project.

Jane is married to Gary with three grown sons and one adopted grand puppy named Dolce . She is currently involved with IYC as the outreach director for the Newton Children’s Choir (named BETCHAW & Friends).

Joseph Tangen, Director for the Pella Children’s Choir

Joseph Tangen is an alum of Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa, where he earned his Bachelor of Music Education degree. At Wartburg, Mr. Tangen was a member of the Wartburg Choir, Ritterchor Men’s Ensemble, and received the Outstanding Senior Award, presented to one student per department. He was also a NATS finalist as a soloist in 2000.

Since 2002, Joseph Tangen has been the Pella Middle School Vocal Music Director. In his position for Pella Community Schools, he directs the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth grade choirs, PELLAdrenaline (Middle School Show Choir), Boys Choir, Girls Choir, and provides vocal lessons for approximately 180 choral students per week. In the past, Mr. Tangen also instructed at the elementary level, working with pre-kindergarteners through third graders. In 2007, he began full time at Pella Middle School supporting the growing choral program. The middle school choral program has grown from around 100 students to over 250 students over five years. The growth of the program and change in curriculum was recognized in the 2007 November edition of The Sounding Board,distributed by the Iowa Choral Directors Association. Today the program has more than 250 students involved in choral activities in grades 6th – 8th.

In addition to the Pella Children’s Choir, Mr. Tangen directs the Adult Choir at Peace Lutheran Church in the community. During 2004-2007, he directed the First Lutheran Adult Choir in Newton Iowa. At home, he offers private voice lessons and is adjudicator for the Iowa High School Music Association. Mr. Tangen and his wife Bethany, and children, Thomas and Tabetha reside in Pella. Mr. Tangen enjoys golfing, traveling, and spending time with family.

Lois Harms, Accompanist

Ms. Harms is a graduate of the University of Iowa and holds a Master of Music degree from Drake University. She taught instrumental music in Mt. Vernon and Newton Public Schools and joined the staff of Iowa Youth Chorus in 1989. She has accompanied The Chorus at all international music festivals and international tours. Currently, she is adjunct music instructor at Grand View College and serves as the organist for Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines. A skilled clarinetist as well as keyboard artist, Ms. Harms is a frequent recitalist and member of the Stadler Wind Ensemble.

Emily Sterward, Primary Choir and Children’s Chorus Conductor

Emily Klotz graduated from Northwestern College with degrees in K-12 Vocal Music Education and Biblical Studies. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Choral Education from the University of St. Thomas. Emily has worked with singers of all ages in Wisconsin and Iowa and is a member of the Des Moines Choral Society. She believes that singing is for everyone and looks forward to being part of the strong choral arts community in Iowa.

Michael Gookin, Chamber Singers Conductor

Michael is currently student teaching at Dallas Center-Grimes High School and is in his last semester at the University of Northern Iowa for Music Education. He began studying piano at age five in Fairfield, Iowa, where he was born and raised. Michael was selected as the accompanist for the Iowa All-State Band and also for Iowa’s only professional musical theatre company, Way Off Broadway. Last winter, Michael performed in Tallinn, Pärnu, and Tartu, Estonia, as accompanist for the University of Northern Iowa’s Concert Chorale. In the fall, he was chosen as a pianist for the Promising Artists of the 21st Century, an international music program in San Jose, Costa Rica, where he accompanied the UNI Opera program and performed as a soloist. In May of 2016, Michael toured Iceland and Norway as accompanist, soloist, and guest conductor with the University of Northern Iowa Varsity Men’s Glee Club.

Iowa Youth Chorus

Board of Directors 2016-2017


Dawn Gentsch
President, Iowa Youth Chorus Board

Heather Bagley
Vice President, Iowa Youth Chorus Board

Margaret Hibbs
Secretary, Iowa Youth Chorus Board

Chris Henkel

Victor Ayara

Deb Brewer-Cotlar

Maureen Korte

W. Jay Ramsey

Braeden Stanley

Melanie Vespestad

Board of Directors meetings are held monthly with special meetings called as needed.