Brendan O'ConnellBrendan O’Connell • Piano, Guitar, Songwriting, & Production

After graduating from Carleton College and traveling the world for two years, Brendan moved back to his hometown of Chicago in 2005 to make his way in the music business. He started pop/soul group The Right Now in 2009 and has acted as bandleader and manager ever since. The seven-piece band has toured nationally from New York to New Orleans to Los Angeles; appeared at SXSW, North Coast Festival, and Summerfest; and opened for John Legend, Fitz & The Tantrums, George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic, Bettye Lavette, Otis Clay, Orgone, Kings Go Forth, and Jamie Lidell. NPR’s Sound Opinions, USA Today, WBEZ, WXRT and eMusic.com have featured the band. Songs from TRN’s three full-length records have been heard on 90210, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and ESPN. The Right Now’s song “He Used To Be” is featured in the video game Watch Dogs, an extremely popular game that sold over 8 million units.

In addition to performing with The Right Now, Brendan has toured extensively with singer/songwriter Anna Laube and performed in the house band at Goodwin Memorial Cathedral (gospel), and participated in several other projects including a yacht rock cover band, live band karaoke, and a blues band. He also contributed guitar to Dave Hollister’s (Blackstreet) 2008 album Witness Protection. Brendan scored a documentary on famed freestyle skier Garrett Russell and also composed all the music in the podcast Safety Third.

Brendan has been teaching piano and guitar since 2005. He started Rock Start Lessons due to the overwhelming demand for his teaching services. Brendan studied piano for 8 years with Jeff Cappelli in Oak Park, IL. While at Carleton he studied classical guitar under John Ellinger and jazz guitar with Dave Singley. He loves teaching all levels of students and especially enjoys bringing his passion for music to children.

Dan Kristan • Bass, Guitar, & Piano

Dan Kristan is a professional freelance upright and electric bassist and teacher. He hails from West Des Moines, Iowa, where he performed with the Iowa All-State Orchestra and All-State Jazz Band. Dan arrived in Chicago in 2009 to attend DePaul University, where he studied with renowned Chicago bassists Rob Kassinger, Kelly Sill, and Jason Heath, as well as jazz faculty Bob Lark, Tom Matta, Ron Perillo, and Bradley Williams. Dan obtained his Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies in 2013.

Dan plays with a wide variety of bands from Fleeting Suns (folk rock) to Calamity Flamtet (jazz/funk/fusion) to the Dog Patch Ramblers (bluegrass/swing/Americana). He also appears occasionally with many other Chicago groups, including with several Rock Start teachers in The Right Now. He has played many of Chicago’s finest venues including Millennium Park, Grant Park, The Jazz Showcase, House of Blues, Hard Rock Cafe, Cubby Bear, Schubas Tavern, Beat Kitchen, Reggie’s, Subterranean, and Bottom Lounge, as well as performances all over the United States, Ireland, and England. He has also contributed to some half-dozen albums by various artists. For much of the year he keeps busy playing both on stage and in the orchestra pits of musical theater productions for companies such as Porchlight Music Theater, NightBlue Performing Arts Company, and The Royal George Theater.

Dan has taught bass, guitar, and piano for about two years with a studio size peaking at nearly 30 students. He loves helping students to become the best musicians they can be and tailors his teaching style and material to suit each individual.

Steven Rutledge • Drums, Piano, & Guitar

Steven Rutledge is a Chicago-based freelance musician and music instructor with a strong, dedicated passion for playing and teaching music. Before coming to Chicago, Steven was playing music professionally in Portland, OR, his hometown, and spent time studying Sociology and Education at the University of Oregon. He established a consistent music career, playing shows and giving music lessons around the Portland area in a variety of genres, including Jazz, Rock, Blues, RB, Hip-Hop, and Pop. Rutledge has a classical percussion upbringing, and has participated in marching bands, chamber music ensembles, and pit orchestras for theatre productions.

Steven moved to Chicago in 2010 and graduated in 2013 from Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in Drum Set and Percussion Performance and a minor in Music Business. While in school he spent 3 years studying privately with Chicago-based musician Tom Hipskind, one of the most sought-after drummers in Chicago. He played with various ensembles at Columbia including the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble, Advanced Jazz Guitar Ensemble, Percussion Ensemble, and many others. Since being in Chicago Steven has worked consistently as a freelance musician, playing venues, clubs, and musicals. Steven recently played percussion on Woo Park’s 2014 debut album. He currently performs with funk band Nasty Snacks, folk/rock group Doug Shotwell and the Right Hand Band, pop/rock called Lighten Up, as well as various other projects.

Kevin Campbell • Guitar, Bass, Piano, & Voice

Kevin Campbell is not only a performer and instructor of music, but he considers himself to be a student as well.  His drive to always be learning and improve has become a cornerstone to his development as a musician.  Kevin grew up in a musical home where it was encouraged to play piano and sing.  After getting caught up in rock and roll as well as jazz, Kevin took up the guitar and bass.  Though being an accomplished guitarist, electric bassist, upright bassist, and singer, he still relates everything in music back to his first 8 years on the piano.

Kevin attended Bradley University in 2008 on a scholarship for voice and bass.  At Bradley he would perform in multiple choirs, jazz ensembles, and orchestras.  In 2012 he graduated with a finance degree.  After putting that finance degree aside, he jumped back into being a full-time musician and instructor.  He has built himself a strong music career in the Midwest on being a great and reliable performer.  Kevin has had the honor of sharing the stage with members of The Grateful Dead and many of Frank Zappa’s musicians.  Currently, he writes, arranges, and composes a great deal of music for his original band Stampy as well as various other projects.

Hsin-Yu Chen • Violin & Piano

Hsin-Yu Chen enjoys a varied career as a chamber musician, orchestra musician, soloist, and teacher. As a violinist she won  first prize at the National Symphony Orchestra Quartet Competition in Taiwan. Hsin-Yu (“Sylvia”) performed at the National Concert Hall in Taipei with the National Symphony Orchestra and since 2016 she has been performing with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago at Symphony Hall.

As a Civic Orchestra member, Hsin-Yu worked with hundreds of students in the Chicago Public Schools, performed chamber music and orchestra music in community venues, and contributed to artistic programming, She greatly valued this opportunity to connect with the greater Chicago community.

Hsin-Yu holds Master degrees of music performance from DePaul University where her primary teacher was Janet Sung.



Joseph Sanchez • Clarinet

Multiple chamber ensemble co-founder and freelance clarinetist Joseph Sanchez is an active Chicago-area musician and educator. He completed his collegiate education in 2012 with degrees in both clarinet performance and mathematics from DePaul University where his primary instructors were Larry Combs, Julie DeRoche, and Wagner Campos. From 2012-2014 Sanchez was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, working closely with international cello soloist Yo-Yo Ma during two season-long artistic explorations of orchestral masterworks and playing under some of the most esteemed conductors of our time, including Carlos Miguel Prieto, Rei Hotoda, Harry Bicket, Jaap van Sweden, and Riccardo Muti. Since his tenure in the Civic Orchestra, he has performed as clarinet and bass clarinet with many of the region’s surrounding orchestras including the Quad Cities Symphony (IA), Chicago Sinfonietta (IL), Madison Symphony (WI), Kalamazoo Symphony (MI), and Dubuque Symphony (IA) as well as the not-so-regional Las Vegas Philharmonic (NV) and Modesto Symphony (CA).

An avid proponent of chamber music and its transferable principles, Sanchez co-founded the Ursa Ensemble and the Lake Effect Clarinet Quartet (Vandoren Silver Artist). The mixed instrumentation of Ursa Ensemble allows the chamber group the flexibility required to program varied and engaging repertoire from both old masters and up-and-coming area composers. Ursa’s Collaboration in Concert (CiC) series seeks to encourage audiences to experience music through its partnership with artists of various other art forms (including writers, dancers, photographers, and painters). LECQ pushes the limits of an all-clarinet ensemble by performing original and virtuosic arrangements of canonic masterworks that originally composed for virtually any instrumentation–including band repertoire, solo piano music, string quartets, and ballet.

Sanchez currently holds teaching positions at Lane Tech High School, Music Inc, and Thornton Fractional South High School (Lansing, IL) where he runs woodwind sectionals, jazz band rehearsals, and clarinet private instruction. Through their Vandoren sponsorship the Lake Effect Clarinet Quartet also visits Chicago-area schools for clinics on both section/ensemble playing as well as clarinet-specific pedagogy. Sanchez has also cultivated a private lesson studio in his home town of St. John, Indiana.

Kara Cavanaugh • Voice, Guitar, & Piano

Kara Cavanaugh is a singer-songwriter based in Chicago. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kara grew up performing in the theater. She studied voice and piano privately before attending Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music in Berea, Ohio, where she studied music theater. After taking a year off school and moving to Chicago, she found a new love for live music, guitar, and songwriting. She joined Chicago’s premier Grateful Dead tribute band, Terrapin Flyer, touring the country with one-time Dead members Melvin Seals, Tom Constanten, and Bob Bralove. Kara recently stepped down after five years with Terrapin Flyer to focus on her own music and now performs all over the Midwest with her band. Her debut album “Ain’t Gonna Run”—produced by Packy Lundholm (I Fight Dragons) and Dan Moulder (Tom Schraeder & His Ego, Free Space)— is a diverse collection of songs influenced by Laurel Canyon folk, powerful piano ballads, sultry R&B, and cinematic soundscapes.

Kara’s experience as a music educator includes teaching at Act One Summer Camp in Pittsburgh, where she led a masterclass on songwriting to children from fourth grade through high school students, as well as private voice lessons. Her love for children and music has inspired her to pursue a degree in Elementary Education at Wright Community College.

Maxx McGathey • Piano, Guitar, Drums, & Voice

Maxx McGathey is a professional pianist, composer, band leader and music director in Chicago. A lifelong student of the piano, Maxx started lessons at the age of 4 and never lost interest, picking up experience with classical, jazz, rock, pop, funk, salsa, and many more styles over the years. As the leader, main composer, and keyboardist for the band Gramps The Vamp, Maxx brings his eclectic interests together into a unique project that has headlined Lincoln Hall, Metro, Sleeping Village, House of Blues, Schubas and many more top venues in Chicago and around the country. Gramps The Vamp was voted Best New Band 2013 in The Chicago Reader and received the equivalent honor from Deli-Mag Chicago in 2014.

As a freelance keyboardist, Maxx has performed or recorded with the Chicago groups Divino Niño, Secret Colours, Mercedes Inez, and many more. Maxx has music-directed multiple sketch comedy shows at the famed club The Second City, and has appeared with various groups at music festivals such as SXSW, Austin Psych Fest and Ruido Fest. His film composer credits include Demonoid (a short horror film released in 2016), a live score commission from the Chicago Park District in 2017 for the film “Nosferatu”, and 2 live score commissions from the Music Box Theater in 2018 and 2019 for silent films “The Lodger” and “The Man Who Laughs”. Maxx believes music is an adventure and wants to pass that excitement along to his students.

Emily Slomivits • Voice, Violin, & Guitar

Emily Slomovits is a Chicago-based freelance musician, theatre artist, and teacher. She has been playing music professionally for over 15 years with her dad and uncle, the duo Gemini, as well as with many other musicians, including Leah Shoshanah, Judy Banker, Billy Brandt, Annie and Rod Capps, Jill Jack, and Billy King. Emily is a member of Spinning Dot Theatre’s Repertory Company, and has also been seen with The Encore Musical Theatre Company, The Croswell Opera House, Performance Network, and Wild Swan Theatre. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, she helped to lead Spinning Dot’s Youth Company, and taught violin, voice, and guitar for Manchester’s Cultural Arts Strings program for five years, and the Grass Lake School of Music for almost two years before moving to Chicago in October 2019.

Currently, Emily is an after-care leader at the German International School Chicago, and teaches private violin, voice and guitar lessons. She is very excited to join Rock Start and help foster a love of music in new students.



Stevenson Valentor • Drums & Piano

Stevenson Valentor is an innovative music teacher and performer based in Chicago. He tours nationally and has collaborated on several original albums, and leads his own jazz project, Here & Now. He has been teaching professionally since 2013, and couldn’t be more excited to help new students learn music with Rock Start Lessons.