Kitka’s Executive/Artistic Director Shira Cion was born in Hartford, CT, to an Eastern European Jewish family known for its compulsive harmonizing habits. Active as a performer, producer, arts administrator, and cultural worker since her teens, Shira received her musical education in classical performance (oboe and English horn), and ethnomusicology from the Hartt School of Music, Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute, Wesleyan University, and Russia’s Moscow Conservatory. Her lifelong interests in traditional, contemporary, and women’s music have led her to work with The Women’s Philharmonic, New Music America Festival, The Music Research Institute, The Bay Area Music Archive/San Francisco Rock and Roll Museum, and on a wide range of collaborations with multicultural and multi-disciplinary artists. A resident of Kitkastan since 1988, Shira continues to be amazed every day by the unique challenges, unusual rewards, creative adventures, and inspiring community that manifest there.
Janet Kutulas joined Kitka in 1988, when she broke both her hands in a cycling accident and was temporarily unable to play her flute. She was a co-director of the group from 1997 to 2010 and currently directs Zele, a Kitka Community Chorus. A graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Janet performed as a flutist in the Chicago area as a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (a training program of the Chicago Symphony), the New Arts Ensemble and the Illinois Philharmonic and in the Bay Area as a regular member of both the Berkeley Symphony and the California Symphony, as well as the Lamplighters Orchestra, and various regional orchestras and chamber groups. As a founding member, she was the flutist for 15 years with Earplay, an instrumental chamber ensemble that performs newly written works by living composers, and she has also performed in the San Francisco Symphony’s New and Unusual Music Series, and with Composers, Inc., among other Bay Area new music chamber groups. She likes to spend as much time outside as possible and she and her husband are constantly scheming to move out of the city to wherever the “countryside” is.
Michele Simon, a proud third-generation native Bay Arean, was raised surrounded by music: classical (especially Bach), popular (especially Ella, Frank Sinatra, and Margaret Whiting), and American folk music. She sang before she talked, played cello and guitar, and most formatively, enjoyed trading a capella harmonies with her mother’s rich alto. Her relationship with Balkan music started with folk dancing as a teenager; after a 20-year acting career, she joined Kitka in 1988, and then went on to the Balkan dance bands Anoush, Brass Menažeri, and Helladelics; as well as Zabava! Izvorno, with which she currently performs as a singer and drummer. She is a popular teacher of Balkan singing technique. She works as a bookkeeper, and lives in Oakland with her husband and teenage daughter.
CAITLIN TABANCAY AUSTIN
Caitlin Tabancay Austin grew up in Berkeley, California, with her two sisters and parents of Irish and Filipino heritage. Inspired by a Kitka performance she attended as a kid, she joined Kitka in 2008. After jump-starting her lifelong choral addiction in the SF Girls Chorus, she completed her BA in Music History and began studying Bulgarian singing at UCLA. Curiosity in vocal theater led her to an artistic immersion program at Double Edge Theatre in 2012. She has directed the SFGC Camp Counselor Chorus, and she has sung with Euouae (Lacuna Arts), AVE, Saint Ignatius Church Motet Choir, More Than One, Axios, and SF Choral Artists. Currently she directs the Berkeley branch of the Kitka Community Chorus, teaches voice, and plays in local folk bands Iron Henry and the Austin Tabancay Family Band. She’s interested in art that involves sound and bodies. She’s training to become a bodyworker.
Corinne Sykes joined Kitka in 2010 after a four-year tenure with the Yale Women’s Slavic Chorus, which she also directed in 2009. She has performed at home and abroad with ensembles including the Yale Baroque Opera Project, Tangled Up in Blue (Appalachian), and The Ritz Theater Company, Inc. Currently, Corinne performs with Fanfare Zambaleta Balkan Brass Band, Zabava! Izvorno, Black Sea Surf, and Broken Shadows Family Band on vocals, Macedonian tambura, keyboard, darabuka, and dauli. Corinne is also an avid folk dancer of Balkan and Black Sea-region traditional styles. She lives in Oakland, where she tends to her chickens, bees, and goats.
Kelly Atkins was raised in rural Central California by an intensely artistic family. Reared at musical gatherings and community theaters, her earliest memory is trying to sing three-part harmony with her dad’s jug band. Kelly’s diverse performance and musical background includes classical flute training, a BFA in Music Performance and Cinematography, two decades as a singer/songwriter recording and touring nationally with critically acclaimed Indie Rock band 20 Minute Loop and Hip Hop bands Rondo Brothers and Dan the Automator, and a variety of commercial vocal work for television and radio. Kelly became a member of Kitka in 2010 after two years of workshops and private lessons focusing on Balkan singing. She lives in Fairfax with her tow-headed seven-year-old, fluffy canine fourteen-year-old and Welsh husband.
Natalie Bartlett has spent over the last decade of her life deeply immersed in land-based culture and has a passion for learning the stories, music and skills of traditional peoples around the world. An Oakland native, she took her first workshop with Kitka in 2007 and has been honored to return to her Bay Area roots to sing with the ensemble on and off since 2014. She is a long term land steward and director of the Wild Series at Quail Springs Permaculture, a 450-acre education center in the high desert of Los Padres National Forest where she teaches traditional arts and ancestral skills - combining her deep loves of music, culture, handwork and the natural world.
Barbara Byers is a composer and performer. She was raised in the folk music traditions of the Appalachian mountains, and has studied and collaborated on performance projects in Turkey, Greece and Indonesia.
ERIN LASHNITS HERMAN
Erin Lashnits Herman started singing with Kitka in the fall of 2015. She first fell in love with the music of Eastern Europe while singing with the Yale Women's Slavic Chorus as an undergraduate. She currently works as a family nurse practitioner in Oakland, and is overjoyed to be singing with Kitka.
Kristine Barrett is a multimedia artist, composer and vocalist specializing in traditional music from Eastern Europe, the British Isles, and Northern Europe. Hailing from a long line of folk and classical farmer musicians from the American Midwest and Sweden, her musical career spans rock, early music, experimental new music, and folk. After completing a double BFA in Photography/New Media and Art History from the Kansas City Art Institute, Kristine went on to study composition with Tony Conrad at SUNY Buffalo and the legendary Fred Frith at Mills College, where she received a MFA in Electronic Music Composition and Recording Media in 2006. She has since released four full-length albums, two EPs, and appeared on several compilation albums.
Briget Boyle is a singer-songwriter and guitar player based in Oakland, CA. With training in fields as diverse as Balkan folk singing, African drum and dance, Swedish massage, and theatre tech, Briget sang with Kitka for eight years, and was also lead singer and percussionist for the Balkan band Brass Menažeri for nine years. She currently performs with True Life Trio, an innovative vocal ensemble that explores music from the Balkans and the Americas, and has just released her first solo album, The Parts Interior.
Juliana Graffagna began her musical career at a young age, singing in church choir and studying classical piano. She then ventured on to musical theatre, women’s glee club, Russian language study, and the discovery of her passion for traditional music. Juliana has worked with Kitka for more than two decades, serving as music director. Juliana currently performs with the eclectic world music ensemble Janam and the True Life Trio. She is also a studio vocalist and voice/piano teacher.