Faculty and Staff
Pianist Valerie Nicholson is professor of music at Prairie State College, where she has been a faculty member since 1986. Currently she teaches music theory and music appreciation courses, directs the College’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and serves as the coordinator of Performing Arts. She performs regularly with the Burgess Gardner Big Band singer Everett Greene and occasionally with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra.
A lifelong resident of Park Forest, Nicholson is also doing course work toward a doctorate in music theory at the University of Chicago, plays keyboards at Grace United Protestant Church in Park Forest, serves on the boards of the Park Forest Area League of Women Voters and the Tall Grass Arts Association, and serves as a pre-concert lecturer for the IPO. In 2004 she was "instrumental" in helping launch the Chicago Southland Arts Alliance, of which PSC is a proud member.
In 1989 Nicholson founded the PSC Jazz Festival to be a fun, nurturing and noncompetitive experience, comprising two days of clinics for junior high and high school jazz bands and a closing concert. The 2003, 2004 and 2006 concerts were praised by The Star newspapers as among the top live performances of the year. She has been recognized by the International Association of Jazz Educators for excellence in jazz composition and was named by The Star one of "21 Leaders in the Arts for the 21st Century."
Born in Chicago, Illinois
Attended Chicago Public Schools (Parkman Elementary, DuSable and Fenger High Schools)
Bachelor of Music Education – Southern Illinois University
Masters of Music Education – Southern Illinois University
Illinois School for Boys at St. Charles – Band Instructor (2 years)
Bloom High School – Director of Bands (18 years)
Eisenhower High School – Director of Bands (14 years, retired)
University of Illinois at Chicago Pep Band Director (20 years)
Chicago Sky NBA Basketball Pep Band Director
Adjunct Faculty at:
Prairie State College
South Suburban College
Phillip Crews, originally from St. Louis, received both his undergraduate and Masters degree at VanderCook College of Music. He started his teaching career in 1992 as band, choir, strings and general music teacher at Eugene Field Elementary School. In 1994, Phillip became director of bands at Thornton Township High School. Under his direction, the Thorton program exhibited excellence in marching, concert, and jazz band. One of their crowning achievements was being selected to participate in the 2002 Essentially Ellington finalist competition in New York. In 2003, Mr. Crews accepted the job as band director at Rich Central High School. In his third year as director, he has consistently received Superior Ratings at the IHSA organizational contest in both jazz and concert band categories. This year, the band attended the AT&T Cotton Bowl and won first place in the field show contest, parade contest, concert band contest, drum line contest, and were Grand Champions in the Jazz contest. Phillip was recognized in 2009 for excellence in teaching by the Illinois State Board of Education receiving the “Those Who Excel” award.
Phillip also currently serves as director of the Prairie State Community Concert Band and in less than a year has taken its membership from 4 to 30 members. He keeps his performance skills sharpened through free-lance drumming, playing at Hillcrest Baptist Church and performing with the South Suburban Jazz orchestra. Mr. Crews has served as guest conductor for the IMEA District 1 Jazz Band III and the IMEA District 3 Jazz Band III. In addition to presenting a workshop at the 2005 All State band convention, Mr. Crews has also judged at the South Suburban College Jazz Festival and the Chicago Public Schools Jazz Festival.
Dr. Lisa Kristina
A native and current resident of Chicago Heights, Lisa Kristina began piano studies at age four. She earned her bachelor’s degree in voice as a student of Anne Perillo. She also has degrees from the Manhattan School of Music (M.M, Vocal Performance) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (D.M.A., Vocal Performance and Literature; M.M., Choral Music). Dr. Kristina appeared in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, which she performed on Broadway, on tour in the U.S., and in Germany. While overseas, she also worked on German-language productions of Miss Saigon, Sunset Boulevard, Cats, Les Misérables, and Beauty and the Beast. Dr. Kristina has been a solo singer with several American symphony orchestras, choral groups, and opera companies, and she has been heard live on WFMT both as a singer and as a pianist. Dr. Kristina was inducted into the Marian Catholic High School Hall of Fame in 1999 (Distinguished Artist Award), and was Artistic Director of the Grande Prairie Singers (formerly the Park Forest Singers) from 2001-2007. She has been the Chorusmaster for DuPage Opera’s last three productions, and also appeared onstage there in Britten’s Beggar’s Opera in February of 2009. Dr. Kristina has been an adjunct faculty member at Prairie State College since 2002. She has also taught music and/or worked as a staff accompanist at Trinity Christian College, Indiana University Northwest, Calumet College of St.Joseph, Marian Catholic High School, and DePaul University, where she served as Assistant Director of Choral Activities from 2003-2009.
Rubén P. Alvarez
Rubén P. Alvarez is the director of PSC's new Latin Music Ensemble. He is a Chicago based Latin percussionist, drum set artist, author, composer, and educator. His performance credits include movie soundtracks, radio and television jingles, and performances and recordings with a variety of musical artists. He also is a percussionist and musical consultant for the Goodman Theatre and musical director the Raices Profundas Latin Music Ensemble. Alvarez serves on the faculties of Roosevelt University and Columbia College Chicago, and is a featured presenter at national and international educational music education conferences including the Illinois Music Educators Association, the Percussive Arts Society's International Convention, the Jazz Education network, and the South African Jazz Educators Conference. His educational articles on Latin rhythms have been featured in Down Beat magazine, The Latin Percussion® Reading, Writing, and Rhythm education newsletter, and the Zildjian Score.Alvarez serves as a member of the Board of Directors of The Jazz Education Network, the Board of Governors of the Chicago Chapter of the Recording Academy and as Vice President of the Illinois chapter of the Percussive Arts Society. He endorses Latin Percussion, Vic Firth mallets and sticks, Zildjian cymbals, and Remo drumheads and percussion.