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Private Lessons

It is the goal of the China Spring Cougar Band to provide the very best learning experiences for each band student. One of these learning experiences is the opportunity for a student to study privately with an advanced instrumentalist.  This enrichment opportunity is available to all band students in grades 6-12 and is optional.  Private lessons serve to provide individual attention to each student that generally  improves  their performance  level.  This improvement also  has  a  positive  effect  on  the band as a whole.

Below are the private lesson instructors that we use for the Cougar Band.  Reach out to the instructor for your instrument to get started with scheduling your lessons.

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Masha Popova

Flute Instructor

Masha Popova, a flutist, is Lecturer in Chamber Music at Baylor University, Flute Instructor at McLennan Community College, and maintains a private studio of students from Central Texas. She completed a fellowship with the New World Symphony, and currently holds the positions of Principal Flute with Central City Opera. In addition, she has performed as guest principal flutist with the Seattle Symphony, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (NZ), and Sarasota Orchestra, as well as subbed with Chicago Symphony and Houston Grand Opera. Ms. Popova was the Albert M. Greenfield concerto competition senior division winner, and performed as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra during the 2009-2010 season. She was also the first prize winner in the woodwind/brass division at the Young Texas Artist Competition. Masha Popova received her Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music, studying with Jeffrey Khaner, and her Master of Music from Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, studying with Leone Buyse. 

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Tristen Collinsworth

Bassoon Instructor

Tristen Collinsworth is a bassoonist, multi-woodwind specialist, and arranger who works to bridge the popular with the obscure. He is pursuing a Master of Music in music performance on bassoon at the Baylor University School of Music, studying with Dr. Ann Shoemaker. He previous received his bachelor of music from the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music, studying with Nicolasa Kuster.

From a humble background in Tracy, California, Mr. Collinsworth has grown into an active and relevant performer. He frequently performed as the principal bassoonist in the University of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and renowned Symphonic Wind Ensemble. He also played with student-led ensembles, including Pacific Heavy Ensemble, 28/78 New Music Ensemble, and the Pacific Pep Band.

Tristen has also found passion in performing on a variety of instruments and arranging music. He has played multiple woodwinds for musicals in Stockton, Brentwood, and Tracy, California. He holds a wide variety of experience with writing, arranging, and transcribing music for various amateur and semi-professional groups. Tristen currently lives in Waco, Texas, near the Baylor University camous. 

Talia Threadgill

Clarinet Instructor

Talia Threadgill is a clarinet teacher in the Waco area, and she has taught for about nine years, both in Oregon and in Texas.  Her students have played in the TMEA state ensembles, as well as state solo and ensemble competition. Mrs. Threadgill has played 2nd clarinet, Eb clarinet, and bass clarinet in the Waco Symphony Orchestra since 2016. She currently is an extra clarinetist for the Fort Worth Symphony as well. Mrs. Threadgill graduated from Baylor in 2020 with a degree in clarinet performance, and she was a member of the Baylor Symphony Orchestra, the Baylor Wind Ensemble, and Bella Voce (the audition women's choir).  In addition to clarinet, she has taught both voice and piano lessons as well. Because of her extensive experience learning and teaching multiple instruments, Mrs. Threadgill has a passion for music theory, musicianship, and ensemble playing that she instills in her students.


Gonzalo Murillo

Saxophone Instructor

Gonzalo Murillo is a dedicated saxophonist currently pursuing a degree in saxophone performance at Baylor University under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Jacobson. Actively engaged in Baylor's music scene, he contributes his talents to various ensembles including the Baylor Wind Ensemble, Concert Jazz Band, and serves as the soprano player in Baylor's esteemed "Vagts Quartet." Prior to his university studies, Gonzalo established himself as a standout musician at Irving High School in Irving, Texas. As principal saxophonist in both his high school's wind ensemble and the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra's Wind Ensemble (FYWO), he honed his skills under the guidance of Roy Allen. Gonzalo's passion for chamber music is evident through his involvement in top saxophone quartets and ensembles, showcasing his extensive experience in this genre.

George Tomes

High Brass Instructor

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It is not too early to get ready for your region band/All-state auditions for next year. I have 54 years of band experience and over twenty years as a public school band director and 27 years in the U.S. Army Band. Based on their performance level, I will provide an individual lesson plan for each student. I will listen to them play their assignment and offer constructive advice on how to improve their performance. I will give them positive motivation to continue to improve themselves musically. Lesson times range around 30 minutes.  Please Instant message me if interested.

Great News! If you live in the Waco Texas Area, we can meet at the 1st Baptist Church Of China Spring. Very limited slots so sign up ASAP!

Mark Bennett

Trombone Instructor


Mark Bennett is currently earning his Bachelor of Music at Baylor University. In addition to his private study with Professor of Trombone Mr. Brent Phillips, Mark performs regularly with the Baylor Wind Ensemble and Baylor Symphony Orchestra. He is also a founding member of Lux Brass, a student-led brass quintet who in Spring of 2023 won second place in the National Brass Quintet Competition in San Marcos as well as second place in the Chamber Division of the International Trumpet Guild Ryan Anthony Memorial Competition.


Mark is excited to continue to take professional orchestra and military band auditions, most recently having advanced to the semifinal round for the President's Own Marine Band Audition in August 2023. Outside of music, Mark enjoys going on runs and cooking.

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Mark Hays

Tuba/Euphonium Instructor

Retired from a 22 year career in the Army Bands, Mark has taught Tuba and Euphonium students in Central Texas schools, at his home and the Band Room Music Store for 10 years.  His students have filled the top chairs of the Region Bands and Orchestras and competed successfully at Area Band auditions and received outstanding ratings at the Texas State Solo and Ensemble competition.


This year Mark is very excited about returning to a full teaching schedule.  He will be teaching students at China Spring, Robinson and Copperas Cove Schools and will continue teaching students and adults at home. 


Mark graduated from Waco Richfield High School where he won many honors including Texas All State Band and multiple years of first division ratings at the State Solo competition.  A Political Science graduate of Baylor he performed with the Symphonic and Concert Bands and in Chamber ensembles throughout his college career while earning that degree.  An early member of the Waco Community Band he served as Band President shortly before joining the Army Band program.  In the Army he performed hundreds of times every year with Bands based in Texas, California, Virginia, Korea, Germany and Iraq.   Army ensembles included concert bands, brass quintets, Tuba Euphonium quartets, traditional jazz bands, brass bands, big bands and non-traditional ensembles.  From 1998-2001 served as US Army Band Liaison to the 5th Recruiting Brigade at Fort Sam Houston, TX , responsible for conducting enlistment auditions in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and parts of Illinois.  


Mark is married to Tina Thompson-Hays a professional Opera and Music Theater Soprano, highly successful voice teacher and French Horn in the Waco Community Band.  Tina and Mark live in Woodway, Texas with their dogs Cody & Johann and cat, Amy, 

Arlo Shultis

Percussion Instructor

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Hailed an “excellent timpanist” by the Baltimore Sun, Arlo Shultis holds a wide range of orchestral experience, and has worked closely with many prominent conductors. For the past five years, Arlo has served as principal timpanist/percussionist of the Marlboro Music Festival Orchestra, conducted by Leon Fleischer and Mitsuko Uchida. Shultis has frequently performed as Principal Timpanist of the Yale Philharmonia under the direction of Peter Oundjian. As Principal Timpanist of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, Arlo has recorded the music of Aaron Kernis under the baton of Marin Alsop and Leonard Slatkin. A versatile performer, Arlo plays comfortably as a chamber musician and solo percussionist, just as he does an orchestral timpanist and percussionist.


Notable solo performances include David Lang’s “The Anvil Chorus,” and Iannis Xenakis’ “Psappha,” at the Yale School of Music. As a member of the Yale Percussion Group, Shultis has performed Steven Mackey’s “It Is Time,” a 40 minute percussion quartet exploring the complexity and inevitability of “time,” commissioned by So Percussion. Arlo is Adjunct Lecturer of Percussion at the Baylor University School of Music.

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