Tara Villa Keith is in her eighteenth season as music director of the Davidson College Symphony Orchestra (DCSO) in North Carolina where she is an associate professor of music. She recently completed an eleven season tenure as music director of the Lee County Community Orchestra (LCCO) in Sanford, North Carolina. With the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Tara has served as a cover conductor and pre-concert speaker for several seasons, and was the premiere instructor for their Symphony 101 adult education program.
Tara has been recognized as a 2019 Honored Artist of The American Prize, a series of non-profit national competitions in the performing arts. Honored Artists are individuals who have proven themselves to be artists of sustained excellence over a number of seasons as laureates in the competitions. Under Tara's direction, the DCSO was the national winner of The American Prize 2018 for orchestral performance in the collegiate division. Also in 2018, Tara was the national second place winner of The American Prize Vytautas Marijosius Memorial Award in Orchestral Programming for her programming of the DCSO’s 2016-17 season. Tara placed second for the same prize in 2012 and 2013 for the LCCO’s “The Elements” and “An Orchestral Bouquet” seasons. The American Prize awarded Tara third place for Orchestral Conducting in 2018 for her work with the DCSO and in 2013 for her work with LCCO. In conjunction with Artist Associate Jacquelyn Culpepper, she won the Metrolina Theatre Association’s Award for Outstanding Musical Direction/Conducting for Davidson College’s 2011 production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods. In response to Tara’s music directorship of the Davidson Community Player's 2015 production of Chicago, the Charlotte Observer “…[hadn’t] heard a better community theater orchestra in a long time.”
Outside of Davidson, Tara has conducted orchestras throughout the south and northeast. She has particularly enjoyed serving as a clinician and guest conductor for middle and high school orchestras in North Carolina, performing with the Northwest School of the Arts Symphonic Orchestra in 2019 and the North Carolina Eastern Regional String Orchestra in 2017. Tara has participated in summer festivals such as the Atlantic Music Festival in Maine and the Hot Springs Music Festival in Arkansas where she served for two years as assistant conductor. After winning the International Conducting Competition in 2008, Tara guest conducted the Macon Symphony Orchestra in Georgia. Other guest conducting engagements include performances with the Union Symphony Orchestra (North Carolina), Capitol Opera Harrisburg (Pennsylvania), and Opera at USC (South Carolina).
Abroad, Tara was a conducting apprentice in the 40th Campos do Jordão Winter Music Festival, Brazil, where she won second place in the Camargo Guarnieri Conducting Competition. As a winner of the 2009 Interaktion Selection Contest with the Brandenburger Symphoniker, she worked with Das Kritische Orchester, an orchestra composed of members of the Berliner Philharmoniker, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Konzerthausorchester Berlin, and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin. In Bulgaria, Tara won the first Varna International Conducting Competition in 2007 and returned the following year to guest conduct the Vidin State Philharmonic. Three years prior, Tara received a grant from the Global Partners Project to guest conduct the New Symphony Orchestra of Sofia, Bulgaria. Tara has also worked with the Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic in the Czech Republic as a 2008 League of American Orchestras Women Conductors Grant recipient.
Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Tara grew up studying percussion and piano at the Preparatory of the Peabody Conservatory. Tara’s previous mentors include Brian Norcross, Gerardo Edelstein, and Donald Portnoy. Conductors with whom Tara has studied in workshop and festival settings include Marin Alsop, JoAnn Falletta, John Farrer, Adrian Gnam, Daniel Lewis, Gustav Meier, Larry Rachleff, Richard Rosenberg, Donald Schleicher, Carl St. Clair, Kate Tamarkin, Donald Thulean, and Victor Yampolsky among others. Tara holds degrees from Franklin & Marshall College, the Pennsylvania State University, and the University of South Carolina. Off of the podium she is an active competitive ballroom dancer, training in Latin, standard, and smooth styles with JR Hipsky at Dynamic Ballroom in Cornelius. When time permits, she also enjoys practicing yoga, playing with her many cats, birding with her horn-playing husband, Eric, and being a mom to their energetic daughter, Villanaia.