The SMART Orchestra (Short for San Marcos Artists’ Retention and Training Orchestra) is dedicated to the enhanced appreciation and understanding of orchestral music in San Marcos and its surrounding communities. Since our founding in 2009, the orchestra was built upon the idea that we need to retain the talent we have and we need to train them to become better musicians.

We provide musicians to perform and learn in a full symphony orchestra as well as through

SMART is designed to be an outlet for every individual interested in the study and performance of music and we encourage participants to contribute their time, talent, and skill to better serve the orchestra’s mission. 

Whether you are a member of our audience, performing, or serving on the SMART Board, your enthusiasm and curiosity are welcome in an environment of acceptance and growth.

We are always looking for unique ideas for collaboration within the community. If you are hosting an event & would like the orchestra to come play, let us know. We, unfortunately, can't play every event we're asked to do, but we love playing local & supporting our local community events.

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Artistic Directors Manuel Arambula has taught string and wind students at the junior high, high school and university level. A native of South Texas, Dr. Arambula became interested in music at a young age. He began his piano studies at the age of 6, and affiliated himself at the secondary levels in the orchestra and band where he earned many distinctions as a performer. Graduating Magna Cum Laude from McAllen High School, Dr. Arambula knew that music was his calling. His professional trajectory has taken him across the states of Texas and California. He has taught both band and orchestra, including a teaching assistantship at Texas Tech University. A supporter of fine arts, Dr. Arambula has been involved with community musical organizations in the South Texas and Lubbock areas. He holds a Bachelor of Music Education (Summa Cum Laude) and a Master of Music in Instrumental Performance from the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, a Master of Music in instrumental conducting and a Doctorate in Musical Arts in instrumental conducting from Texas Tech University. Highly grateful for his journey, Dr. Arambula is thankful for the numerous mentors and students who have developed his love for music. When not engaged in his musical interests, Dr. Arambula is an avid collector of classical historical recordings, reading books in history and spending time with his dogs.

Eric Puente will be our Artistic Director intern this season!
Eric Puente is a musician and educator residing in the Austin, Texas area. He is currently an assistant band director in Hays CISD. Eric is passionate about the arts, as well as education. He has worked in various capacities with instrumental music programs at many secondary schools across the central Texas region. He has also performed at the Caramoor Center for the Arts in New York, as well as with the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Opportunities for musical performance have taken Eric across 15 states and 4 countries. He strives to offer the excitement of musical performance to as many individuals as possible. He holds a BM in Music Education from Texas State University - San Marcos, and is a member of the Texas Music Educators Association, Texas Bandmasters Association, and Percussive Arts Society.
Associate Artistic Director Charmaine Flake started playing piano at age 5, and spent most of her childhood in Wichita Falls, TX, where she studied piano under the tutelage of Dr. Ruth Morrow. Charmaine continued taking from Dr. Morrow while an undergraduate at Midwestern State University and also studied voice from Dr. James Schuppener for 2 years. At the age of 20, she graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s of Music in Keyboard Performance. While in Wichita Falls, Charmaine was actively involved in the community. She was a pianist and solo vocalist at Liberty Baptist Church for 7 years, performed in different musicals such as Oklahoma! and Two from Galilee with the Wichita Theatre, was the music leader for Vacation Bible School at Emmanuel Baptist Church for 2 years, and participated in music services at local rest homes. She started teaching piano at age 16, and maintained her students, as well as taught at the First Baptist Church Academy of Fine Arts, until she and her husband moved to the Austin area in 2010. Since then, Charmaine has been accompanying and coaching vocal students at Texas State University and the surrounding areas. She became a piano and voice instructor at Lone Star School of Music in Austin in 2012 and taught there for over 2 years until moving to Curious Chords Music Studio in Kyle in 2015 to be closer to home. Along with teaching, Charmaine has had the opportunity to be rehearsal pianist and music director at local theatres, including Austin Playhouse and ZACH Theatre. She was also an active member and pianist for the Austin-based organization One Ounce Opera from 2013-2017. Two kids later, Charmaine now stays at home with her boys, Lochland and Josiah. She currently teaches piano from her home, plays for the Lehman High School choirs and band students, and continues to take on side gigs as a freelance musician.


President Jeremy Sustaita joined SMART in 2017 for season 9 midseason as a clarinet player. At the end of the season, he was nominated and elected President of the Board of Directors for Season 10 and re-elected to serve for Season 11. He considers it an honor and a privilege to manage the day to day business for such an amazing local organization so close to his heart. He has been playing the clarinet for over 25 years, 16 of which have been professionally. He is a San Marcos native and a product of the SMCISD music programs. He also plays saxophone and is currently learning flute.
Aside from playing over 6 seasons with the Starlight Symphony, 4 seasons with the Hill country Community Band, and even substituting for the Austin Civic Orchestra, Jeremy composes and arranges woodwind trios, quartets and quintets in his spare time and is honored to have debuted several of his arrangements for our SMART recitals and the SMART Orchestra. He is excited to be an integral part of our amazing leadership team who are dedicated to the growth and success of SMART.
Vice President of Community Relations

Cody Darst

Vice President of Membership Kayla McGuire joined SMART Orchestra for their 10th Season in the fall of 2018. She began playing violin in her hometown Amarillo, TX, in her public school orchestra in the fourth grade. She continued her music education through Amarillo's public school system until her family moved to the Rio Grande Valley. Thanks to her amazing grandparents who paid tuition so she could attend a school out of her district which had an orchestra and thanks to her father's encouragement, she was able to continue playing in her public school while living in the Valley. Kayla then attended Texas State University where she took violin lessons for the first time in her life. At Texas State she was able to explore several different music genres and ensembles including chamber, mariachi, improvisation, and musical theater. Life took Kayla in a direction away from music for about 9 years until she joined the SMART Orchestra. Now, she is excited about making music with other musicians and getting reacquainted with her instrument as an adult learner who is navigating her own music education through trial-and-error and a healthy dose of YouTube tutorials. She believes in the strength of community and the power of music to speak to people of all backgrounds and is ready to help reinforce and invigorate SMART Orchestra's community ties.

Nicole Graves

Treasurer Julian Jones

Jenepher Bratusek

Member-at-Large Cathy Stoughton is currently in her third season with the SMART orchestra. She is a native of San Marcos, TX, and a 1993 graduate of SMHS, where she served as the principal trumpet player and as the trumpet section leader from 1990-1993. She also placed as a member of the All-Region band where she had the opportunity to represent SMHS. After graduation and upon receipt of softball and music scholarships to Texas Lutheran University she continued her education and is about to begin her 23rd year of teaching, 19 of which have been at SMHS, where she is the head softball coach and teaches geometry. She recently began her pursuit of a master’s degree in mathematics. Cathy is excited to have this opportunity to pursue her passion for music with such an amazing organization and the wonderful people of which it is comprised. She is married to Craig, and they have two children, Cailyn & Cayden.

Joshua Jones


Kathy Melde has been with the SMART Orchestra for 3 seasons as a violist. She joined in Fall in 2018 after meeting Chris Hanson, the founder, who encouraged her to join “regardless of your skill level”. His statement that SMART is “. . . a community orchestra for people who enjoy playing music” cemented her resolve to join. The huge variety of music and difficulty level, Chris Hanson’s ability to teach and communicate meaning behind a musical piece, the friendly, helpful people of all generations and enjoyment in playing in an orchestra are reasons why Kathy continues to be a part of the orchestra. As an at-large board member, her goals are to support the board, the new artistic director and the growth of the SMART Orchestra. Kathy started her journey with the viola in 4th grade and played through 10th grade. She would periodically pick the viola up throughout her adult life with her parents and husband’s encouragement. In 2017, 1 year prior to joining the SMART orchestra she picked the viola up yet again after a hiatus and started taking private lessons with Sean Riley who helped kindle an excitement and curiosity that she hadn’t remembered playing with before. Since then she has been a member of the SMART Orchestra, and has pushed herself outside of her comfort zone by playing in recitals and participating in the Adult Academy of the Austin Chamber Music Center. Within the next 3 years, Kathy would like to attend the Adult Chamber Music Institute at Kneisel Hall in Blue Hill, Maine. As she continues to progress through the Suzuki books, she would like to expand her repertoire to church music and popular 70’s and 80’s music such as Bruce Springsteen.