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2023 Lab COHORT

2023 Lab Cohort

Akela Franklin

Akela holds a B.M. in Vocal Performance from University of Puget Sound, an M.M. in Vocal Performance from Longy School of Music of Bard College, and is currently enrolled in a teacher certification program in Alexander Technique at Boston Conservatory at Berklee. When not singing, teaching or studying, Akela enjoys cooking, traveling, experiencing live music and theater, whale watching, learning about weird history, listening to true crime podcasts, getting better at ukulele, snuggling with her kitty Éowyn, and spending time with loved ones.

Community Music Center of Boston

Alejandro Garcia

Alejandro Garcia is a proud father, brother, and community member of Alamance County. He was born in Sinaloa, Mexico and has lived in and experienced the US for over 24 years and has recently become more involved with different community organizations and initiatives. Seeing the positive impact and demands, Alejandro decided to start a grassroots group based on community needs, called Valores.
Some of his passions include cultural awareness, self-improvement, extreme sports, advocating, music, dancing and teaching people of all ages to start their journey of how to play the guitar.

Young Musicians of Alamance

Alexis Terrian

Alexis Terrian, a Kalamazoo local, began playing the violin when she was ten years old. She began studying privately when she turned thirteen under the tutelage of Phil Marsceau. Laater she studied with Mark Portolese at the Crescendo Academy of Music, and began her orchestral career in the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra where she was a member of the KJSO String Quartet during her senior year. In her junior year at Loy Norrix High School, she performed in the All-State Solo and Ensemble at the Michigan Youth Arts Festival where she was given the Distinguished Scholar Award.

Terrian began studying with Renata Knific in the spring of 2018. At Western Michigan University, she was a member of the University Symphony Orchestra, sitting as associate principal in both first and second violin sections. She graduated from WMU in the spring of 2021 with a Bachelor’s of Music in Performance Violin. Alexis has performed with many groups in the Kalamazoo area including the Kalamazoo Philharmonia, and the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra. She is also a member of COREtet, a string quartet that performs in and around Kalamazoo.

She has a passion for outreach and teaching youth. She currently shares her talents with Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, Orchestra Jammbo’Laya, as well as having her own small private studio.

Kalamazoo Kids In Tune

Amanda Haag

Amanda Haag studied at Northeastern University in Boston, MA where she majored in Music and minored in Psychology and Health Science. A passionate advocate for equitable arts education, Amanda is the Program Manager for El Sistema Lehigh Valley, a program of the Allentown Symphony Association.

At El Sistema Lehigh Valley, Amanda has the incredible opportunity of working with over a hundred students from twenty-four schools in the Lehigh Valley. Amanda resides in Macungie, PA and absolutely loves working with the team of talented teaching artists and students at El Sistema Lehigh Valley.

In addition to teaching with El Sistema Lehigh Valley, Amanda has served as Musical Director, Band Director, and Producer for several musical theatre productions and other performance groups. She also enjoys teaching private voice lessons and playing guitar.

As a professional vocalist, Amanda has performed as a soloist and ensemble member in renowned venues across Europe and the United States including multiple concerts at New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall.

Amanda looks forward to connecting with other Teaching Artists in TATI who are committed to creating a safe and positive environment for all students and a reality in which high quality music education is accessible to every individual.

El Sistema Lehigh Valley

Amber Hansen

Amber Hansen Arney’s passion thrives at the intersection of the arts, education, business, and community.

Her love for music was cultivated at a young age, from her mom teaching her how to sing, to her first solo in church at the age of 2, to regular performances throughout childhood in musicals and competitions. She began formal music studies in violin in her middle school orchestra and later at the precollege program of Blair School of Music of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. She continued her violin studies at Middle Tennessee State University where she received a Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance and interned with the Murfreesboro Youth Orchestra.

While teaching private lessons and gigging after college, Amber began working for 6th Man Movers, where she discovered her love of business and the thrill of wearing many hats at a successful startup company through assisting with administration, sales, marketing, human resources, billing, and customer service.

Following a violent mugging by teenagers, Amber began re-evaluating the importance of community and social change and decided she wanted to pursue those things through music education. She moved to Los Angeles to get a Masters of Arts in Teaching from the Longy School of Music of Bard College, in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and their El Sistema-based program, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA). During her time there, she taught string classes through YOLA, general music in various schools through the Symphonic Jazz Orchestra’s Music-in-the-Schools Program, co-published an article on Title IX compliance of religious schools and their queer students, and wrote her masters thesis on musculoskeletal disorders in string players and the importance of health education in music education.

Since completing graduate studies, Amber has traveled around the United States teaching, performing, and honing business skills in nonprofits, including Teaching Artists International, where she is the Program Manager, and Project Music, where she is the Academic Success Manager and a String Teaching Artist.

Project Music

Any Torres

Any Torres was born in Venezuela and grew up in El Sistema. She believes the best thing about music is working together for a common goal and making friends that last for ever. Any's passion is teaching and helping her students to gain confidence through music. She is the Education Director and a Teaching Artist at Kids in Concert in Suquamish, WA.

Kids In Concert

Angela Solis Sola

Angela Solis is a violin and viola teacher with more that 15 years of experience.

She started her music studies in Spain, where she finished her Bachelor Degree in music in 2004 and where most of her performance and teaching experience was forged between the classical, contemporary and regional styles. Her experience in performance includes playing in several orchestras, ensembles, recording studios and as the lead singer and founder of her band “Costellas”.

Her teaching experience was also broadened when she decided to attend multiple Suzuki and Rolland method workshops in Spain and set off traveling around Asia, where Angela also worked as a Violin and Viola teacher and came in contact with the ABSRM system. Since then Angela has become a Suzuki trained teacher book 6 in the USA while taking some psychology classes from the SF college.

One of her greatest professional achievements was to obtain the Viola teacher position in the state music system in Spain. It is a hard process that can take years and where one has to prove a high level in performance, teaching skills and instrument related knowledge. Angela got the 6th highest score in the test that year of 2008.

Nowadays, Angela lives in San Francisco, where she moved around 5 years ago, got married. She is a leader teacher in Harmony Project Bay Area, has a private studio and loves reading and taking walks with her husband and tiny dog Penny.

Solis Sola
Harmony Project
Bay Area

Ariel Zaichick

Originally from Mississauga, Ontario, Ariel Zaichick has over 18 years in classical voice training, and currently teaches privately at her home studio, Music By Ariel ( After graduating from Queen’s University with her B.Mus in Voice, Ariel has made Kingston her home, teaching singing and ukulele classes, vocal directing with Bottle Tree Productions and singing as Soprano Section Leader with the Melos Choir & Period Instruments Ensemble.

Ariel is looking forward to her 5th year with Sistema Kingston! In addition to leading the Choral program, Ariel is responsible for video production, acting as a liaison between families and the school, and assisting with general operational support within the program. Ariel firmly believes that every person has a unique, beautiful voice, and endeavors to support each student as they explore their instrument and contribute their voices to the Sistema Kingston choir.

While in Kingston, Ariel has worked with many wonderful schools and organizations, including Kingston Frontenac Music Together, The Mulberry Waldorf School Choir, and the Queen's Chorus (Director).

Splitting her time between teaching and performing, stage highlights for Ariel include Olympia in “Les contes d’Hoffman” (Midwest Institute of Opera), Maria in “West Side Story in Concert” (Queen’s University Orchestra) as well as intensives such as The Russian Opera Workshop (Philadelphia), Druid City Opera Workshop (Alabama), Franco-American Vocal Academy (Périgueux, France), Living Music Institute (Mississippi) and the Acting Opera Intensive (NYC).

Sistema Kingston

Christina Cuellar

Christina Cuellar has been working as a private piano instructor independently since 2016, where she hosts annual student recitals. She has been working as a flute Teaching Artist for Austin Soundwaves since 2019. Christina plays in two Bands in Austin, one latin jazz and bossa nova, and has recently been invited to play Cuban Son and Bossa Nova with one of Austin's most popular representatives.

Austin Soundwaves

Gaby Ferreira

Gaby Ferreira is a bassoonist and woodwind teacher from Clifton, New Jersey. She studied classical bassoon at New Jersey City University, earning a B.A. in Music Education in 2021. Now a bassoonist for 8 years, Gaby has performed for the NJCU Symphony Winds and Percussion, the NJCU Orchestra, and the NJCU Opera. She was an alto in the Manhattan Concert Productions’ performance of Hayden’s Creation. Currently, she is a member of the Kean-New Jersey Intergenerational Youth Orchestra, a diverse community orchestra, open to all age groups, that explores music of all cultures and influences. In addition, Gaby is an alto in the Immaculate Heart of Mary church choir in Wayne, New Jersey.

As a Latin American and a member of El Sistema, she incorporates a lot of Caribbean and Latinx music in all aspects of life and teaching. Gaby is a Woodwind Teaching Artist and Program Coordinator for the Paterson Music Project, a steadily growing non-profit after-school music program that serves students in grades 1-12 throughout Paterson, New Jersey. She hopes to continue serving the community through music and to grow as an educator with TATI.

gaby Ferreira
Paterson Music Project

Genesis Aguilar

Genesis was born in Honduras and has developed herself as a professional Violinist in performing and teaching. She recently earned a master's degree in Violin Performance and a minor in Music Education from The University of Southern Mississippi, under Dr. Stephen Redfield's tutelage.
As a teacher, she has experience teaching violin, aural skills, and Chamber music to students of all ages in the National School of Music (Honduras), Cane, La Paz conservatory, preparatory course of music (National Autonomous University of Honduras, private lessons, among others.
She has participated in numerous musical festivals, such as SINEM (Costa Rica), An American in Paris (Guatemala), OJCA (Mexico), Encuentro de Cuerdas (Honduras), and YOA (Honduras), Texas Music Festival(USA), among others. Aguilar has also received masterclasses with numerous internationally recognized violin Professors such as Dr. Kirsten Yon (USA), Dr. Roberto Trillo (Spain), Pavel Ilyashov (Russia), Marc Danel (France),Dr. Felix Alanis (Mexico), Andreas Neufeld (Germany), and others.
Genesis has been part of several chamber music groups such as Meridian Symphony Orchestra, Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra, Mississippi Orchestra, The Chamber Orchestra of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, Tegucigalpa Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonic Orchestra of Honduras, The Baroque Orchestra "Ensamble de los Confines’’, and America's Piano Trio as a founder member. Aguilar is currently teaching violin lessons at the Houston Youth Symphony – Coda Program, and American ,Music Academy.

Houston Youth Symphony's Coda Music Program

Gloria Huskey

Gloria (HyeWon) Huskey is a flutist and educator based in Severna Park, MD. She holds degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music (BM), Columbia University, Teachers College (MA), and is also a graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy. Gloria is a passionate and dedicated music teacher and well-rounded educator who has taught and assisted in diverse settings, including The Montessori Schools at Flatiron, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York Philharmonic's Very Young People's Concerts and Children's Museum of Manhattan.

In addition to teaching music to young students, she has collaborated with educators and musicians to create musical and artistic curriculum at many different institutions. Gloria continues to seek opportunities to develop and establish creative musical curricula for students of all ages. Most recently, she participated in Orff-Schulwerk workshops at George Mason University to expand her teaching skills. Gloria is also a Teaching Artist at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's OrchKids. Gloria's primary teachers and mentors include, Dr. Lori Custodero, Mary Kay Fink, Nancy Stagnitta and Don Gottlieb.

In her free time, she enjoys reading, running and spending time with her husband and two beautiful children.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's OrchKids

Helena Vasconcellos

Helena Vasconcellos comes from a musical family in Brazil. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Piano Performance from the "Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro." In 1997 she moved to Kansas City to pursue a Master's Degree in Choral Conducting under the guidance of Dr. Eph Ehly. Following that, she pursued an Interdisciplinary Ph.D in Music Education with emphasis in Choral Conducting.

From 2003 to 2015 she worked as the Music Minister of Nativity of Mary, a Catholic Parish in Independence, MO. She was in charge of both the adult and the youth choirs and organized many concerts and musicals. For 12 years she was the Music Director of the Jacomo Chorale, a community choir in the area of the Jackson County Lake. She worked also as a music teacher in several Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Saint Joseph-Kansas City and as the Associate Director of the KC Children's Chorus.

Currently she works for the Harmony Project KC teaching Musicianship 1 and 2, which is her favorite music activity. She is also the conductor of "Bells of Joy," a hand bell choir at Holy Trinity Catholic Parish in Lenexa. Helena keeps a small piano studio at home. She enjoys cooking, learning foreign languages and watching TV with her husband.

Harmony Project Kansas City

Isaac Casal

Panamanian cellist Isaac Casal has brought international recognition to his country through his artistry. A versatile, classically trained cellist whose trademark is built around the concepts of performance variety and flexibility, he covers a range of musical languages that span from classical to world, Latin, and folk. With an active agenda, he has performed numerous solo recitals, chamber, and orchestral music concerts, and as a soloist throughout Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Furthermore, he has been recognized for his entrepreneurship and commitment to the development of the younger generations of musicians.
Impeller of new works, he has premiered pieces by composers such as Jorge Figueroa, Jorge Bennett, Darwin Aquino, Dinos Constantinides, Guido López-Gavilán, among others. In 2012 he created the Ensemblast Project, which fuses the aesthetics of the classic quartet with Latin American styles borrowing freely from an array of musical languages. In 2019 with the support of the University of Panama, Ensemblast Project launched its first discography.
A visionary of his generation, at the age of 25, Isaac founded the Sinfonía Concertante Foundation of Panama (FUNSINCOPA). The foundation’s mission has been to create educational music programs for low-income children and youth, including an orchestra system for high-risk children inspired by the El Sistema orchestral program of Venezuela. He is also the Artistic Director and founder of the Alfredo Saint-Malo Music Festival of Panama (ASMF), an annual one-week festival that began on May 25, 2007. It has become one of the most important music festivals in the Central American region.
Recent achievements include an Emmy award in 2021 as part of the production of “River of the Last Valley.” In April 2016, Isaac received an award for his “Cultural Achievements” by the Youth Orchestra of The Americas. In May 2015, he received the prize “Ciudadanos Notables de Panama 2015” (Remarkable Citizens of Panama 2015), granted by Panama’s National Commission of Pro Civic Values and Morals. In 2013, he was invited to participate in the Salzburg Global Seminar to the “Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Leaders II.” In 2012, he received the Hildegard Behrens Foundation Young Artist Humanitarian Award. In the same year, the Junior Chamber International of Panama City awarded Isaac the Outstanding Musician in the Culture category.
He has degrees from Florida International University, Baylor University, and Southern Methodist University, and a Doctoral in Musical Arts degree from Louisiana State University (2015). Currently, resides with his family in Miami.

Miami Music Project

Jessica Altfillisch

Jessica was a featured speaker in the National Guild for Community Arts Education Small Schools Network webinar series, a member of the Guild’s White Accomplices for Racial Justice cohort, co-presenter for ESUSA’s Third Friday Forum, and serves on other local and national committees. Her performance career spans classical, pop, Celtic folk, and musical theater genres and includes two album projects with Durward New Music Ensemble. She has performed internationally and looks forward to a number of solo and ensemble projects this year in her home state of Iowa.

Jessica Altfillisch
Harmony School of Music

Jillian Storey

Jillian Storey is a flutist, educator, and creative currently residing in Raleigh, NC. She’s committed to music advocacy, community engagement, and breaking down traditional “classical music” barriers and dedicates herself to pursuing projects within her performing and teaching that fulfill this passion. Her doctoral research, “Social Practice Methods in the Applied Flute Studio,” aims to provide suggestions for more equitable, relevant, cooperative, and community-responsive applied flute studio practices. She has also had the opportunity to offer unique performances that capture the ethos of twenty-first century art music as the flutist and founding member of Catchfire Collective.

Jillian is also passionate about serving within her communities. During her doctoral studies she was the Curator for the Wind Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra’s Pre-Concert
Conversations, which were chats prior to each concert with the explicit goal of bridging the performer-audience divide, connecting the audience with the program in a more conversational format. She currently enjoys serving as the Newsletter Editor for the Marcel Moyse Society. As a member of the National Flute Association she has previously served on the Archives and Oral History Committee and as a judge for the NFA’s Newly Published Music Competition (2016).

As an orchestral musician and soloist, Jillian was invited to perform the Charles Griffes Poem with the UNCG Symphony Orchestra on their 2020 European Tour, but the tour was
unfortunately canceled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. She has also performed with the Waco and Bryan Symphonies, the Greensboro Opera, the Lee County Community Orchestra, and the Piedmont Wind Symphony. In 2018 she was the flutist for J.S. Bach’s B Minor Orchestral Suite, BWV 1067 with the Bryan Symphony Orchestra.

Jillian holds a DMA from UNC Greensboro (2021), an MM from Baylor University (2016), and a BM from Tennessee Tech University (2012), with further flute studies with Trevor Wye
(2012-13 and 2016-17). Her primary teachers are Erika Boysen, Trevor Wye, Francesca Arnone, Roger Martin, and JoAnn McIntosh.


Joseph Shinnick

Joseph Shinnick is a recent graduate of Montclair State University, with a bachelor's degree in Music Education, and a minor in Child Advocacy and Policy. His primary instrument is clarinet, and he also doubles on saxophone and flute. Joseph currently serves as a program coordinator for the Paterson Music Project, where he assists in managing the currently over 400 students in the program. He also serves as a woodwind Teaching Artist, and teaches sectionals and private lessons. He has a passion for teaching and using music as a tool for social change, and is looking forward to learning and growing in the Teaching Artists Training Institute.

Paterson Music Project

Jorge Villalba

Jorge Villalba is a Venezuelan Trombonist from the world-renowned national music program ""El Sistema"". He began his musical studies at the age of 8 years, in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. Mr. Villalba was a member of the Children and youth Anzoátegui state orchestra, The Anzoátegui State Orchestra, Anzoátegui Phil Orchestra, Caracas Youth Symphony and Caracas Symphony Orchestra.

As principal trombone of the Caracas Youth Symphony, Mr. Villalba participated in international tours to Europe, Asia and North America. In addition, he has been conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, Christian Vásquez, Diego Matheuz, Pablo Castellanos, César Lara, Rafael Payare, Leon Botstein, Sung Kwak, Isaac Karabatchevsky, Joshua Dos Santos, among others.

Among his trombone teachers are Pedro Carrero, Miguel Sanchez, Alejandro Diaz, Fernando Millan and Fernando Sanabria. Jorge Villalba also received master classes with Domingo Pagliuca, Rudys Sandoval, Jaime Morales, Andrea Bandini, Pablo Fenoglio, Paul Compton, Zoltan Kiss, Michele Becquet, Yu Tamaki, among others.

For 5 years, Mr. Villalba was the Director of the ""Nucleo Miraflores"" of Sinfonía por el Perú (currently Nucleo Lima Sur), in Lima, Peru.

Since the beginning of 2022, Jorge Villalba joins Austin Soundwaves as Teaching Artist, where he develops private lessons and sectionals in schools in East Austin.

In 2012, Jorge Villalba received his bachelor degree in Electrical engineering at the Universidad de Oriente, Venezuela . Now, Mr. Villalba is in his second year of the Master's Degree in Trombone Performance at Texas State University taking lessons with the remarkable trombonist and pedagogist Dr. Martin McCain. "

Houston Youth Symphony's Coda Music Program

Jose Francisco Montes

Jose has been teaching at the Miami Music Project since 2019, an organization inspired by El Sistema, and has taught at all levels of this organization. In 2021, he was invited as conductor at the Final concert of the Primary Chapters. Jose also teaches with Young Musician United, an organization that provides music classes in Miami Dade County schools. For Montes, teaching the new generation of musicians is an incredible experience that drives his passion for giving them all the necessary tools so they can develop their creativity and artistic profile.

Jose Francisco Montes
Miami Music Project

Kiara Eijo

Kiara Eijo is a Flutist/Educator based in Miami, Florida who believes in helping her students get better. Kiara received a Bachelor of Music in Flute Performance from New World School of the Arts/University of Florida Cum Laude in 2016 and received a Master of Music in Flute Performance from Austin Peay State University. She is a newly appointed Teaching Artist for the Miami Music Project and strives to pass on her passion for music to her students. She has performed in masterclasses with Bart Feller, William Bennett, Lorna McGhee, and Brook Ferguson. Kiara's past teachers include Suzan Degooyer, Rene Miska, and Dr. Lisa Wolynec.

Miami Music Project

Lee Wright

Lee Wright maintains an active career as a teacher, conductor, organist, and ensemble singer. Most recently he has begun teaching with the El Sistema-inspired program, ROCMusic, in Rochester, N.Y., and joined the faculty of the Genesee Community Charter School as an elementary music teacher. He has served as conductor for all-county, area all-state, and festival choirs, and has presented workshops on the American Negro Spiritual, choral improvisation, and conducting at state and regional conferences. Since 2004, Lee has served as Director of Music Ministry at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Rochester. Lee founded the vocal ensemble, First Inversion in 2014. Driven by his deep commitment to community, First Inversion brings together both professional and avocational singers from Greater Rochester with the goal of true personal and musical growth for all. He served as Director of Choral Activities at Hartwick College (Oneonta, NY) from 2016-2018. Lee earned the degree, Doctor of Musical Arts in conducting from the Eastman School of Music in 2018. His research focuses on the development of the concert spiritual in the late 19th century.

ROCMusic Collaborative

Lourdes González

Lourdes studied voice and piano at the Escuela Libre de Música Antonio Paoli (Caguas, Puerto Rico). She completed a music minor at the University of Florida and a music major (voice) at the University of Puerto Rico. In 2018, she obtained a Masters in Music Therapy from ISEP (Spain). In 2019, she obtained an Artist Diploma (voice) from the Music Conservatory in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Lourdes has worked as a voice, piano and music teacher in different institutions. She has been the Children’s Choir director in Puerto Rico’s Music Conservatory program 100x35 (El Sistema Puerto Rico) since 2016.

In 2017, she started her own private voice studio, where she also teaches piano, music theory and offers music therapy sessions. She also works as a music therapist with various organizations on the island (Fundación Música y País, Instituto Musicoterapéutico de Puerto Rico and Vive la Música). Lourdes is also a member of the San Juan’s Philharmonic Chorale, which performs regularly with Puerto Rico’s Symphonic Orchestra. She’s also a member of Puerto Rico’s Lyric Chorale, a choir dedicated to performing operas and zarzuelas.

Música 100x35

Luis Gutiérrez Fonseca

Luis Gutiérrez Fonseca, originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, is a violinist based in Houston, TX. He received his Bachelors in Music Performance from the University of Houston under Dr. Kirsten Yon and during his time in school played in masterclasses for renowned violinists Jeff Thayer, Sharman Plesner, Modigliani String Quartet and others.

Additionally, Luis has pursued further training at music festivals and workshops including ARIA Summer Academy in Massachusetts, Naolinco Chamber Music Festival in Mexico, Cambridge International String Academy in England, and Liberec International Violin Academy in the Czech Republic. He also received Suzuki Violin Teacher Training at the Greater Austin Suzuki Institute in Austin, TX.

Luis performs year-round with the Galveston Symphony Orchestra, Brazosport Symphony Orchestra, and the Symphony of Southeast Texas. Luis is also a teaching artist for Coda, an El Sistema based program by the Houston Youth Symphony.

Luis has enjoyed teaching music throughout his time as a violinist. He loves sharing his passion for music with his violin, viola, and piano students of all ages and skill levels. As a teacher Luis is patient and encouraging, and his goal is to bring joy and excitement to every lesson.

Luis Gutiérrez Fonseca
Houston Youth Symphony's Coda Music Program

Makai Guest

A trumpet player born and raised out of East Baltimore has studied the art of music for over a decade. He is a versatile musician who doesn’t hold himself to playing any one genre. He has experience in playing jazz, salsa, classical/orchestral, brass band, New Orleans jazz, indie pop and even rock. Music has taken him across the country and soon overseas through his involvement in programs like the Peabody Preparatory and the Berklee Five Week summer program. He gets his musical influences from prominent figures in jazz like Marquis Hill, Roy Hargrove, Joel Ross, Giveton Gelin with the way in which they all create beautiful and melodic melodies within their compositions and inprovinizations. Makai is now studying jazz performance at Towson University in pursuit to get his Bachelor's Degree.


Peabody Institute's Tuned In

Matthew Gustafson

Originally hailing from Long Beach, CA, Matthew Gustafson has performed as a guest artist on NPR's From the Top radio program and on stages across the nation, including Walt Disney and Reneé & Henry Segerstrom Concert Halls (California), Sosnoff Theater at the Fischer Center for the Performing Arts (Bard College) and Carnegie's Stern Auditorium and Weill Recital Hall (New York).
Ever the avid cross-genre collaborator, Matthew has shared the stage with various non-classical acts, including multiple national tours with folk & blues artist Josh Garrels in 2016-2017, an appearance with rock legend Steve Miller, and recording work with Nashville studio writer, Vernon Rust. Gustafson is a tenured member of the Austin Symphony, regularly performs with wedding contractors Terra Vista Strings & Barton Strings, and has seen engagements with Austin Camerata, Feverup's Candlelight Concerts, the Central Texas Philharmonic, and at various churches throughout Central and Southeast Texas. 
Passionate about music education, he teaches with local non-profit Austin Soundwaves, serving historically under-funded school programs throughout Austin, and participated as an instructor with UT's String Project. In lessons, he strongly believes in fostering a nurturing, holistic, and positive learning environment marked by a commitment by both teacher and student to mutual respect, seeing challenge through the lens of opportunity, and having fun! 
Matthew received his Bachelor's of Music in Cello Performance from Rice University in 2018, and his Master's of Music in Cello Performance from the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin in 2021. He is a member of the American String Teachers' Association and the Suzuki Association of the Americas. 

When he's not geeking out over his latest musical obsession (or consumed with the perpetual search for the best local coffee shop), Matthew enjoys spending time with his wife (pianist Katie Gustafson), cooking, hiking, and kayaking.

Austin Soundwaves

Monica Encinoza

Born in Venezuela, Monica studied music at the Vicente Emilio Sojo Conservatory of Music, home of “El Sistema” in her city. She began his Violin studies with the teachers Geronimo Isturiz and later with Dr. Francisco Diaz at the Latin American Violin Academy, in "El Sistema" Monica belonged to the Doralisa de Medina Children's Symphony Orchestra and later in the Lara State Youth Symphony directed by Alfredo D'Addona. She was conducted in orchestras by great teachers such as: Tarcisio Barreto, Felipe Iscaray, Rafael Payare, Christian Vasquez, Diego Matheuz and Gustavo Dudamel. She worked for more than 14 years with the Orchestral Initiation Programs where the youngest children between 3 and 6 years old benefited. She studied a degree in Psychology to continue contributing to children and adolescents who saw music with discipline and passion.

Miami Music Project

Negar Afazel

Negar (Dena) Afazel, was born in Tehran, Iran to a family of music lovers. She started playing Violin at the age of 7 and got accepted into the Tehran Music Conservatory at the age of 10. She grew up listening to and learning different genres of music that were always playing in her house, from Pergolesi and Bach to Jazz, Blues, and Persian traditional music.
Negar has been inspired by Persian traditional music and how it impacts people. Persian music has strong roots in social events boiling in society and it is music for the people, who are unable to scream out with their voices; it acts as their voice and has a strong relation to deep and unique Persian poetry. This tradition and culture have impacted her and her missions throughout her career: to be a musician means making changes around us, creating new paths and points of view among people, and getting people together through this amazing gift of humanity, and honoring it.

Negar is a recipient of the Arkady Fomin Scholarship (North Shore Chamber Music Festival, Chicago 2022) and a current DMA student at Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University in Violin performance, and is interested in traveling and playing music with different people from different cultures, and connecting to their cultures through this collaboration. Alongside classical music, she is a very diverse musician who has collaborated with jazz and tango ensembles, new music composers, and the local hip-hop band Last Gasp Collective. She has formed two chamber groups during her master’s study at Western Michigan University: Quartet du Monde (first violinist) and Atlas Trio. With Quartet du Monde, she had the chance of giving the world premiere of Judith Zaimont’s second string quartet (2018). Negar has performed in many places such as Iran, Turkey, Germany, Italy, and the US, and had the chance to perform at the Orfeo Music Festival, Montecito Music Festival, Ad Astra Music Festival, SPLICE Festival, and Electronic Music Midwest festival.
She has performed Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major with the WMU University Symphony Orchestra, after winning the annual concerto competition (2019) and received the honorable mention for performing “Tzigane” from WMU Concerto Competition (2018). She has served as the concertmaster for orchestras at WMU and during her study in Tehran. Her ensemble “Trio Nomah” was the second prize winner of FAJR International Music Festival in Tehran (No first prize awarded, 2010) and the first prize winner of Tehran Music Biennial (Junior division 2006 & 2010). She is a former Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra Artist Scholar (2017-2019). Negar has a great passion for teaching young musicians and helping them grow their individual voices through art and music and helping them understand the power of music as a force of change in society. She has been a teaching artist and collaborating with amazing organizations such as OrchKids (Baltimore) and Kalamazoo Kids In Tune (Kalamazoo).
When Negar is not playing her violin or teaching, she is reading, painting, running, or baking bread and sweets for her friends and students!

Kids In Tune

Nicole Peters

“Just choose the one that fits in your backpack,” she was told, and thus began Nicole Peters’ flute career at age seven. In these fifteen years, Nicole has been a part of a wide variety of ensembles including various sized bands, orchestras, klezmer groups, and pit orchestras. Most recently, she worked as an orchestra member with the College Light Opera Company where she played principal flute for nine different operettas and musicals. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Nicole also participated in numerous virtual music projects with this opera company. She recently graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with Professor Christina Jennings and is now pursuing her Masters degree at SUNY Purchase in the flute studio of Tara O’Connor. She has also become increasing involved with teaching; working as a flute instructor at an afterschool program called Project Music while also expanding her private flute studio. Beyond flute playing, Nicole finds great joy in caring for animals. Her mother runs a wildlife rehabilitation non-profit, Wild by Nurture, with which she has become increasingly involved.

Project Music

Nora Henschen

Ms. Henschen currently serves as a lead teacher for the Coda Program, an initiative of the Houston Youth Symphony, as well as serving on the faculty of the Community Arts Academy at the University of Houston and the Suzuki Academy of Houston. In addition to working as a fine arts clinician in the public schools, she maintains a private studio in the Houston area.

Houston Youth Symphony's Coda Music Program

Omar Escobedo

Native to Houston, Omar Escobedo began his musical journey at the age of ten when he started playing violin in his school orchestra. He then went on to play the cello in his freshman year of high school. Omar received a scholarship to pursue his musical studies at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music to study with Vagram Saradjian, a notable student of Mstilav Rostropovich. During his time there, Omar had the chance to perform in various solo and chamber music masterclasses for artists from all around the world. He was also selected to be an orchestral fellow at the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival in 2019.

Omar will be joining the Symphony of Southeast Texas as Assistant Principal Cello for the 2022-2023 season. He also has performed in the cello section with the Baytown Symphony and currently plays with the Houston Latin Philharmonic. Omar has had the opportunity to perform on stages with artists like Andrea Bocelli, Cece Winans, and Loren Allred.

Omar is a Suzuki Unit 1 trained teacher and is enrolled to complete Units 2 and 3. He currently is a chamber coach with the American Festival for the Arts’ Chamber Music Academy and also works as a Teaching Artist for the Houston Youth Symphony’s Coda Music Program, an El-Sistema based program that targets low-income families in Houston’s Near Northside neighborhood, which he’s been a part of since 2016.

Houston Youth Symphony's Coda Music Program

Peter Wowk

Hailing from the small town of Campbellford, Ontario, violinist Peter Wowk completed his undergraduate studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in the studio of Jerzy Kaplanek and his MMus in Violin Performance with Mark Fewer at the University of Toronto. As a soloist, Peter has performed with the WLU Symphony Orchestra, Peterborough Symphony Orchestra, and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. He has performed throughout Ontario as a chamber musician, and as a member of the NYOC throughout Canada, Germany, and Scotland. In masterclass and lesson, Peter has worked with such notable artists and pedagogues as the Penderecki String Quartet, Noah Bendix-Balgley, Martin Beaver, Dr. Brenda Brenner, Simon Blendis, Harumi Rhodes, and many others.
Peter is currently a member of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra and a teaching artist with Sistema Kingston.

Sistema Kingston

Rolando Ybarra

Rolando Ybarra is the Community Engagement Coordinator and Assistant Percussion Teacher with Accent Pontiac. Rolando is a graduate of Flashpoint College where he studied audio engineering with a focus on music recording. When he was nine, he started learning drum kit, but was only able to take a few months of lessons. He had always heard that his grandfather, a trumpeter and mariachi, has learned to play songs by ear. So, he did the same.

Since 2016, Rolando has been the percussionist playing cajon in his Pontiac-based Mariachi-Punk band, Pancho Villa’s Skull, along with his brother, Fortino. This is where Rolando fell in love with hand drums and other types of percussion. In his band, Rolando has spent time touring and playing the cajon, amongst other percussive instruments, all over the U.S. He also records, mixes and masters all of their releases. Outside of percussion, recording and touring, he likes to sing and dance cumbias with his mom, is a dog lover, Pit Bull advocate, and active member of the Pontiac community.

In his first year of teaching, Rolando has developed a unique teaching philosophy based on the idea that his program should equip our youth to be musicians but also equip them to be good community members. Through his involvement with his local mutual aid chapter, Rolando was able to bring life skills workshops into the classroom that engage student's creativity in other ways.

Accent Pontiac

Sally Blandón

Sally Blandón is the Early Childhood & General Music Program Manager at Merit School of Music. Born and raised in Appleton, Wisconsin, Sally’s growing passion for music brought her to Chicago where she graduated with a BA in Vocal Jazz Performance from Columbia College. Since graduating, Sally has toured internationally, taught and managed youth-focused music curriculum and produced several independent music productions throughout the Midwest. Whether she is conquering stages or behind the scenes, Sally shares her gifts meticulously and brings her vivacious spirit to all she takes on.

Merit School of Music

Samuel Marchan

Violist by choice, violinist by necessity, music has been Samuel's passion and love. He considers teaching to be the most amazing thing he has ever done. It has helped Samuel foster his creativity and work harder. Samuel is honored to lead an awesome team of teachers and emphasizes that leadership is teamwork. He strongly believes that seeing his students grow and mature has been his greatest success.

East River Children and Youth Orchestras

Sara Petokas

On the modern horn, Sara holds the chair of Fourth Horn with the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra, and performs regularly Danville Symphony Orchestra and Carmel Symphony Orchestra in Indianapolis. Sara is also on the substitute list for the Kokomo Symphony Orchestra and Terre Heute Symphony Orchestra. During the Summer of 2018, Sara performed as principal horn in the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival Orchestra, in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

El Sistema Indianapolis

Sung Choi

Sung Choi began his cello studies in South Korea. He enjoys mentoring young students, fondly remembering his mentors and their impact on him during his formative years. His past and current musical mentors include Jean-Michel Fonteneau, Robert Howard, Yoshikazu Nagai and many more. He has participated in master classes led by the Tokyo String Quartet, Guarneri Quartet, and Orion String Quartet.

When not teaching, Sung enjoys playing a wide range of chamber and orchestral music. Since 2017, he has been the principal cellist and a mentor of Cambrian Symphony.

Harmony Project Bay Area

Westley Benson

Westley Benson was born on April 7th,1986 in Norfolk, Virginia. He began playing piano and percussion at age 5 in church and at home. Part of a close knit and musical family, he grew up listening to many vocalists and singing groups in his extended family. In 2009, he graduated from the Peabody Institute in Baltimore Maryland with a degree in percussion performance. In 2016, he joined the Doorway Singers as a bass and continues to sing with the group to this day. He is now the music director of the group serving since January of 2020 and recently elected to serve a second term by the group’s members.

Upon finishing college, he began work as a counselor at the YMCA Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach. There he became more interested in teaching and started music classes with the kindergarten enrichment program. He founded Westley Benson Music in 2018. He has taught piano and percussion to students of all ages and continues to maintain a roster of active and excited student musicians. He also teaches music at many preschools in the Hampton Roads area and has a passion for early exposure to music education in young students. He was hired to work at Soundscapes as a percussion teaching artist in 2016 and is now serving as the Wind Band Director for both the daily program and the Peninsula Youth Orchestra.


William Church

William grew up in South Atlanta and began playing piano at age four. His first teacher was his father, who was a latin jazz pianist. At age 6, Will insisted on learning violin and immediately fell in love with the instrument. His parents could not afford lessons so they enrolled Will in an El Sistema-inspired non-for-profit called The Atlanta Music Project. Through this program, Will was given both group classes and weekly lessons. After years in the program, his primary violin teacher helped him get a scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University. At Peabody, Will studied both music education and violin/viola performance. While studying, Will began teaching at the Baltimore Symphony's OrchKids program, also an El Sistema inspired non-for-profit, much like the program he grew up in. Today through OrchKids, Will continues teaching violin and viola in title-one schools all across Baltimore.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's OrchKids

Yeliza Aleman

Yeliza Aleman was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Music has been her passion since a very young age. She started playing the cello in 7th grade under the amazing professor, Fermin Segarra. In 2009, Yeliza went to Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico to study with principal cellist Luis Miguel Rojas. Two years later, she received a scholarship to transfer and study at Temple University with the worldwide renowned cellist Jeffrey Solow in cello performance.

Yeliza began her Master's Degree in 2016 for cello performance with Dr. Lawrence Stomberg at University of Delaware. In 2018, she was part of the faculty at Temple University and University of Delaware Music Education department as a String Professor. Yeliza was a teacher at Philly Music Lessons, Temple University Preparatory, Play on Philly, Musicopia and had her cello studio located in Philadelphia.

Currently, Yeliza has returned to Puerto Rico and works at the Preparatory of the Conservatory of Puerto Rico and Musica 100x35.

Música 100x35