Faculty and Staff

Meet the Faculty and Staff of Armstrong Community Music School

Margaret Perry, Executive Director, Emeritus
Margaret Perry has been a music educator for 38 years. Trained originally as a harpsichordist, Ms. Perry performed with Baroque music groups around Texas, and served for several years as the pianist for the Houston Ballet. Ms. Perry has taught music in both public and private schools in the U.S. and Europe, and has maintained a private piano teaching practice in Austin for more than three decades. She has lectured extensively on the lives of composers and opera history for both children’s classes and adult opera audiences, and has created curricula for general musical studies for many ages. Ms. Perry also served as a consultant for community arts education providers on issues of management and advocacy.

Ms. Perry has been a trustee for nine non-profit boards in the Austin area, and was elected chairman of three of these. She served for six years on the Board of Directors for the National Guild for Community Schools of the Arts based in Manhattan. She served as a trustee for Austin Classical Guitar and La Follia, and served in an advisory capacity for KMFA, Creative Action Project, Chamber Music in Public Schools (CHAMPS), and the Physics Advisory Board at the University of Texas. At her transition into Executive Director, Emeritus, Margaret moved into an active advisory role as of October 2017.

In April of 2000, she became the founding director of the Armstrong Community Music School, the first music school in the world to be established by an opera company, after serving as the Director of Education of Austin Lyric Opera for eighteen years. In March of 2003, the city of Austin presented Ms. Perry a Community Service Award, and the same year the State of Texas declared a day in her honor for thirty years of arts advocacy and education. In 2010, Ms. Perry was given a “Profiles in Power: Women of Influence” award by the Austin Business Journal. In the summer of 2012, she was inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame and received an award for service to the community arts field from the National Guild for Community Arts Education.


Liz Cass, Interim Director & Voice
Liz Cass has been a proud member of the ACMS faculty and staff for over 13 years and is committed to providing excellence in music instruction for all in the Austin community. Ms. Cass first came to the school as a vocal instructor in 2004. She enjoys working with students of all ages and forming long and lasting relationships for students in the school. Liz began on the ACMS staff in the position of Program Coordinator, then moving into Community Liaison, and now holds the position of Interim Director. 

In addition to her work with ACMS, Liz Cass enjoys a lively schedule of performing and producing in collaboration with many arts organizations in Austin, TX and beyond. Liz Cass, is a founder and the Executive Producer of the award-winning LOLA, Local Opera Local Artists (501c3).  LOLA is a professional non-profit opera company dedicated to keeping the art form alive by utilizing local talent in new and innovative productions. As a performer, Liz recently premiered Graham Reynold’s new opera, Pancho Villa; From a Safe Distance for which she garnered an Austin Critic’s Table Award for Best Singer. Liz’s upcoming performance schedule includes concerts in Guatemala City and Antigua, Guatemala, concerts in Austin with Austin Chamber Music Center and LOLA, and tours to Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, and Vancouver with Pancho Villa; From a Safe Disance. In the spring of 2018, Ms. Cass will be performing with Austin Opera in their production of La Traviata and in June of 2018, Liz will be performing in the Bernstein Mass at Texas Performing Arts.

Ms. Cass studied voice at the University of Missouri at Kansas City Conservatory of Music where she met her then and current voice teacher, Inci Bashar. Liz furthered her education by working as an apprentice with the Seagle Music Colony where she now serves as the President of their Alumni Association Board, Opera in the Ozarks, Central City Opera, Shreveport Opera, and Fort Worth Opera. Ms. Cass’s education in arts administration has been through Austin Opera, ACMS, and the National Guild for Community Arts Education.


photo Keith Allegretti

Piano and Composition

Keith Allegretti is a pianist and composer currently pursuing his DMA at the University of Texas at Austin. He has been an active educator in Ann Arbor, Santa Fe, Houston, and Austin, giving private lessons in piano, ear training, sight singing, music theory, and composition. A frequent performer, he regularly plays old and contemporary styles of music on the piano and accompanies vocalists and instrumentalists. Recently, he has been featured as a pianist by the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium, and as a conductor for UT Landmarks Sound in Sculpture. His piano teaching focuses on musical expression, interpretation, and clean technique, with an emphasis on collaborative playing.

photo Dr. Risa Ando


A native of Tokyo, Japan, Dr. Risa Ando earned her Doctorate of Musical Arts in violin performance at UT and received highest honors at Tokyo Gakugei University in violin performance as an undergraduate student. During the time of graduate studies, she achieved a position as a member of the Austin Lyric Opera by way of selective auditions. Moreover, she won the “Chamber Music International Competition” while performing with the Clarke Piano Trio and was presented the “Student Award” for her accomplishments at UT. In order to sustain a diverse musical career, she gives recitals in Germany, Austria, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, USA, and enjoys playing music of different genres.

photo Sage Bara

Early Childhood Music

Sage Holli Bara has been performing since the age of three, she has been in over 200 musical and theatrical productions across the country. She is an award winning playwright, a composer and a lyricist and some of her musical work continues to be performed by the folk band Gypsy Fire. For 32 years, Sage has been devoted to youth arts education. She continues to be inspired by the art of teaching and loves connecting with children and their families through music. She is thrilled to return home to Austin after running her own performing and visual arts school for the past ten years in Houston, TX.

photo Anthony Basini

Early Childhood Music, Guitar, Group Ukulele, Homeschool Chorus, Community Partnership Programs

Anthony Basini is a musician in an all-encompassing sense. He is a guitarist, singer, composer and educator. He has been professionally performing since 2009, has recently finished his first two film scores and began teaching in 2015 with specialized experience in special education music instruction. Anthony is an enthusiastic and dedicated instructor whose fun and personal approach to teaching the guitar keeps his students engaged, excited and encouraged.

Anthony has spent his entire college career at a multitude of institutions studying music in many forms including music therapy, music composition/theory and music performance. He has spent the last few years in Boston, MA attending the world-renowned Berklee College of Music. At Berklee, Anthony studied under the likes of Walter Beasley, Don Lappin, Omar Thomas and Thaddeus Hogarth among others.

Anthony has performed all over the United States from the Carolinas to California and is well versed in many styles including jazz, funk, metal, pop, soul/R&B and rock. He has opened for notable international acts including The Bret Michaels Band, Apocalyptica and solo guitar sensation Angel Vivaldi.

photo Lucy Bergin

Early Childhood Music, Voice, Community Partnership Programs

Lucy Bergin began formal music instruction at the age of seven, and moved on at the age of fourteen to study vocal and flute performance at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School in Boston. A double major of music performance and German literature at Wellesley College, she studied privately in the studios of Suzanne Stumpf and Gale Fuller, performed as a soloist with the Wellesley College Choir, Chamber Singers, and Chamber Music Ensemble, and directed the Tupelo's, Wellesley's original a cappella group. Lucy studied German at the Middlebury Summer Immersion German School and performed her premiere operatic role as Mrs. Peachum in Die Drei Groschenoper. She also spent a year living in Vienna, Austria, studying German literature and musicology, focusing on art song and music of 1840-1870 at the Universitaet Wien and performing sacred music. As a professional, Lucy has studied voice with teachers Phyllis Hoffman and Pamela Dellal and maintains an active teaching studio of voice, flute, and guitar students. Recent recordings include Clavieruebung III: The Chorales with Canto Armonico, and Still, Still Night with the Boston Choral Ensemble. Fluent in French and German, Lucy adores music from Europe and the Caribbean, but she will also look for opportunities to bring Gershwin and jazz into the classroom. She looks forward to welcoming students into her studio and classes, and is ecstatic about joining the Armstrong community.

photo Maleesa Brenchley

Piano and Music for Little Mozarts

Maleesa Brenchley, originally from Washington state, grew up overseas in Macedonia where she studied piano with Ana Ponjavic. Her love for piano and teaching led her to pursue a career in music. While completing a Master of Music degree in Piano Pedagogy and Bachelor of Arts in Music at Mississippi College, she maintained an active private piano studio teaching for the Taylor School, Mississippi College's community music program. Maleesa’s love for teaching music also extends to working with groups of various sizes and ages. She taught class piano to freshman music majors at Mississippi College and served as a community engagement intern, teaching group piano to ages K through adult at the Salvation Army for Worship and Service in Jackson, MS. During her time at Mississippi College, Maleesa received the B.G. Walden Memorial Scholarship Award, an award given to the student exhibiting a high standard of general musicianship, and participated in local competitions and master classes with prominent pianists such as Sean Chen.

  Jeane Burks

Curriculum and Program Consultant

Jeane is a fourth generation musician and sang in her first choir at the ripe old age of three. An early childhood and children’s music educator for over twenty years, Jeane is passionate about the power of music to, not only enrich, but transform lives. Having led and directed education and music programs for infants through high school students in both secular and religious settings, Jeane currently teaches for St. Francis School.

Jeane helped to establish the Early Childhood Music Program for ACMS and worked in a variety of roles including summer camps, opera education programs, and music classes for SafePlace and The Housing Authority of Austin.

Jeane holds a Bachelors of Music from Baylor University, a Masters of Music from the University of Texas, is a member of TMEA, TCDA, NACCP, NACED, The Chorister’s Guild and is a certified Music Together teacher. Jeane presents music education workshops for teachers and parents and has presented at conferences for private schools including the Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools and the Texas Association of Baptist Schools.

photo Liz Cass

Interim Director and Voice

Liz Cass is a frequent soloist with Austin Lyric Opera, Chorus Austin and many other arts organizations in and around Austin. Ms. Cass’s upcoming schedule includes a tour to L.A. with Austin’s own Rude Mechanicals, a Messiah in Guatemala City and Antigua, Guatemala, Lucia di Lammermoor with Austin Lyric Opera, Bach Mass in b minor with Chorus Austin, and many recital engagements in Austin, TX and Greenville, SC. In addition to keeping up with her busy performance schedule, Liz maintains a large and diverse voice studio at the Armstrong Community Music School.

photo Phil Davidson


Phil Davidson is a Suzuki violin teacher, with training registered through book 4. Phil’s teaching emphasizes development of functional instrumental abilities, including playing by ear, good practice habits, critical thinking, theory, history, observation and listening to a wide variety of music. Most of his new students have been adult beginners or kids ages 4-8. Phil received his B.A. in music from Drake University. Since moving to Austin in 2002, Phil has actively performed in several rock and Americana bands including the Invincible Czars, and he keeps one foot in the classical music world with the Chanterelle Duo.

photo Julia Di Fiore

Registrar and Development Assistant

Julia Di Fiore is an active singer from Denton, TX and holds degrees from Vanderbilt University and Florida State University in Voice Performance. She recently made her professional opera debut with Alamo City Opera as the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola. In Austin, Ms. Di Fiore has sung with the Austin Opera Chorus, Tinsel Singers, Panoramic Voices, One Ounce Opera, the Ars Longa Ensemble, Inversion Ensemble, and Cantorum. Other professional concert work includes performances with the Austin Baroque Orchestra, Music City Baroque (Nashville), and the Tallahassee Bach Parley. Lately, Ms. Di Fiore received first place for Best Rossini Performance in the Great Composers Competition. Her other accomplishments include winner for the Classical Singer Magazine’s Online Summer Competition, second place in The American Prize in Opera, a finalist for the National Opera Association’s Young Artist Competition, and scholarships from the Tallahassee Music Guild, the Young Singers Foundation, and Florida State University.

photo Denise Donahue

Piano and Music for Little Mozarts

Denise Donahue graduated cum laude from Southern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Arts in Music focusing on classical guitar and piano performance, music theory, composition as well as music business. After moving back to New York she earned her degree in audio recording and midi technology from the Audio Recording Technology Institute where she studied audio engineering and production. Denise has combined her talents, skills and experience to compose, arrange, produce, and record two original studio albums which she promotes online and through live performances.

Denise has been teaching since 1998, providing guidance to students of all ages, styles and abilities. Her teaching philosophy is to create an enthusiastic environment where students can progress while still having fun. She tailors her lesson plans to help students deal with frustration, patiently guiding them toward effective learning patterns that achieve progressive goals and bring feelings of accomplishment, joy and a love for music!

photo Elliott Dunlap


Elliott Dunlap has a colorful musical background. Although he began studying the piano at an early age,he first gained attention as a cellist. As a teenager, he became a fellow of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., performed within the orchestra at selected concerts and went on to win the H. Stevens Brewster Memorial Award. He first arrived in San Francisco in 1991 and became a cello student of Bonnie Hampton at The San Francisco Conservatory of Music. After deciding to concentrate on the piano with William Corbett-Jones at San Francisco State University, Elliott furthered his studies in London at The Royal Academy of Music and King’s College.

Elliott has performed in master classes for such world-renowned artists as Neville Marinner, Lynn Harrell, Janos Starker, Karl Ulrich Schnabel and Elizabeth Powell. Elliott was selected to perform on April 27th, 2005 at San Francisco’s Noontime Concerts on a special series sponsored by the Helen von Ammon Fund for Emerging Artists. Aesthetically, Elliott identifies with pianists whose recordings date from the early twentieth century (Paderewski, de Pachmann, Cortot) and the degree of artistic freedom in their playing that is largely lost today.

Elliott writes this about his teaching: "It is a small miracle that I became a piano teacher. Working with an instructor in my youth who shouted and hit the piano caused me to quit altogether. Since 2002, I have devoted most of my time to teaching children in the opposite way. There is an old saying..."Give a man a fish and he‘ll eat for a day; Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime." Hence, showing the student how to practice is an important part of every lesson. It’s a special delight when they grasp that practicing is a soothing, meditative experience when done slowly and methodically. "

photo Mathew Edwardsen


Mathew Edwardsen is excited to be in Austin! Mathew has been performing since Junior high and went on to complete a BFA in Musical Theatre at Millikin University in Illinois. After moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting, he discovered opera, which lead to being an Apprentice Artist with Santa Fe Opera and working on his Masters in Opera at Yale University. Since then he has enjoyed a career that has dabbled in many platforms of performance, from opera and musical theatre to plays and commercials. In lessons, he will focus on building a strong and consistent vocal technique. He has worked with students across a wide variety of vocal styles.

photo Julie Fiore

Voice and Piano

Julie Fiore is the Executive Director and Founder of One Ounce Opera, and holds an MM from Lamont School of Music (University of Denver) and BM from University of North Texas. She is an active solo and chamber artist who has extensive choral and operatic experience. She grew up competing as a pianist and writing little songs with her guitar, but her love was almost always being on stage. She understands the needs of her students, regardless of genre or level of study. Her approach is personal and organic, confidence-building and foundational. Julie specializes in combating stage fright, performance coaching for Austin musicians, and audition prep, but she loves it ALL. She’s had a private studio for over 15 years, and is a master teacher for Kids in a New Groove, a local nonprofit providing no-cost music lessons to young people in the foster system.

photo Sarah Beth Gooding

Director of Programs, Music for Little Mozarts, Voice

Sarah Beth Gooding holds a Master of Music in Voice Performance and Pedagogy from Westminster Choir College and a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance with a minor in Italian Studies from the University of Houston Moores School of Music. Sarah Beth enjoys working with students of all ages in a wide range of genres. As a private instructor, she provides a warm and supportive environment that focuses on developing a strong technical foundation and fostering creative expression. Sarah Beth is also one of the faculty members for the Music for Little Mozarts program. As the Director of Programs, Sarah Beth manages all ACMS programming at the Westlake location and in the community. She provides logistical support to ACMS faculty and builds strong relationships with partner organizations throughout Austin.

photo Lisa Guet

Violin and Viola

Lisa is a violist from France who received her bachelor degrees in Paris in viola teaching, viola performance and musicology. Lisa has performed with the Orchestre National d’île de France, orchestra Les sciècles, orchestra Ostinato in Paris, and orchestra Sostenuto during some festivals.

Lisa has taught violin and viola since 2013 in music schools and since 2015 in a conservatory in Paris. During her training to get her degree in viola teaching, she learned that students love to learn with a fun and engaging approach, and that it’s important to adapt and choose the right method according to the student.

Lisa also taught violin in preschool and Musical Awakening classes for 3 to 5 years old children in France. She teaches private viola and violin lessons in music schools, as well as KiddyKeys preschool classes throughout the Austin area.

photo Amy Hackerd

Early Childhood Music and Yoga

Amy Hackerd was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. After attending Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, she went west looking for the sun and ended up back in the practice rooms at Arizona State University where she double majored in Music Therapy and Music Theatre Performance. She then moved to NYC and lived abroad for ten years. Her eclectic vocal career has taken her from singing with the Detroit Met Opera to conducting music therapy at nursing homes. When not at ACMS, she sings as a 'sweet inspiration' at The Continental Club for the Elvis shows, and has her own jewelry line (Ole Licorice Designs).

photo Elayne Harris

Piano and Music for Little Mozarts

Elayne Harris is an active performer and music educator. She has performed with a variety of large ensembles and chamber groups, including: Ensemble X, Massanutten Brass Band, the Mid-Atlantic Wind Symphony, Finger Lakes Community Orchestra, Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Concert Band, University-Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra, and the Staunton Music Festival. She has also been active in commissioning and performing new works for percussion in both solo and chamber settings. Elayne holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from James Madison University, where she also received a Bachelor of Music, studying with Bill Rice, Michael Overman, and Marlon Foster. She received a Master of Music from Ithaca College, where she studied with Gordon Stout.

Elayne has taught private percussion and piano students of all ages in the Harrisonburg and Fredericksburg areas of Virginia, and Ithaca, New York. At JMU, she taught private percussion lessons to percussion majors, directed beginning steel band, and taught Percussion Techniques to future music educators. As a lecturer in music at Washington and Lee University, she taught private drum set lessons to non-music majors. Elayne currently teaches private piano, drum set, and percussion students in the Austin area. She free-lances in the community, works as an accompanist for kidsActing, and performs regularly with the Inside Out Steelband. 

photo Alex Hartley


Alex Hartley is a freelance pianist and music teacher. After moving to Austin, TX, Alex quickly gained respect in the community leading to a spot on the Top 10 Keyboardist List at the 2014 Austin Music Awards. A graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Alex spent his collegiate years touring the Northeast before landing a gig with Carnival Cruise Lines performing nightly throughout the Caribbean. Currently, Alex regularly performs solo jazz piano at vineyards, country clubs and retirement communities throughout Austin and Texas Hill Country and can be seen performing with local indie-rock trio, Yuma.

photo Scott Horton

Lute and Guitar

Scott Horton studied lute with Nigel North at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He studied classical guitar with Wolfgang Justen at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Further studies were with Pepe Romero, Paul O’Dette and Anthony Bailes. Mr. Horton has taught at the University of Texas, University of North Texas, University of St. Thomas and St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He has performed in productions of "Orfeo" and "Poppea" for Houston Grand Opera and "Ariodante" for the Dallas Opera. He is a member of the Austin groups La Follia and Texas Early Music Project.

photo Dr. Nora Karakousoglou

Cello, Advanced Musicianship Program Coordinator

A native of Athens, Greece, Nora Karakousoglou is an active performer and teacher, working in the United States and Europe. She completed her undergraduate work at Cleveland State University, earned a Master of Music degree as well as a Graduate Performance Diploma from the Boston Conservatory, and holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Texas, Austin. While in Texas, she has enjoyed working with Dr. Michelle Schumann, director of the Austin Chamber Music Center, and currently performs and teaches as an Artist in Residence for the Austin Community Music School.

She has collaborated in chamber music settings with Joseph Silverstein, Lynn Chang and Judith Gordon, performed numerous solo recitals, and has appeared as a soloist with the Boston Conservatory String Ensemble and the Thessaloniki State Orchestra in Greece. Nora is the recipient of the Hellenic American Women's Award in Chicago, as well as First Prize in Cello Performance and Chamber Music from the ENM d'Aulnay-sous-bois in Paris.

In her free time, Nora likes to cook, speak English with a heavy Greek accent, and drive to new places.

photo Sasha Klare-Ayvazian

Piano and Songwriting

Sasha Klare-Ayvazian is an educator, multi-instrumentalist, and composer. Sasha is from Northampton, MA where he worked for over two years as the music teacher, band director, and chorus director at the New Hingham Elementary School. Sasha is a professionally licensed K-12 teacher in MA. Sasha received a BA in Music Theory from Oberlin College in 2010. Sasha has lived in Austin for the last three years. He recently completed his MM in Music and Human Learning at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to working at Armstrong, Sasha teaches piano privately and leads the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Jazz Ensemble. Sasha leads his own band American Dreamer and performs as a sideman in Kyloe Blue.

photo Anne Loura

Piano, Violin & Viola, Early Childhood Music, Bilingual Early Childhood Music, Music for Little Mozarts

Anne Loura is a pianist, violinist and violist who has a strong passion towards music education. She was born in Brazil, where she started her formal instruction in the three instruments as a child. But even before that, music had always been an immense part of her life, which led to her decision to pursue music as a career. She has earned a degree of music education from São Paulo Adventist College in São Paulo, Brazil, and a Masters in Piano Performance from Andrews University in Michigan.

During her eight years of teaching experience, she has received amazing learning opportunities of attending workshops and training sessions from wonderful music educators from around the globe. As a performer, she has played with multiple orchestras, and has had the privilege of being part of an orchestra workshop with maestro Hebert Blomstedt and a master class with violinist Sarah Chang.

She strongly believes in the power of music to change lives, and is constantly seeking for opportunities to serve the community with her musical and pedagogical talents.

photo Leigh Mahoney


Leigh Mahoney is a founding member and first violinist of the Tosca String Quartet. She has toured the world twice with David Byrne and the Tosca Strings. She has performed and recorded with David Byrne, Ray Benson, Bob Schneider, Dixie Chicks, Kip Winger, Blondie Chaplin, Heather Greene and Susanna Baca, and has played on the soundtracks for Waking Life (2001) Ladron, Borderland, and El Cantante and the PBS documentary Last Best Hope. She is also a member of Glovertango, BARBWIRE, American Repertory Ensemble, Golden Hornet Project, Erik and the She-Wolves, Austin Lyric Opera, and the Austin Chamber Music Center. An avid tango violinist, she has participated in master classes in Buenos Aires by renowned tango violinists Mauricio Marcelli and Raul Gallo. She was nominated for the Austin Critic’s Table Award for her performance of Augusta Read Thomas’ Spirit Musings. Leigh received her BFA from Carnegie Mellon Institute and her Masters Degree in Music from the University of Texas at Austin.

photo Toshio Mana

Early Childhood Music, Music for Little Mozarts, Bass, Registrar

Toshio Mana received his Bachelor of Music from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 2000 before moving on to cut his teeth in the music scenes of Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. As a bassist and sideman, he has performed across the country playing “a little bit o’ everything” - rock, pop, jazz, and classical.

photo Paul Matthews


Born and raised in New York metropolitan area. Undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame. Upon finishing school, relocated to Chicago in 1994 and worked as blues/rock sideman for several years. Returned to New York in 1998 to study jazz and Latin jazz with Bruce Barth and Delfin Perez, and to study classical piano with Martin Soderberg. Formed a trio. Recorded an album. Scored two films. Moved to Austin in 2001. Did his graduate work in Composition with a Jazz Emphasis at The University of Texas. Has played with every major Latin jazz and Salsa ensemble in Texas. Winner of Univision’s Premios de Texas 2006 award for Best New Artist and 2007 award for Best Salsa/Merengue. Has played with some of the biggest names in Salsa, including legendary Puerto Rican singer Tony Vega who said of Paul to a crowd one evening in San Antonio, TX (in Spanish), “This guy may not understand a word I am saying, but he gets the soul of the music…” Leader of Latin orchestra Timberos Del Norte and producer/composer of their debut recording (Austin American-Statesman Top Ten Releases of 2014). Continues to compose/produce across many genres. Member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Enjoys teaching all ages and skill levels.

photo Dr. Rachel McInturff

Director of Finance and Administration, Piano, Composition, Sound-Engineering

Dr. McInturff holds degrees from the Conservatory of Music, University of Missouri-Kansas City (bachelors and masters in composition) and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition from the University of Texas at Austin. She taught university level courses in electroacoustic composition at UMKC, as well as UT, from 1988-1999. She has been on the faculty of the Armstrong Community Music School since its opening in 2000, teaching composition, piano, music theory and sight singing. She currently also serves as the school’s Associate Director (since 2008), assisting in strategic planning, financial tracking and all logistical matters for daily operations.

photo Dr. Larisa Montanaro

Early Childhood Music

Larisa Montanaro is from northern New York but after freezing in the cold snowy winters for 21 years, she moved to Austin for sunnier skies and greater opportunities. She specialized in avant garde music and vocal pedagogy at UT, and completed her Doctorate in Voice in 2004. Upon graduating, she branched-out into the world of early childhood music. It was a bit of a fluke. When she observed her first Music Together® class, she had no idea the impact it would have. She became certified as a teacher in 2004 and now she is the Director of our Music Together® program. Larisa can also be seen singing around Austin, whether in a jazz duo with David Webb, a roots rock band called the Rust Tones, or Walter Tragert and the Rated G's. She released her debut jazz album in 2014.

photo Terri Olsen

Early Childhood Music Assistant, Family Ukulele

Born in Oklahoma and raised in Texas, Terri Olsen has been singing since she was four years old and began songwriting at age 13. She is the proud mother of five children and made music-making a central part of their daily life - guitars, drums, and piano were the instruments of choice! Terri’s love of people and devotion to service has led her to serve as a music director and worship leader for more than twenty years in addition to her work with the Early Childhood Music program at ACMS. She is currently publishing several sing-along children’s books and can be seen throughout the community at our off-site Free Family Music events. Terri believes that music quiets the soul and directs the heart for purpose and meaning, and is thrilled to be working with families to help them discover the joy of making music together.

photo Lucas Quintana


Lucas Quintana has played multiple instruments since the age of 11 years old (Trumpet, Clarinet, Alto Sax, Latin Percussion, and Piano). His main instrument is piano. Lucas directed two musical groups called 'Buena Onda' and 'Tradicion', in Los Angeles in 2014-2015. During his collaborations with these bands, he played piano and vocals with Tradicion and was lead vocalist for Buena Onda. The groups focused on Cuban music and Latin Jazz. Lucas also has vast experience playing professionally in Puerto Rico and teaching piano performance and music theory independently.

As part of his formation, Lucas studied Jazz piano under two Berklee College of Music Alumni. Quintana also studied piano at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico in the Department of Jazz and Caribbean music. He recently finished composing his first album that is in the process of being recorded. The album is set to be launched at the end of 2017.

photo Louis Ontko

Piano and Music for Little Mozarts

Louis Ontko loves to teach music. He studied at Florida State University where he graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor's Degree in Music. Everyday he is grateful to serve people by sharing the magic of music with them.

photo Monica Salas


Monica Salas started listening and feeling to music inside the womb. She attended catholic grade school where in the choir she was introduced to the idea of playing an instrument in a school band. Flute and voice carried her through grade school and beyond! She was very fortunate to take private lessons grade with the lovely Helen Blackburn - Principal Flautist for the Dallas Opera and Dallas Wind Ensemble - and attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. There she had many musical experiences, as well as performances with chamber ensembles, jazz ensembles, choir, R&B Ensemble (playing saxophone), and last-but-not-least the Latin Ensemble. As the singer and flute player for this ensemble, she was able to go on a musical tour for three of the four years she attended high school.

After high school, she attended West Texas A&M University for Music Therapy and intensely studied classical flute with Professor Sally Turk. There she was given the opportunities and experiences to teach flute. She currently resides in Austin, Tx with her fiancé (also a musician) and are both in a band with Paul Mathews by the name of Timberos Del Norte.

photo Sara Hailu Sheerin

Early Childhood Music, Piano, and Community Partnership Programs

Sara Hailu Sheerin has 15 years of piano teaching experience and holds a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from Wheaton College. “Playing the piano has been a great source of happiness for me since childhood. I love to share this passion with others and am thrilled to equip students with the skills to make the music their own.”

She recently moved to Austin from the Chicago area, and spent her childhood in Northern Virginia and Ethiopia. While teaching in Chicago, Ms. Sara’s students had opportunities to play annually at MTNA events such as the Jazz Festival and the Sonatina Festival where her students placed as gold medalists for three consecutive years. As a piano teacher, Ms. Sara maintains a high standard with all students. Group piano parties, recitals, festivals and competitions are an important part of student enrichment. Inspired by the curiosity and energy of very young children, and a desire to offer quality programs for even the littlest musicians, Ms. Sara attended teacher training in Musikgarten and Music Together.

When not teaching in the studio or practicing piano, Ms. Sara enjoys exploring the beauty and variety of the natural spaces around Austin, reading 20th Century fiction and loves to make crafts with her children. She is a member of MTNA (Music Teachers National Association), TMTA (Texas Music Teachers Association) and ADMTA (Austin District Music Teachers Association).

photo Dr. Gordon Sparber


After earning a doctorate in piano performance from the Peabody Conservatory, where he studied with Ellen Mack, Gordon Sparber began teaching piano for Peabody’s Preparatory School and working as a freelance pianist in Baltimore. While in Baltimore, he performed on such series as Res Musica Baltimore and Music at Loyola and was the pianist in the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra. At the same time, he began writing on musical subjects, eventually becoming a music critic for the Washington Post and other newspapers and a fellow of the National Arts Journalism Program. Mr. Sparber's career took an unexpected turn when he became a bread baker and business owner, creating Ollie's Bakery in Winston-Salem, N.C. He recently moved to Austin from northern Michigan, where he was working as a pianist.

photo Bryan Sunderman


Bryan Sunderman began his enthusiastic pursuit of guitar at the age of 13. By 15, he was coordinating a band, collaborating with other musicians, and performing in church. As a young adult, he began his classical study at the Austin Orpheus School of Music under the instruction of Robert Gibson. During that time, Bryan was awarded first place in the Eastfield Collegiate Guitar Competition. He was then admitted to the prestigious Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied with the highly acclaimed “University Distinguished Teaching Professor” and world-wide performer, Adam Holzman. He has performed his classical repertory in and around Austin and abroad in Cervo, Italy and Morelia, Mexico. Bryan also is a member of the Austin soul/funk band KP and the Boom Boom.

World renowned guitarists that he has studied under through private lessons and master classes include Andrew Zohn, Richard Todd, Jeffery McFadden, Lorenzo Micheli, Matteo Mela, Ana Vidovic and Elliot Fisk. In 2012, Bryan received his Master’s Degree in Classical Guitar Performance, and continues to perform and teach in Austin.

photo Courtney Tellman

Development Associate

Courtney Tellman studied vocal performance at Wichita State University with Dr. Vernon Yenne. While there, she was a soloist and member of the Madrigal Singers, Acapella Choir, and Concert Chorale. Since moving to Austin in 2008, she has sung with the chorus of Austin Opera as well as Spotlight on Opera. She was a student at Armstrong Community Music School before joining the staff in 2012 and continues her studies with Liz Cass.

photo Emily Thomas

Voice and Registrar

Dallas native Emily Thomas holds a Bachelor of Arts in Voice Performance and History from Texas State University. There she studied with renowned mezzo-soprano Dr. Soon Cho, and tenor Cary Michaels. In 2012, she graduated with an Associates of Arts from Tyler Junior College, where she studied with soprano Jeanie Oxler. Emily has served as a professional soloist in church choirs throughout the Austin area and has been a part of many university ensembles and productions. During her time in university, Emily had the distinct honor of working under world class conductors and performers such as Cheryl Parrish, Karl Dent, Craig Hella Johnson and Dr. Anton Armstrong. Most recently, Emily was featured in Opera San Anotnio's production of Carmen, and worked in collaboration with local composer Dr.Karol Ann Badgett to premier the song cycle entitled, Homestead. As a voice teacher, Emily strives to help her students find their own unique voice through a mix of the Alexander Technique and Bel Canto school of teaching. She resides in the Austin area where she works as a Registrar for Armstrong Community Music School, teaches voice privately at Akins High School, and continues her studies in voice with One Ounce Opera director Julie Fiore.

photo Karen White

Piano, Piano Faculty Chair

Karen White brings thirty years of varied teaching experience and collaborative music-making to the school. She received her Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Piano Performance from Texas Christian University under the tutelage of Lili Kraus. She went on to continue her studies in New York City where studied with Nina Svetlanova and taught at the Community Music Center under Dr. Robert Pace at Teachers College, Columbia University. She then moved to Madrid, Spain for three years where she taught in a private music academy and performed. She has spent several years exploring specialized work in the area of performance-related injuries including Alexander Technique and the work of Dorothy Taubman.

photo Christina Whitford


Christina Whitford was born and raised in Houston, TX and has an M.M. in voice performance from The Jacob's School of Music (Indiana University) and a Bachelor's degree in music education from The University of Texas at San Antonio. She has a long and wide range of performing experience in operas, musicals, and chamber ensembles. She has also participated in several opera outreach programs, bringing abridged versions of operas to public schools. As an instructor, she strives to help each student make and work toward their specific goals. She advocates a strong technical foundation and freedom of expression in her students. She has taught voice at The Musical Arts Center of San Antonio and at the Stone Oak Youth Theatre and Dance Company. Making music and nurturing music in others brings her life purpose. She strives to cultivate the unique voice of each of her students.

  Philip Whitney


Bio coming soon.

photo Erin Ferguson Young

Piano and Music for Little Mozarts

Erin Ferguson Young received her Artist Diploma from the nationally renowned High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas, where she studied under Elizabeth Stern and Sylvia Strong. After completing a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance and a Master of Music in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from Baylor University, Ms. Young joined the faculty of the Armstrong Community Music School in January 2001. She previously served as the Youth Piano Program Coordinator for the Music for Little Mozarts program and continues to maintain a private studio with students of all ages. Ms. Young performs in Austin and is a member of the Austin District Music Teachers Association.