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PPSI 2020 Faculty Biographies


Reagan Brasch Headshot Reagan Brasch, CT
Reagan Brasch grew up in the Suzuki method studying with Paula Woyton in Texas. She graduated with a bachelors of music in violin performance and received her masters in music with an emphasis in Suzuki Pedagogy from the University of Denver. After teaching with Denver Talent Education for five years with James Maurer, she moved to Chicago to teach at the Music Institute of Chicago under the direction of Gilda Barston. She has had additional Suzuki training from Linda Fiore, Joanne Bath, Ann Smelser, Pat D’Ercole, Michele George, and Doris Preucil. Mrs. Brasch currently teaches at the University of Hartford Community Division in CT giving both private and group instruction in Suzuki. She also is program coordinator of the early childhood classes. She was awarded Outstanding Teacher by the Winnetka Alliance for Early Childhood. Mrs. Brasch has taught extensively at Suzuki institutes and workshops around the country.

Helen Higa Headshot Helen Higa, HI
Helen Higa comes from a family with 3 generations of Japanese and Western music teachers, and was born and raised in Honolulu. Her Suzuki Teacher training includes study with Dr. Shinichi Suzuki for two and a half years at the Talent Education Institute in Matsumoto, Japan, where she received her Teacher Certification from him in 1973. She continued her Suzuki teacher training at the University of Tennessee with William Starr, and Louise Behrend at the School for Strings. In NYC, she also worked with Gerald Beal on violin performance skills. Since 2000, Helen has continued research and study with Felicity Lipman, violin professor and Coordinator of Chamber Music for London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama (Junior Department), on her visits to Hawaii.
      In 1983, Helen became a Certified Teacher of the Alexander Technique at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York City. She taught AT in the Center’s Teacher Training Program for 4 years, and violin for 5 years before returning to Hawaii in 1987. From 1990 -1998, she taught with the late Hiroko Primrose who founded the Suzuki Violin Program at Punahou Music School. Helen is currently the head of Punahou Music School’s Suzuki Violin Program, and privately teaches over 50 violin students. Other teaching positions have included the University of Tennessee’s Suzuki Program, New York’s School for Strings, and the Diller-Quaille School of Music.
      Helen enjoys exploring how Alexander Technique principles can complement Dr. Suzuki’s violin pedagogy and educational philosophy. In 2004, Helen was invited to give a presentation on this topic at the Suzuki Association of the Americas National Conference in Minneapolis. At the 2006, Conference, she and Hiroko Driver-Lippman, gave a Heritage Night Keynote Presentation, called Okagesamade (in your honorable shadow) Suzuki Sensei.
      Helen has been invited to teach at summer Institutes on the mainland, including the Intermountain Suzuki String Institute (UT), the Oregon Suzuki Institute, the Northern California Suzuki Institute (Santa Rosa), the Peaks to Plains Suzuki Institute (CO), the Japan-Seattle Suzuki Institute (WA), the Stanford Advanced Suzuki Institute (CA), and the Idaho Suzuki Institute (ID), Helen serves as the President of Suzuki Talent Education of Hawaii, is a member of the Honolulu Symphony, and serves as the part-time musicians’ representative on the Honolulu Symphony Musicians’ Orchestra Committee.

Leo Kitajima Headshot Leo Kitajima Geefay, CA
Leo Kitajima was born and raised in Los Angeles and received his early formal music training at the Colburn School of Performing Arts.
      Leo has always been interested in exploring and learning from all musical forms and genres. He pursued his musical exploration and studies at the University of Southern California, earning a B.M in Jazz Studies as the only violinist in the jazz program and performed with the orchestra, new music ensemble, jazz combo, and Latin-jazz band. His eclectic musical palate has given him the opportunity to perform alongside many legendary musicians, such as Tony Bennet, Arturo Sandoval, Christian McBride and Stevie Wonder.
      Passionate about promoting musical creativity to young students through music education, Leo has earned a Master in Music Education with an emphasis on improvisation and composition from Northwestern University. He has also organized several non-traditional improvisation and composition workshops with a group named, WE ARE LIKE MUSIC. Some of the workshops included learning to improvise by "reading" fish swimming at the Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, CA) or creating hip-hop beats using graphic notation and string instruments with Money Mark (Beastie Boys, Beck).
      Leo is currently the Director of Orchestra, Jazz, and Chamber Music at Menlo School in Atherton, CA. Past faculty positions include the Colburn School of Performing Arts, Pasadena Conservatory of Music, and Westridge School in Pasadena, CA.

Kimberly Meier-Sims Headshot Kimberly Meier-Sims, OH
Amanda Schubert studied Suzuki violin with her father, Lacy McLarry, from age three through college, receiving a bachelor’s of music degree in violin performance from Oklahoma City University. She received a master’s degree in violin performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied with Norman Paulu and was coached extensively by the Pro Arte String Quartet. Mrs. Schubert holds a Teaching Certificate from the Talent Education Research Institute in Matsumoto, Japan, where she studied with Shinichi Suzuki. She is also registered through the SAA in Suzuki violin books one through ten, and is a Teacher Trainer. From 1992 to 2009, Mrs. Schubert was a member of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. She served on the violin faculty of the Brevard Music Festival in North Carolina from 1996 to 2011. Currently she performs with Waco Symphony and Temple Symphony, plays viola in the Temple Symphony String Quartet, and free lances. She has served on the violin faculty of the Central Texas String Academy since 2009. She resides in Waco, Texas with her husband and their two daughters.

Ann Montzka Smeler Headshot Ann Montzka Smelser, IL
Ann Montzka Smelser began playing violin at the age of 3 with the help of her mother and father, Marilyn and Arthur Montzka. Later she studied under Kazuko Numanami and Sarah Hersh at the Oberlin College Suzuki Program and later with Rebecca Sandrok and Pierre Menard. In between receiving her Bachelors of Music Education and Masters in Performance and Pedagogue at Northern Illinois University, Ann studied with Dr. Shinichi Suzuki at the Talent Education Institute in Matsumoto, Japan.
      After college, Ann toured extensively with the Ruggieri String Quartet to all four corners of the United States through Columbia Artists Management. Ann has performed in many orchestras and chamber ensembles and is currently principal 2nd violinist with Camerata Chicago and concertmaster of the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra. In 2003 Ann received the Hester Byron Excellence in Teaching Award and in 2013 was inducted into the Sycamore Music Booster Hall of Fame and was honored to receive the Legacy Award.
      Ann is a lifetime member of the Suzuki Association of the Americas and has been invited to present at several SAA Conferences. Ann has served as coordinator of the Suzuki Youth Orchestras of the Americas in 2006 and 2008 and coordinator for Violin at the 2014 and 2016 National Suzuki Conferences held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
      Ann became a Registered Suzuki Teacher Trainer in 2005 and currently teaches Suzuki Pedagogy at both Northwestern University and Northern Illinois University. Ann teaches about 40 private students and is director of the NIU, CSA Suzuki Strings Program at NIU and a teacher at MIC in Winnetka. Ann enjoys working with Suzuki families and teachers at Suzuki Institutes and workshops throughout the United States. Ann was a guest teacher at the 2010 International String Conference in Singapore and has given Teacher Training courses in Lima, Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico City.
      Ann lives in DeKalb, IL with her husband, Linc, and her Golden Retriever, Chloe. Linc and Ann are proud Suzuki parents of their daughter, Genevieve, and son, Benjamin, who are currently pursuing music in college.

Lucy Shaw Headshot Lucy Shaw, WA
Lucy Shaw is an active performer, Suzuki teacher and clinician currently based in the Seattle, WA area. A native of Nova Scotia, Canada, she received her Bachelor degree at the S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatte Conservatory of Music at Brandon University in Manitoba, Canada, and her Master of Music in Violin Performance at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Important musical influences include Sergiu Luca, Francis Chaplin, Sydney Harth and Jean-Jacques Kantorow. For eighteen years Lucy was owner/director of the Village Violin School in Houston where she was an active member of the Houston Area Suzuki Strings Association coordinating annual teacher development seminars, Suzuki graduations and workshops. As a guest teacher and clinician Lucy has taught at Workshops and Institutes in Canada, Mexico and throughout the continental United States. An ardent supporter of the SAA, Lucy was violin coordinator for the Suzuki Association of the America’s 2008 National Conference and served on the SAA Board of Directors 2011-2014. Lucy currently maintains a private studio, directs the State Suzuki Festival and serves as Vice President of the Suzuki Association of Washington State.

Stephen Sims Headshot Stephen Sims, OH
Stephen teaches in the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Joint Music Program with Case Western Reserve University, and in CIM’s Sato Center for Suzuki Studies. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in performance and pedagogy from the University of Iowa, a Master’s Degree in performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and a Bachelor’s Degree in performance from the University of Illinois. His principal teachers include Leopold LaFosse, Linda Cerone, David Russell, Catherine Tait, Sergiu Luca, and Barbara Jackson. An orchestral musician for many years, Sims served as Assistant Principal Violin of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Concertmaster of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra, and Assistant Concertmaster of the North Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. He has been a violin instructor at Denison University, El Sistema @ University Circle, the University of Memphis Community Music School, the Preucil School of Music in Iowa City, and the Cedar Rapids Symphony School of Music. Sims has been a registered Suzuki teacher for 30 years and is a frequent clinician at Suzuki workshops and institutes around the country.

Oscar Soler Headshot Oscar Soler, TX
Oscar Soler is a native of Caracas, Venezuela. He was appointed to the faculty of the Aber Suzuki Center in 2011 where he teaches violin and viola students using the Suzuki method. Mr. Soler has taught in workshops and institutes both nationally and internationally. He earned a Bachelor of Music, and a Master of Music degree in violin performance and Suzuki pedagogy from the Cleveland Institute of Music. He studied with Paul Kantor and Kimberly Meier-Sims.


Jane Kutscher Reed Headshot Jane Kutscher-Reed, SC
Jane Kutscher Reed is a Suzuki Piano teacher and educator from Greenville, SC. She earned her degree in Piano Performance from the University of Findlay, in OH. In addition to her private studio she is a Suzuki Teacher Trainer, SPA Facilitator, ECC instructor, and teaches at workshops and institutes throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, Bermuda and Asia. Jane also offers seminars in Suzuki parent education, the art of teaching, music reading games, and presents motivational lectures. Mrs. Reed is a facilitator for the internationally recognized Love and Logic Parenting Curriculum. Jane is also a certified Elite Life Coach with specialties in parenting and teaching. Through her website: Solutionary Insights.com, she offers blogs, seminars, speaking engagements and personal coaching sessions. These learning opportunities develop significant positive parenting and teaching skills by inviting inquiry-based, experiential learning.


Blake Brasch Headshot Blake Brasch, CT
Blake Brasch is cello teacher at the Music Institute of Chicago and admin. Director of the Chicago Suzuki Institute. He studied with Alan Harris at The Cleveland Institute of Music and Mark Schroeder at Ohio University. He did his pre-college studies with Carol Tarr and Gilda Barston. He teaches at workshops and institutes around the country throughout the year. His students have placed and/or received top prizes in regional competitions such as the Society of American competition, Walgreens Competition and the Depaul Concerto Competition. He is a certified Suzuki CelloTeacher Trainer from the Suzuki Association of Americas. He began his Suzuki training at the age of 6 and attended MANY Suzuki institutes with his family growing up and is very proud to now attend them as a parent.

Beth Cantrell Headshot Beth Cantrell, VA
Dr. Beth has taught children and adults at Suzuki Institutes and workshops throughout the United States for over 30 years. She currently serves on the SAA Board, is a member of the SAA Cello Committee, and aa Registered Teacher Trainer. She maintains a thriving private studio at Crozet Arts in Central Virginia. In addition to teaching, Dr. Cantrell has performed with the Richmond Symphony, Opera on the James, the Charlottesville Chamber Orchestra, the Waynesboro Symphony, Roanoke Symphony, and the Wintergreen Festival Orchestra. A founding member of the Charlottesville Cello Club, she serves on its steering committee.
      She was active in the Atlanta area for 18 years as a teacher, chamber and orchestral performer, adjudicator, and recording studio musician. Prior to moving to Virginia with her family in 2001, she served as principal cellist for the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, and was on the faculty of Kennesaw State University and the Georgia Academy of Music. While serving as the director of the community outreach program for the School of Music at Georgia State University, she was actively involved in reestablishing the Atlanta Suzuki Institute. She can be heard as cello soloist on the bestselling album “Orinoco Flow” by the Taliesin Orchestra.
      Dr. Beth earned degrees in cello performance and music history from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Florida State University, and the University of Georgia. She has two young adult children, and has been married to Paul Cantrell since 1986.

Heather Hadley Headshot Heather Hadley, CO
Heather Hadley maintains a thriving studio of young cellists of all levels and has been a member of the faculty of Boulder Suzuki Strings since 2003. As a SAA registered Teacher Trainer, she conducts the cello long-term training program at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music. She has contributed to the SAA’s Parents as Partners video series and the American Suzuki Journal, and has served on the board of the Suzuki Association of Colorado. Her degrees include a BM from Lawrence University in Performance, a MM from the University of Colorado in Performance and Pedagogy, and a Suzuki Certificate from the University of Denver.
      Heather is passionate about helping all students and families experience the full benefits of a Suzuki education. When not teaching or performing she enjoys spending time in the Colorado sunshine with her husband and two daughters.

Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE)

Danette Schuh Headshot Danette Schuh, TX
Danette Schuh is the Director of Dolce Music Studio, home of Dolce Strings and Dolce Babies, where she teaches violin, viola and Suzuki Early Childhood classes. She also co-directs the Dolce Strings Touring Ensemble. She is an SAA Registered SECE Teacher Trainer. As one of the teachers who taught SECE classes at the 16th World Convention in Japan, she also had the privilege of speaking and presenting the SECE curriculum in depth. A sought-after clinician at institutes, workshops, festivals and schools, she has been teaching for over 30 years, and has held positions such as President of the Houston Area Suzuki Strings Association (now Southeast Texas Suzuki Association), and state board member of Texas Music Teachers Association. She has received the Houston Music Teachers Association President’s “Bravo” award and was also awarded “Teacher of the Year”. She has been published in the American Suzuki Journal, contributed a video to Parents and Partners Online, and has presented at numerous SAA Conferences and Leadership Retreats. She is currently the SECE Coordinator for the 2018 SAA Conference. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree with honors from Indiana University, where she studied violin with Tadeusz Wronski and Josef Gingold. She has had the great privilege of studying SECE with the creators of the curriculum, Dorothy Jones and Sharon Jones. Mrs. Schuh also performs with the Möbius Chamber Ensemble and as a freelance violinist and violist in the greater Houston area. She and her husband, Todd, reside in Sugar Land, Texas.


André Mallinger Headshot African Singing, Dance and Rhythm - André Mallinger, CO
For over 25 years, André Mallinger has performed and taught traditional and contemporary music from southern Africa, playing marimba, hand drums, drum kit, mbira and percussion with Zimbabwean-style marimba ensembles throughout Colorado. André has taught music at Naropa University, community colleges, public and private schools, music institutes, and the US Zimbabwean Music Festival. André studied orchestral percussion and piano at Ithaca College and Radford University and received her M.A. in cultural anthropology, with a focus on ethnomusicology, at the University of Colorado. She currently has a private teaching studio of young aspiring pianists, directs the Afro-pop ensemble, Nokuthula, and sings with the Peak to Peak Chorale. André’s recordings include Tobatana Marimba’s Zin’anga (2007) and the Low Flying Knobs’ Sahwira: Friends Across the Water (2002), both of which she co-produced, as well as guest performances on Natural Fire: Humanspiration (2006); Tryptych: In the Cold Morning Mist (2002); and Marimba Ava Murewa: Mazuva Ano (1997). Since 2014, André has been guiding groups of musicians, visual artists and dancers to Cuba to study traditional Afro-Cuban performing and visual arts. Her latest endeavor is LightSpeed Mallets, a small enterprise dedicated to manufacturing high end, custom marimba mallets for African marimbas.

David Sullivan Headshot Art – David Sullivan, CO
Dave is an Artist and Cartoonist from Arvada, Colorado. He is currently teaching a variety of programs for the Science Discovery program at the University of Colorado, plus Technical Cartooning and Art programs for the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Dave also teaches workshops for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Zoo, as well as programs for many of the local Libraries. Besides working as a freelance graphic illustrator Dave enjoys spending time the rest of his time with his wife, two sons and daughter; though he often dreams of tricking fish with bits of string and feathers.

Dennon Headshot Fiddling – Dennon Jones, CO
Dennon Jones grew up playing the violin and fiddle in the small mountain town of Nederland, Colorado. Dennon has travelled in Scotland, Wales, England, and Ireland playing in pubs and learning local tunes and authentic traditions. In 2018 he attended a weeklong camp with Ian Fraser, and has taken workshops with Alisdair Fraser, Dave Curley, Joanna Hyde, Tom Callister, and more. He plays in several bands, primarily bluegrass and celtic, and tours with his band High Country Hustle throughout Colorado and neighboring states. Dennon studied Music Education at Fort Lewis College in Durango under Dr. Brent Williams and Dr. Nathan Lambert. He teaches Orchestra, Creative Strings, Guitar, and more at Escalante Middle School, as well as maintaining a private studio. Although he joined Orchestra at his first opportunity and has been classically trained, it was the folk styling of the fiddle and the desire to make an impact on people’s lives through education that has led him to pursue a career in music. Dennon is honored and excited to be teaching the Fiddle at Suzuki Peaks to Plains Institute!

Wendy Steinway Headshot African Marimba – Wendy Steinway, CO
Wendy Steinway has been a Suzuki Piano & Guitar teacher for over 30 years, an African Marimba player and teacher for over 20 years, and also spent over 25 years teaching classroom music in elementary schools. She holds a Master’s Degree in music education from Queens College, NYC, a Bachelor’s Degree in music education and piano pedagogy from Crane School of Music, Potsdam College, NY, and full certification in Orff Schulwerk.
      Upon first hearing Zimbabwean marimba music when she moved to Boulder in 1991, (as is so often said) she was “bitten by the bug” of this joyful, polyrhythmic music and just had to play it! The rest is history. Wendy is an active member of an all-women’s marimba band, The Low Flying Knobs, performing and teaching fun and upbeat music from Zimbabwe and other parts of southern Africa. She has recorded two CD’s with her band: Sawira: Friends Across the Waters (2002) and Vana Sisi: Sisters in Spirit (2013). A portion of all CD proceeds are donated to support girls’ education and women’s organizations in Zimbabwe.

Lance B Acker Headshot Taiko Drumming and Recorder – Lance B. Acker, CO
Lance received a Bachelors Degree in Music Education and Masters Degree in Clarinet Performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Post-graduate study included a year with the Denver University Lamont Jazz Ensemble. Currently, he enjoys leading the “Acker Jazztet”, as well as working with various local Denver jazz bands; and whenever the opportunity arises, being the reed man in the pit orchestra for Denver area theatres. He has maintained a private studio for over 30 years. Since 1995, he has been a member of “Taiko with Toni and Lance” playing all varieties of takebue and keeping a steady bass for Toni on the taiko. On one trip to Japan, Lance participated in a workshop taught by one of the top fue makers in Japan, Ranjo-san (who makes the fues for Kodo). Lance enjoys performing and teaching fue workshops throughout Colorado and the US (including three Taiko Conferences) and sharing with everyone in the taiko family.

Toni Yagami Headshot Taiko Drumming and Recorder – Toni Y. Yagami, CO
“Taiko Toni” has been performing and teaching taiko for over 30 years. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education, Toni has also taught western music in public schools and currently teaches private lessons on saxophone, clarinet, flute, and oboe. Toni joined “Denver Taiko” in 1978, then moved to San Jose, CA in 1988 to become part of “San Jose Taiko” (SJT) – a professional performing group. Performance tours with “SJT” took the group throughout the USA (including a late night talk show in Los Angeles and Carnegie Hall in New York). Returning to Denver in 1995 to marry Lance B. Acker (a professional jazz musician), and to start of their ensemble, “Taiko with Toni and Lance”. Toni and Lance perform and teach workshops throughout Colorado and the US. Toni has also been involved with four KasaMix trips, leading participants (from the US, Canada, Germany, Australia, England, Japan and Brazil) to workshops on Sado Island taught by Kodo performing members. She has served on the Taiko Community Alliance Board of Directors 2016-2019 (a North American organization) which included being chairperson for two North American Taiko Conferences. Sharing and working with everyone in the taiko community is such an amazing way to keep the taiko spirit alive!.

Gary Jugert Ukulele - Gary Jugert, CO
Gary started his musical career as a 5th grade trumpeter, and since then he’s dedicated his later years to making sense out of the guitar, piano, and of course, the ukulele for students. He founded and conducted the Rocky Mountain Ukulele Orchestra which is now the largest orchestra in the area. He also founded the Denver Guitar Orchestra this year. He is honored to offer ukulele as an enrichment course at the Peaks to Plains Suzuki Institute.



Martha Albrecht, CO - Martha Albrecht received a Bachelor degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from Utah State University, and later received a Master of Music degree and a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from the University of Colorado.  She has taught piano for twenty-eight years and currently has a private studio in Superior, Colorado.  In addition to her teaching, Martha is an active accompanist, playing for numerous auditions, competitions, and recitals, involving local organizations such as the Young Musician’s Foundation of Colorado, Boulder Suzuki Strings, and several Suzuki Workshops.



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