Faculty Bios

Home   Home   About   Faculty   Faculty Bios

Hassan Al-Mufti

AlMuftiHassan Al-Mufti is an accomplished performer, teacher and composer who joined the CMS faculty in December 2001. He was named chairperson of the CMS Piano Department in 2012.

Hassan came to the United States as a refugee from Iraq in September 2001, finding a new beginning in Buffalo. Prior to leaving his native country, he studied piano at the Music and Ballet School of Baghdad under Igor Chernyavsky and Agnes Bashir, and earned a bachelor’s degree in music at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad. He returned to his alma mater to teach piano to junior-high and first-year university students. He later spent six years teaching and performing in Amman, Jordan, at the Jordan Music Center and New English School, respectively, before his arrival in Buffalo.

Hassan’s piano performances have taken him across the Middle East and United States, including performances for Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan and the Royal Family, the Jordanian Diplomatic Corps and the American Ambassador to Jordan. In the United States, he has performed in such cities as Buffalo, San Francisco, Chicago, Albany, NY, and Enfield, CT. In September 2004, Hassan was invited to play a benefit concert in New York City with Musicians for Harmony, an organization established post-September 11 to advocate peace through music. For the concert, he performed two original works – entitled “Unfair” and “Jubilee” – that fused the music from traditional Iraqi melodies with American jazz style. In 2009, he took part in a performance in Los Angeles for No More Victims, a non-profit organization that advocates peace and assists victims of war.

Hassan serves as music director of the Epiphany United Church of Christ in Clarence Center, NY. He resides in Buffalo with his wife, Jennifer. He teaches at the CMS Elmwood location.


Kenneth Atkinson

Kenneth Atkinson joined the CMS piano faculty in 1968 and served for 32 years as chair of the Piano Department. Although he stepped down as department chair in 2010, he continues to teach at CMS as a member of the piano faculty.

Born in New York City, Ken earned a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, and a Master’s Degree from DePaul University in Chicago. His teachers all trace their musical study directly to Beethoven, Chopin or both. These esteemed teachers included Alexander Tcherepinn, Arnold Schultz, John Elvin and Madame Cecile de Horvath. Ken’s principal teacher was Harold Bradley, pupil and assistant of Isidor Philipp.

Before joining CMS, Ken taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Suter Academy of Fine Arts in Deerfield, Illinois, and the Bradley Organization of Niagara Falls, Canada. Many of his students have become professional musicians and teachers, including one who won the Mexican National Piano Competition, and Krista Seddon, who is well-known to Western New York audiences.

Ken’s performing experience is varied. At age 16, he played the opening of a classical music radio station in Toledo, Ohio. He performed widely in the Oberlin and Chicago area before coming to Buffalo. He played the Schumann Piano Concerto with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Saint-Saens’ Fourth Concerto with the Niagara Falls Philharmonic Orchestra, and Beethoven’s Fourth and the Mozart Two-Piano Concert with Elizabeth Fetto and the Cheektowaga Community Symphony Orchestra. In addition, Ken appeared as soloist and accompanist on numerous WBFO radio recitals, partnered with several Westwood Affiliate Artists and collaborated on many other ensemble concerts. Ken also served as an organist and choir director for 25 years, studied voice at Oberlin and received rave reviews for his role as the Witch in a regional production of “Hansel and Gretel.”

A little-known but interesting fact is that for seven years, Ken was a puppeteer in the prestigious Kungsholm Puppet Theatre in Chicago.

Ken teaches piano at the CMS Elmwood location.


Leslie Bahler

Leslie J. Bahler joined the CMS string faculty in 2008. Previously, she was a CMS voice student under the late Joanne Goldman. She has also studied with Cheryl Hudson King and Maria Lindsey. Leslie currently studies voice with Elizabeth Wojtowicz.

From Fall 2010-2014, she and former CMS string teacher Rebecca Torres formed the CMS Side-by-Side String Orchestra, adding to the school’s growing repertoire of musical offerings.

Prior to joining CMS, Leslie taught at Buffalo Suzuki Strings for two years. She has maintained a private studio for ten years; was director of the Florida Music Festival, a two-week summer music camp, for seven years; and was co-director of Vivace String Camp for six years. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in music education from Temple University in Philadelphia and her Master’s in viola performance from West Virginia University.

Leslie has performed professionally in orchestras along the East Coast, including the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, Palm Beach Symphony, Treasure Coast Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Richmond (Virginia) Symphony, Wheeling (West Virginia) Symphony, West Virginia Symphonette, Erie (Pennsylvania) Philharmonic, Western New York Chamber Orchestra, Cammerata de Sant’Antonio, and Ars Nova Musicians Chamber Orchestra. Leslie has been a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, and has worked as a substitute violist for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. She sings soprano with Freudig Singers, plays principal second violin with the Cheektowaga Community Orchestra and Amherst Chamber Ensembles, and is a member of Wednesday Morning Musicale, the Buffalo-based women’s chamber music society, performing as a violist, violinist and soprano. Mrs. Bahler is also a charter member of the Musical Delights Piano Quartet, an all female ensemble that specializes in discovering and performing great works by women composers.

Leslie teaches at the CMS Elmwood, Snyder and Clarence Center locations.


Phil Banaszak

Phil Banaszak joined the CMS faculty in 1993, teaching fiddle, violin and mandolin. He was appointed chairperson of the CMS Instrumental Department in 2012.

Phil is a 2005 inductee of the North American Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame, a former New York State Fiddling Champion, and a three-time Erie County Fiddle Champ. He has been performing and teaching in Western New York for more than 20 years. Phil and his wife, Gretchen, currently make up the City Fiddle Band, mixing bluegrass, Celtic and original music. He is a charter member of the Canal Street String Band, blending fiddle tunes, sea shanties, western swing, and other eclectic styles and harmonies. The group entertains around upstate New York and Pennsylvania. Phil is also a member of Creek Bend Bluegrass Band, performs with Kathy Moriarty and the Fieldhands, and Mountain Run.

Phil holds an Associate’s Degree from Erie Community College and is an accredited alcohol and substance abuse counselor in New York. While he taught himself mandolin, his musical credentials include study with George Kedzierzawski, Matthew Tworek and Frank Riley of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2002, Phil released his book and CD of original neo-traditional fiddle music, and more recently, the debut album of the Canal Street String Band.

Phil teaches the Fiddle ‘n Folk ensemble, as well as strings at the CMS Elmwood location.


Christina Brown

Christina Brown has been part of the CMS faculty since 1998. At CMS, Christina teaches Piano Exploration classes for young children.

Christina also acts as a music teacher in various other schools and organizations throughout the community. In the past, she has served as concert coordinator for the CMS neighborhood concerts and also worked as Music Zone instructor at School #77. In addition to her work at CMS, Ms. Brown volunteers for the SPCA and provides foster care for dogs and puppies in need.

Christina received her music degree from Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She offers Piano Exploration classes at the CMS Elmwood location.




Jill Raisen Buerk
Buerk headshot3Soprano Jill Raisen Buerk joined the CMS voice faculty in 2014, but she has 40 years of private teaching experience to her credit. She has offered private instruction in piano and voice since 1971.

Jill is an accomplished and respected performer, whose credits include performances with the Ars Nova Musicians Chamber Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Buffalo Opera Unlimited, Opera Buffs, WBFO-FM Radio, WNED-TV, Parkside Camerata, and the Lancaster Opera House. She is a founding member and soprano soloist of Vergine Bella, an ensemble for the performance of medieval music. Jill has created various programs for Young Audiences of Western New York, including programs on the indigenous music of New York State, medieval music and images of women in traditional music. She has also taught and performed at Chautauqua Institution.

She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in elementary education from SUNY Buffalo State and studied voice and opera at the Manhattan School of Music. She lives in Buffalo with her husband, the Rev. John A. Buerk, who is a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of CMS. Jill is available for voice lessons at the CMS Elmwood location.


Brian C-DeJesus

DeJesusBrian C-DeJesus joined the CMS faculty in 2014.

Brian earned a Bachelor’s Degree in music performance with a concentration in jazz from Villa Maria College, where he also earned in Associate’s Degree in jazz performance. He has worked as a music tutor at Villa Maria’s Academic Success Center, and previously participated in Music Is Art’s Art Awareness Program in area high schools.

Brian is a member of the Amherst Symphony Orchestra and has performed with numerous local jazz groups. He is available for bass lessons at the CMS Elmwood location.




Shirley Chan

Pianist Shirley Chan has been a member of the CMS Piano Department since 1984.

Shirley earned a Bachelor’s Degree in music, graduating summa cum laude from Buffalo State College under the study of Dr. Kenwyn Boldt. Shirley also received the BSC Presidential Metal for Academic Excellence. Upon graduation, she studied piano literature for another 11 years with Dr. Boldt at Buffalo State and with Frina Arschaanska at the University at Buffalo. For two years, she studied under David Andrews at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, now known as the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She also received her diploma in Piano from the Associated Board of Music in England.

In addition to her work at CMS, Shirley has taught privately for over 25 years. In 1972, she taught music for two years at the St. Louis Head Start Program and grade 1. In 1982, she completed her student teacher training at Buffalo Public School #64 and Elmwood Franklin School as part of the music education requirement. She served as vice president of the Buffalo Chapter of the Federation of Music Club, and was also the Honors Recital Chairman of the Music Forum for Piano Teachers of Western New York. Her students have participated and won in Junior Festivals and CMS Marcy Scholarship Competitions.

In 2011, Shirley participated in a home study course and attended a workshop conducted by in Fred Karpoff, in Syracuse, NY, to study the Three-Dimensional Playing Technique. She also attended a workshop in Rochester, NY, under Scott McBride Smith of the Clavier Companion to study effective memorization and motivation techniques. She has also attended workshops presented by such composers as Martha Mier, Catherine Rollins, Robert Vandall and David Karp. Shirley has since applied the knowledge from these seminars in her teaching.

Since 2004, Shirley students have played twice a year in master classes for Sean Duggan, chairman of the Music Department in Fredonia, NY.  In 2008, she judged in the All Star Piano Competition in all Divisions of the Music Teachers National Association. In 2013, one of Shirley’s students won first prize to play as a piano soloist in the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra and was also chosen to play on the WNED radio program.

This past July, Shirley participated in the Pedagogy workshop with Marvin Blanchart at Nazareth College. Shirley teaches at the CMS Snyder and Clarence Center locations.


Suzanne Chapin

Suzanne Chapin joined the CMS faculty in 1983. She studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada, and graduated with a licentiate in piano performance from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

After teaching piano at the University of Ottawa and giving piano recitals throughout Canada – often performing the music of Canadian women composers – Suzanne returned to the United States and taught at Daemen College in the Suzuki Piano Program. She has also taught privately in Ottawa and Ontario, Canada, and around Western New York.

Many of Suzanne’s students have won scholarships from the Western Conservatory in London, Ontario, the Kiwanis Music Festivals of Niagara Falls and Stamford, Ontario, the Piano Teachers Forum of Western New York, CMS, and the State University of New York College of Fredonia. Her students have also gone on to perform as soloists with area orchestras, including the Buffalo Youth Orchestra.

In February 2016, one of her students, Michelle Zhang, performed in Carnegie Hall for the Royal Conservatory of Music Development program, which is held in the tri-state area of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. All of the performers received a Certificate of Excellence, having received the highest marks for their Toronto Conservatory examinations. Michelle took the grade seven piano exam and the grade one theory exam.

Suzanne offers piano lessons at the CMS Snyder location.


Sean Crawford
crawfordChair of Childhood Department, Sean Crawford joined CMS in Spring of 2015. A clarinetist and native of Buffalo, he returned to the city in 2013, after receiving Bachelor degrees in instrumental performance and music education at Louisiana State University.

An active chamber and orchestral musician, Sean has performed with locally noted groups the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Buffalo Chamber Players, , Buffalo Opera Unlimited, Ars Nova Musicians, Buffalo Opera-Lytes, and Lancaster Opera House. He has also performed with various orchestras and ensembles in New Hampshire, Ohio, and Louisiana, including the 2012 Louisiana State University Orchestra’s Dallas tour. As a soloist, Sean received First Prize in the 2011-2012 MTNA Young Artist Competition (state level – Louisiana) and Second Prize/Alternate (division level – South Central).

Sean teaches Music, My Grown Up & Me, Instrument Exploration-Beginner Strings & Percussion, Instrument Exploration-Winds & Strings, CMS Chamber Ensemble, as well as woodwinds at CMS Elmwood and several satellite locations.



Evan Courtin
Courtin Bio picRecently earning his B.A. in Music from Buffalo State College, violinist Evan Courtin has been playing on the Buffalo music scene for the past 10 years. During his time at school he served as concertmaster of the BSC Philharmonia. From 2007 to 2013, he was a member of local prog group Peanut Brittle Satellite, which received a Buffalo Music Award in 2008 for Best New Original Music. In 2013 he received an All WNY Music Award as an instrumentalist not traditionally found in a rock band.

He is currently working with Wooden Cities, a new music chamber ensemble which seeks to bring awareness to contemporary music through unique, educational programs. Additionally, he plays in Shubbaluliumaand Little Cake Band.

He has been involved in many different aspects of theatrical violin performance as well, including productions at Lancaster Opera House and Theater of Youth, and with Zodiaque Dance Company.



Eric Delagrange

Bass-Baritone Eric Delagrange is thrilled to be joining the voice faculty at CMS his year. A native from East Amherst, he has been instructing group, and individual lessons for the past 8 years. His performance credits include Opera in the Heights, Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco, Russian Opera Workshop held at the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts, and Martina Arroyo’s Prelude to Performance. Eric was finalist at Shreveport Opera’s Mary Jacobs Smith Competition, where he received the Dr. & Mrs. Bob Robinson Award, as well as a recipient of the American Opera Society of Chicago Award. He has performed roles in Le nozze di Figaro, Falstaff, Mazzepa, La bohème, Die Zauberflöte, Gianni Schicchi, Little Women, La Traviata, and il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Eric received a Master’s degree in Voice Performance at DePaul University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Mercyhurst University. He can’t wait to work with all of you throughout the year!

Eric will be available in the Elmwood, Clarence, Lockport, and Synder locations




Maria Goodrich
goodrich2Maria Goodrich has a varied musical background, with performances in rock to opera and everything in between, and has performed in a variety of venues. She joined the CMS faculty in 1995 and currently serves as chair of the CMS Voice Department, a position she has held since 2009. At CMS, Maria teaches private voice lessons and a variety of classes for children, teens and adults.

A native of Buffalo, Maria received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in vocal performance with a concentration in vocal pedagogy from the State University of New York at Buffalo, studying under Muriel Wolf. After graduation, she studied voice with Genia Las, former chair of the CMS Voice Department.

While living in Michigan, Maria was a faculty member at Mid-Michigan Community College and Central Michigan University, where she taught private voice as well as other related subjects. She also studied conducting while in Michigan.

Maria is a member of the First Presbyterian Church choir in Lockport as well as Wednesday Morning Musicale and a former performer with Opera Sacra of Buffalo. A member of the Chromatic Club of Buffalo, she serves as reception chair/second vice-president for that group. She was a member of the Mid-Michigan Opera Company as well as the Greater Buffalo Opera Company, and has sung for the Buffalo Sabres.

Maria resides in Lockport with her husband, David. They have a son, Matt, and assorted pets.
Maria teaches Music, My Grown-Up & Me, Music & Me: On My Own, Joy of Singing Together, Totally Tween, and Glee Club, as well as individual vocal lessons at CMS’s Elmwood, Snyder, Lockport and Clarence Center locations.



Kevin Helfrich

Kevin Helfrich teaches guitar and electric bass at CMS. He joined the CMS faculty in 1987, having previously given private guitar and theory lessons since 1977. He is accomplished in blues, rock, folk, country and jazz guitar.

Kevin has been a professional musician since the early 1970s and studied harmony and theory. He performs with a jazz quartet and an acoustic trio.

Kevin teaches banjo, guitar and electric bass at the CMS Elmwood location.





Joseph Isom

isomA native of Buffalo, NY, Joe recently obtained his Master of Music Degreeat Peabody Conservatory, under the tutelage of Alan Stepansky. He also received his undergraduate degree under Stepansky at the Manhattan School of Music. He was a winner of the Silverman String Scholarship, which included the honor of performing as a soloist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Joe has attended the Eastern Music Festival at Guilford College, and the New York State Summer School of the Arts, School of Orchestral Studies at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. He has served as principal cellist for the MSM Symphony, the Texas Music Festival and the National Orchestral Institute. He was most recently a member of the Maryland Symphony cello section, and continues to serve as Principal Cellist for Symphony No. 1, a Baltimore-based chamber orchestra dedicated to performing and promoting substantial works by emerging composers.

Joe teaches at cello at the Elmwood, Larkin and Synder locations.

Jacob Jay

A native of Buffalo, NY,  Jacob Jay graduated from SUNY Buffalo State with a degree in Music Education and a minor in Digital Music Production. While at Buffalo State he studied trumpet with John Maguda, Kyle Resnick and Dr. Mark Filsinger.

At Buffalo State, Jacob was student coordinator of the Buffalo Urban Music Project, and assistant director of the Buffalo Jazz Workshop. He is currently the assistant director of the All City Jazz Ensemble and music director at Temple Beth Zion.

Jacob regularly performs in various groups throughout WNY including the Jacob Jay Quintet, Buffalo Jazz Collective Repertory Ensemble, the Erie County Wind Ensemble, and Tiger Chung Lee, to name a few. In 2017 Jacob founded The Buffalo Jazz Collective Repertory Orchestra, an 18-piece big band comprised of the top young professional musicians in the Western New York area with the goal of preserving, honoring and promoting the great tradition of American large ensemble jazz through live jazz performances.



Edward Kramer

Ed Kramer has been a member of the piano faculty at CMS since 1972. In addition to teaching at CMS, he is organist and choir director for Grace Lutheran Church in North Tonawanda. He previously served the same role at Gethsemane Lutheran Church of Buffalo.

Ed received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in piano with a minor in organ and voice at the State University of New York at Buffalo. During this time, he studied piano with August Martin and organ with Squire Haskin.

Ed teaches at the CMS Elmwood and East Aurora locations.






Daniel Lamancuso
lamancusoDan Lamancuso joined the CMS faculty in 2016. He studied tuba at the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam where he graduated with a Bachelors degree in performance and a minor in music business. Dan went on to study tuba as a graduate at Michigan State University in 2013.

Dan has played in a multitude of chamber groups and large ensembles. In Potsdam, he was part of the competition winning Frackenpohl Honers Brass Quintet and Crane Tuba/Euphonium Quartet. He has performed in wind bands and symphony orchestras in Potsdam and Michigan, and currently performs in the American Legion Band Post 264 and the Erie County Wind Ensemble.

Dan has worked as an instrument repair technician for the past three years and is currently an employee at Alder Creek Music. He is available for tuba, euphonium, and trombone lessons at the CMS Snyder, Clarence, Amherst, and Elmwood locations.




Fran Landis

Fran Landis joined the CMS piano faculty in 2007. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in music and her Master’s degree in music education from the State University of New York at Buffalo, graduating summa cum laude.

Fran spent 10 years playing regularly as an extra percussionist and pianist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. She then moved to New Mexico, where she played with the Sante Fe and New Mexico Symphony Orchestras, and served as resident music director of the Albuquerque Civic Light Opera Association. During her career, she has taught music at Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, Medaille College and Erie Community College. She has also provided musical direction for numerous educational, community and professional theatre companies.

An athlete in her youth, Fran is still a lover of all sports. She has also worked as a music librarian, proofreader, transcriptionist, and song parodist.  Her experience as a librarian led her to donate countless hours toward the organization and cataloging of the CMS music library.

Fran is currently the first Sunday pianist of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Williamsville, NY. She spends her spare time playing games and solving puzzles.

Fran teaches at the CMS Elmwood location.


Maria Lindsey

Maria Lindsey soprano voice opera teacher lessons singing Community Music School BuffaloSoprano Maria Lindsey joined the CMS Voice Department in 2014.

Maria is an accomplished teacher and performer. A native of Colorado, she has provided individual and group instruction since 2007. Her performance credits include Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, the Cantabile choral ensemble in Boulder, Opera Memphis, Opera Omaha, Opera Colorado, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Singers. Maria was 2nd place winner in the Rocky Mountain Region Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2012. She has performed roles in Carmen, Don Giovanni, Alice in Wonderland, Hansel and Gretel, Le nozze di Figaro, Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s C Minor Mass, Carousel and other great works.

Maria earned a Bachelor’s degree in vocal performance and pedagogy from Brigham Young University in Idaho, and a Master’s in voice performance from the University of Colorado – Boulder. She is available for voice lessons at the CMSElmwood and East Aurora locations.


Carol McLaughlin

One of the Buffalo area’s most-recognized jazz musicians, Carol McLaughlin has been a woodwinds and brass teacher at CMS since 1981. He offers individual lessons in flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, horn and recorder.

Carol earned his Associate’s degree in science at Erie Community College and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He also studied jazz composition at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Aside from CMS, he has taught part-time in the Buffalo Public School System.

Prior to teaching, Carol was the bandleader for the Eastern Steam Ship Line and Carnival Cruise Lines. He has performed alongside such luminaries as Ruth Brown, Brook Benton, Johnny Mathis and Sammy Davis, Jr. He founded the Carol McLaughlin Quartet and the Carol McLaughlin Big Band, a 17-piece jazz band, which performs for area events and corporate functions. His quartet and big band have played in such venues as the Colored Musicians Club, the Seneca Niagara Casino and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. He also performs with Joe Baudo’s Big Band.  Mr. McLaughlin has released recordings with Sam Falzone and the Buffalo Jazz Workshop. His big band released a CD entitled “Two Hearts & A Diamond” in 2000.

Carol teaches at the CMS Elmwood and Snyder locations.



Jill Neuhaus

neuhausA Grand Island Native, Jill Neuhaus attended Duquesne University as a Voice Performance major where she sang with the esteemed Duquesne University Chamber Singers under the direction of Dr. Brady Allred. Mrs. Neuhaus received her Master’s Degree in Music Education from The University at Buffalo and is currently the Choral Director at Kenmore East HS in Tonawanda where she has been teaching for 12 years.

Mrs. Neuhaus was awarded Buffalo State’s Music Educator of the Year in 2016 and was the guest conductor for the Niagara County Senior High Chorus in 2014. She also enjoys adjudicating at various music festivals in the WNY Area but is best known locally as a Soprano soloist. She has performed with such groups as The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, Buffalo Choral Arts Society, Ars Nova and Buffalo Chamber Players, to name a few. Mrs. Neuhaus has three beautiful and talented children: Claire, 8, and 4 year old twins Luke and Lily.




Brianna Nilsen, MT-BC

NilsenBrianna Nilsen joined the CMS faculty as a music therapist in 2015.

Brianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Nazareth College, with a dual degree in Music Therapy and Music Education and a minor in psychology. She sang in the prestigious Chamber Singers ensemble at Nazareth College. She has also been involved with the Broome Tioga BOCES in Binghamton NY, where she worked with children, teenagers and young adults with developmental disabilities.

Brianna’s primary instrument is voice but, she is also plays woodwinds, piano, guitar, and ukulele. She offers individual Music Therapy sessions at the Elmwood location. She is involved with Community Music School’s MusiConnect & Venture Forthe Music Therapy programs, as well as the Joyful Noise after school program.





Sarah Oguich, MT-BC

Sarah Oguich joined the CMS faculty as a Music Therapist in 2017.

Sarah received her Bachelor of Arts from SUNY Buffalo State in 2014.  During her time there, she gave two voice recitals, sang in the Chamber Choir, and participated in the African Drumming Ensemble. She then went on to acquire her Music Therapy Equivalency Certificate from Saint Mary of the Woods College in 2017.

She completed her internship in the Buffalo, NY area, where she worked with students ages 5-21 with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, as well as other intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities. In addition, Sarah also has experience working with individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Sarah is classically trained in voice, but also plays guitar and piano. Sarah offers group and individual music therapy sessions offsite.




Sara Rogers, MT-BC
Rogers SaraSara Rogers joined the CMS faculty in 2016 as a Music Therapist and a brass, guitar, and ukulele instructor. She received her Bachelor of Music degree in 2015 from Nazareth College of Rochester, where she studied Music Therapy, Psychology, and Jazz Studies. While at Nazareth, she received the 2015 Music Therapy Award as well as the Raymond Shiner Jazz Award.

She completed her internship in Rochester, NY at Mary Cariola Children’s Center, where she worked with students ages 3-21 with Autism Spectrum Disorders as well as multiple to complex disabilities. Additionally, she has experience working with individuals diagnosed with aphasia, dementia/Alzheimer’s disease, and TBI/AnBI.

Sara is an active performer, having been a member of Nazareth’s Wind Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble, and Jazz Combo. Currently, she performs with various jazz, classical, soul, funk, and pop groups throughout the greater Rochester and Buffalo areas as a trumpet-player, vocalist, and guitarist.
Gary Rutkowski

Gary Rutkowski has been a CMS faculty member since 1983, offering individual drum and percussion lessons to students.

After receiving his Associate of Arts degree at Villa Maria College under John Rowland, he completed his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he studied under Jan Williams and Lynn Harbold. Gary previously taught at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and Buffalo State College. He is currently adjunct professor of percussion at Villa Maria College.

Aside from teaching, Gary has performed extensively around the United States and Canada. He joined the Maelstrom Percussion Ensemble in 1984 and currently performs with the Clarence Summer Orchestra, the Rutkowski/Van Dyke Duo of marimba and guitar, the Scott Helfrich Trio, and Ghetto Gitano-a Latin and World Music Ensemble. He has also performed for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra as a substitute percussionist, the S.E.M. Ensemble and WBFO Radio, in addition to solo performances.

Gary has made numerous solo and group recordings, including an original recording entitled “The History of the Future,” completed in 1996. Other recordings include works with the Maelstrom Percussion Ensemble, two Patrick Bernhardt works entitled “Manuscrits du Silence” and “Mantra Mandala,” and his most recent, a recording of music for drums and bass guitar with bassist Jim Kurzdorfer.

Gary teaches drum lessons at the CMS Elmwood location.


Audrey Shafer
shaferAudrey Shafer has taught at CMS for more than 10 years during two different tenures. Audrey is an accomplished soprano, having performed solo works and operas nationally and internationally. She has performed in Carnegie Hall multiple times over a 15-year span between 1981 and 1996, and across the greater Tri-State area. She also performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, in 1983. She was a featured soloist in “Opus Classics Live” on WBFO Radio and performed with the Greater Buffalo Opera Company and Buffalo Opera Unlimited.

Audrey received her Bachelor’s degree in music at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, where she studied voice under Judith Nicosia-Civitano. She earned her Master’s in music and opera at the State University of New York at Buffalo under Muriel Wolf.  While at SUNY at Buffalo, she was a three-time winner of the Cameron Baird Concerto Competition. In 1995, she was the recital winner of the Richard Tauber Vocal Competition, and was a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera and New Jersey Opera auditions, as well as the New York Oratorio Competition.

She is also on the faculty of the Gow School in South Wales and the music director of the Kalina Singing Society, a Polish-American women’s choir in Cheektowaga. She serves as chair of vocal auditions for the Chromatic Club of Buffalo.

Audrey teaches at the CMS Elmwood and Clarence Center locations.



Moshe Shulman

shulmanRussian-born Israeli composer, violinist, and accordionist Moshe Shulman (1978) has written a large number of pieces for various groups and combinations of instruments. His music was performed in Israel, Canada, United States, Russia and Europe with various ensembles such as Norrbotten NEO and Juventas New Music Ensemble. In February 2009 the Arditti Quartet performed his string quartet no.1 at the University at Buffalo. In summer 2010 Canadian Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne performed his woodwind quartet in the La Domaine Forget. In summer 2009, Moshe won 3rd prize for “Construction 3” at the Jurgenson contemporary music international competition in Moscow.

During his 5 years of studies of composition in the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Israel with prof. Mark Kopytman, Moshe won the Dean’s Scholarship for excellence in composition (2004), the “Acum” Scholarship for excellence in composition (2003), the Keren Sharet, America-Israel – Scholarship (2002), and the honor of performing his Opera in One Act “Desire to Sleep”.

In 2002, while still studying for the Bachelor of Music, the Israeli Sinfonietta of Beer-Sheva performed his symphonic piece, “Characters” in their opening program of the season conducted by Yaron Traub. In summer 2005 Moshe was accepted to EAMA where he studied with Dr. Philipp Lasser, and Prof. Narcis Bonet. In summers 2006 and 2007 Moshe participated in the Bartok Festival in Szombathely, Hungary studying with Peter Eotvos and Johannes Schollhorn. Recently, Moshe participated in La Domaine Forget studying with Philip Leroux.

Moshe holds a Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and the PhD with distinction in Music Composition from the NY State University at Buffalo. Among his primary teachers are Mark Kopytman (Israel) and David Felder (USA)



Peter VanDyke

A native of Western New York, Peter joined the CMS faculty as a guitar teacher in 2013. He has performed solo and in ensembles as a Blues, Gospel, and Classical guitar stylist in the US, Canada, and Ireland. His greatest joy is in exploring the many and varied sonorities available to the guitar through tunings and acoustic, electro-acoustic, and electronic voicings.

Studying with Jeremy Sparks, Peter earned an Associate degree in Classical Guitar performance from Villa Maria College, then completed a Master of Arts degree in Music Theory at the University at Buffalo. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from D’Youville College.

Career highlights include performances with composer and jazz bassist James Kurzdorfer, Hammond keyboardist Joe “Groove” Madison, folk guitarist Richie Havens, and providing guitar and backing vocal tracks to the Dan Harper Band’s EP “Charlene” in the BCMK studio of Tom Calandra. Collaborations with percussionist Gary Rutkowski has led to recordings of Andrew Michlinski’s “The K-T Boundary” as well as Rutkowski’s own compositions “Gong Rhythms” and “World without End.” In addition, Peter is a founding member of the Buffalo Guitar Ensemble and is the guitar in the Rutkowski/Van Dyke Duo (marimba and guitar).

Peter is available for individual guitar lessons at the CMS Elmwood location and East Aurora satellite location.


Paul Waara

Paul Waara earned his Bachelor’s degree in music educaton from SUNY Fredonia, with a voice/choral music concentration. He has performed on stage and as a tenor soloist with the Buffalo Choral Arts Society, Off-Monroe Players (Rochester), Amherst Chamber Ensembles, the Niagara Lutheran Chorale, Arts in Education Institute of Western New York, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Fredonia Chamber Singers. Paul has performed leading roles in 8 of the 13 famed “Savoy Operas” by Gilbert and Sullivan, including HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado. Other favorite stage credits include leading roles in The Student Prince and Hello, Dolly!

From 2010-2015, Paul served as the music director for Opera-Lytes, where he music directed all stage productions and choral concerts. He played an integral role in collaborating and developing “An Evening of Gilbert and Sullivan” and “Opera on Broadway,” two theme-centered concerts that were highly successful for the group. He also music directed the group’s first CD recording, “A Celebration of Gilbert and Sullivan.” Paul continues to work with members of the Opera-Lytes Education Committee to further develop the group’s education program which brings opera and theatre to students in the classroom.

Paul has sung as a cantor at St. John Vianney Church in Orchard Park 16 years, where he also serves as co-director of the Adult Choir. He maintains active membership in the Chromatic Club of Buffalo. Primary voice teachers have included Gary Seydell and Dr. Margaret Kuhl.
Paul returned to CMS in 2014, having previously taught the former CMS Music in Action class in the Lackawanna City School District. He teaches individual voice lessons at the CMS Elmwood location and an exciting new class, Vocal Jazz Ensemble.


Anna Whistler
whistler2017A native of Buffalo, NY, Anna Whistler has engaged in musical collaborations at the Eastman School of Music, the Interlochen Center for the Arts, l’École Normale de Musique de Paris, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the University of Buffalo, and Smith College. She has performed in master classes for such musicians as Richard Goode, Philippe Entremont, and Eric Huebner, pianists; Joshua Greene, Assistant Conductor at the Met Opera; Augusta Read Thomas, composer; and Vladimir Tropp, chair of the piano department of the Gnessin Russian Academy of Music and professor at the Moscow Conservatory. Ms. Whistler holds a B.A. in music with a minor in exercise and sports studies from Smith College, where she studied with Judith Gordon. As a student she won the college’s concerto competition and made several appearances as soloist with the Smith College Orchestra. She received a Susan Rose Internship for Music; the Ida Deck Haigh Memorial Prize for distinguished achievement in piano; the Ernst Wallfisch Prize, given to a student of music for outstanding talent, commitment, and diligence; and the Harriet Dey Barnum Prize for outstanding academic and artistic work in music. Upon graduation, she was awarded a prestigious Alumnae Scholarship to support her graduate studies.

Ms. Whistler holds an M.M. in Piano Performance from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she studied with Gilles Vonsattel. She received the Eugenie May Award, for a student who possesses extraordinary musical talent in the area of piano performance and who makes exceptional contributions to the musical life of the Department of Music at UMass. Since receiving her graduate degree, she has given master classes in Los Angeles and has worked for the preeminent piano manufacturing company Steinway & Sons. In her spare time, Ms. Whistler is an avid ice hockey player, having won a gold medal in the NY-State Championship and a bronze in the National Championship. She is a two-time recipient of the All-Western NY Scholar Athlete Award, and in 2007 was named an Academic All-American in lacrosse.



Michael Zak, PhD

Mike has been a member of the CMS faculty since 1986, offering instruction in guitar, music theory and composition.

Mike earned a Bachelor’s degree in music composition and theory from Rosary Hill College, studying under Soterios Vlahoupoulos and graduating magna cum laude. He earned a Master’s degree in music composition at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he went on to earn his PhD with distinction in music composition under the guidance of Morton Feldman, Lejaren Hiller, Leo Smit and Wlodziemiercz Kotonski. Later, Mike received a Master of Library Science degree in music librarianship from the University at Buffalo.

Mike began his teaching career at the Park School of Buffalo, offering general music and band classes. Subsequently, he taught synthesizer music at the University at Buffalo.

In addition to teaching, Mike has published a theoretical treatise, including articles for 20th Century Music: “The Monotonal Relationship Between the Augmented and Diminished Polytonal Pitch Sets,” “Progression of Polytonal Pitch Sets,” and “Symmetrical Polytonality.”  He also composed and published “Starburst,” a piece for three vibraphones and marimba, which placed in the Percussive Arts Society Competition Contest. Mike has had works recorded on the Contemporary Record Society (CRS), including “Starburst,” “Trio” for violin, cello and piano, “Io” for flute, clarinet and piano, and “Jonathan Edwards” for organ, with Marie Zak on Organ. He is an honorary member of CRS and has written reviews of music scores and recordings.

Mike also performs as a bass-baritone for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst and the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of Buffalo, and plays guitar in the jazz duo The Torpedos.

Mike teaches at the CMS Elmwood and Larkin locations.