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Our Teachers

Lourdes de la Peña

Founder & Director, Cello Teacher

Lourdes has been blessed with amazing performance opportunities playing for celebrities, ambassadors, and on world-class stages. Most notably, last summer she was one of three cellists asked to play at the Kennedy Center for John Williams' 90th Birthday Party Dinner attended by Stephen Spielberg and David Rubenstein, Chairman of the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Board. In 2018, she played for the Aspen Institute's Project Play Summit's Private Dinner featuring Kobe Bryant. She has given concerts at the Embassies of Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil, played for private events for former Congresswoman Connie Morella, and at the US Senate to help promote the arts. 

Her more recent performances range from playing at Carnegie Hall to a Handel's Messiah Concert in Pennsylvania where she played alongside David Chan, the Concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera and Violin Professor at Juilliard. While a student at Oberlin Conservatory, Lourdes's quartet performed for Latin American ambassadors and high ranking government officials at the Inter-American Defense Board. They performed at Central Union Mission homeless shelter in DC and her quartet hosted a fundraiser concert for the Children's Inn of the National Institute of Health. 


In high school, Lourdes was an NSO Youth Fellow at the Kennedy Center where she performed several times in the NSO's Concert Hall and on the Millennium Stage. On behalf of the Kennedy Center's NSO in your Neighborhood Community Outreach Program, she brought music to DC schools. Among other opportunities, she played in a master class for world-famous Cello Soloist Alban Gerhardt. As part of The Capitol Symphonic Youth Orchestra, Lourdes performed in front of 17,00 people as the Principal Cellist at the Microsoft Inspire International Convention. 


Lourdes is now the Founder and Director of StringTime where she is fulfilling her dream of running a beginner strings camp that will inspire kids to learn to make beautiful music. She continues to teach privately both cello and piano while also studying cello with NSO Principal Cellist David Hardy and learning to play the Viola da Gamba with John Moran, the Historical Performance Chair at Peabody Conservatory.  

Emera Gurath

Assistant Director, Violin Teacher

     Emera has performed in renowned concert halls around the world including Carnegie Hall, David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, Severance Hall, and the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. She has served as the concertmaster for the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra and has won numerous solo and chamber competitions. 


     Last November, she appeared by invitation as a featured soloist with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, performing in Severance Hall to a sold-out audience. In the summer of 2015, Emera went on a multi-week tour to China and Hong Kong with the National Youth Orchestra of the USA. In 2021, the Cleveland Institute of Music sponsored her string quartet on a multi-state tour with Si-Yan Li and Phil Setzer.


     Emera holds a Bachelor’s and a Master's Degree in Violin Performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Stephen Rose, principal second violinist of the Cleveland Orchestra. This year, she was selected as a Substitute Violinist for the prestigious New World Symphony Orchestra. Emera is passionate about spreading her love for violin and especially chamber music. She has taught privately for years and has coached small ensemble masterclasses. 

Valeria Serrano

Viola Teacher

Valeria Serrano, violist, was born and raised in Anzoategui, Venezuela, where she began her music studies as part of “El Sistema” at 10 years old. In 2017, she immigrated with her mother to the United States. Continuing her musical path, Valeria joined various programs and institutions including D.C Youth Orchestra Program, American Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra Youth Fellowship Program. In 2021, she was accepted to Interlochen Arts Academy where she completed her high school diploma as well as a Post-Graduate diploma. Her former teachers include National Symphony Orchestra violist, Tsuna Sakamoto and Interlochen Arts Viola Professor, Renee Skerik. Valeria now pursues her Bachelor’s Degree in Viola Performance at the Colburn School, studying under Tatjana Masurenko. 


Valeria has won important awards including the From the Top Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, YoungArts Merit Award, Sphinx MPower Artist Grant, Interlochen Arts Young Artist Award. She has also been a semifinalist at the International Young Artist Concerto Competition, the Interlochen Arts Academy 2021-2022 Concerto Competition Runner-Up, and more recently, the National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Institute Concerto Competition Winner, where she did her solo debut at the John F. Kennedy Center performing the first movement of York Bowen’s Viola Concerto.

Sarah Senn

Cello Teacher

Sarah is a member of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. She received her Undergraduate and Master’s Performance degrees at Cleveland Institute of Music, as well as a minor in Suzuki Pedagogy and a Suzuki teaching certification. Sarah began studies at the age of four and was later trained in the Precollege division at the Manhattan School of Music. 

In 2019, she won the “Getting To Carnegie” competition, where she not only had the opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall, but also won a trip to the US Virgin Islands to give a concert tour. Sarah has also won prizes in the New York Music Competition, Tennessee Cello Workshop Competition, the Tuesday Musical Scholarship Competition, the Cleveland Cello Society Concerto Competition, and the Island Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Competition. Sarah performed as a soloist with the South Shore Symphony in New York.


In 2021, Sarah released her debut album called “Hymns of Grace," a project that she worked on with her friends during the pandemic lockdown. She maintains a private studio of her own where she brings together her Suzuki training and performance experience to train the next generation of young cellists. 

Caitlyn Dillard

Violin Teacher

Grace Collins

Violin Teacher

Grace is currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Violin Performance from Stony Brook University, where she studies with renowned professor Phil Setzer of the Emerson String Quartet. She completed her undergraduate studies at Oberlin Conservatory on the Dean’s Scholarship. where she studied with Sibbi Bernhardsson. She was finalist in the Oberlin Conservatory Senior Concerto Competition, the school's most prestigious competition. 


At eleven years old, Grace was accepted into the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a highly competitive high school conservatory, where she then studied until graduating high school. She won the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts Chamber Festival Competition. Grace has spent her summers studying at Boston University Tanglewood Institute, Madeline Island Chamber Music Festival, Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival, Interlochen Music Festival, Interharmony International Music Festival, and Philadelphia Music International Festival.


She has also performed in masterclasses for world-class violinists including Maurcio Fuks, Ronald Copes, and Rachel Barton Pine. She has studied viola with Kirsten Docter, former violist in the Cavani String Quartet. She has taught group class through the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra and privately to non-music majors at Oberlin College.

Caitlyn is on a full ride violin scholarship at Mercer University’s Robert McDuffie Center for Strings where she studies with David Kim (Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra), Robert McDuffie (Grammy-nominated violinist), and Amy Schwartz-Moretti (award-winning chamber musician). 


She has performed alongside The Piano Guys at the National Theater and with her string quartet at a private dinner for the Supreme Court Justices. She was a National Symphony Orchestra Youth Fellow where she performed multiple times on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. In 2019, She won the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestra Concerto Competition and performed as a soloist with the orchestra. 


​Her passion lies in providing young musicians with the tools necessary to express themselves. She has developed the elementary strings program at First Presbyterian Day school and has a vibrant private studio of her own. 

MaryGrace Bender-Waggoner

Cello Teacher

MaryGrace holds a Master of Music degree from The Cleveland Institute of Music in Cello Performance and Suzuki Pedagogy and a Bachelor of Music degree from The Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University. 


She founded the non-profit Nashville Chamber Music Society--a group of musicians dedicated to the performance and promotion of chamber music through excellent performances, music educational programs, and outreach initiatives. 


Recently she taught and performed at Lincoln Center’s Restart Stages series as a faculty member for BridgeMusik in NYC.  She recorded orchestrally under Philip Glass’s Orange Mountain Music label which The Wall Street Journal reviewed as, “impeccably polished.”  


She records with Nashville Music Scoring working on projects for Netflix, Sony, Bungee, Disney, and Hulu. 


She has spent summers at The National Repertory Orchestra, Meadowmount School of Music, The Rome Chamber Music Festival, Brevard Music Festival, Chautauqua Summer Institute, and the Aspen Music Festival and School as a New Horizon's fellow.  Past influential teachers include Dr. Melissa Kraut, Hans Jørgen Jensen, Julie Albers, and Dr. Felix Wang. 


Currently she is a Suzuki teacher on faculty at the Covenant Conservatory of Music, plays with the Huntsville Symphony, and maintains a private studio in Huntsville, AL. 

Evelyn Song

Violin Teacher

Described by The Baltimore Sun as “clearly gifted” and having “expressive talent,” violinist Evelyn Song is loved by audiences for her sincerity in music-making. She finds great joy in bringing the concert hall experience to diverse audiences, wherever they are. During her two years at the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC), she was twice awarded the Community Fellowship and the Musical Storytelling Fellowship of the school’s Community Performances and Partnerships Program, through which she received rigorous training in community engagement work. She has given numerous themed recitals with original storytelling at retirement homes and interwoven music with the reading of children’s books at schools. An enthusiastic teacher, she coached chamber ensembles for NEC’s Preparatory School and spent many summers working with young musicians in Maryland. She is also on the faculty for Summer String Week with Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras (MCYO).


Most recently, Evelyn was a featured artist in the 2022 BelCanto Ensemble concert in San Diego and was invited to perform again in September. As an MCYO alumna, in 2022 she performed as a soloist in MCYO’s 75th-anniversary celebration concert at the Music Center at Strathmore. After her well-received performances of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins with the Orchestra at Montgomery College, Music Director Pablo Saelzer invited Evelyn to serve as the artist-in-residence and concertmaster of the then newly-formed ensemble UNSTRUNG. There she was tasked with recruiting musicians, nurturing young players, and assisting with concert programming. She also had the honor of playing the Bruch Double Concerto for Violin and Viola with Jonathan Carney and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Marin Alsop. In addition, Evelyn has made solo appearances at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, the National Gallery of Art, and the Spanish Ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C.


Evelyn earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Ilya Kaler and Ivan Zenaty, and received a Graduate Diploma from the New England Conservatory of Music under the tutelage of Ayano Ninomiya.

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