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Staff

UpBeat NYC is fueled by a dedicated and talented team of staff and volunteers. We are inspired by the spirit and hard work of our kids and strive to open their hearts and minds through the power of music.

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Liza Austria

Liza Austria is a modern dancer and jazz/Brazilian vocalist performing regularly in New York City. As a child she studied piano and sang in the professional children’s choir at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Liza holds a bachelor’s degree in “Dance, Community and Social Change” from the Gallatin School at New York University. Since 2009 Liza has served as director of UpBeat NYC.

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Richard Miller

Richard Miller worked as a public school music teacher in New York City from 2009-2013. In 2007, he began working with NYC public school students as a teaching artist for Music and the Brain where he discovered the transformative role music can play in children's lives. Richard holds a degree in Jazz Performance from William Paterson University and is an active jazz saxophonist in NYC. He currently studies composition with Paul Caputo and his music has been performed at venues around the city including Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. In the Spring of 2009, Richard founded UpBeat NYC with his wife, Liza Austria, where he is working to develop UpBeat NYC into a robust, El Sistema inspired nucleo serving the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx.

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Christine Austria

Christine Austria received a BFA in piano performance from Manhattan School of Music and a master's degree in Education from Hunter College. Christine has taught both music and general education in at P.S. 145 in Manhattan for 22 years. Prior to working in the NYC public school system, she taught private piano lessons, gave group music lessons, and put on several musical shows in her neighborhood while her own three children were young. She has taught at UpBeat since its inception. She believes that a good music education is a right for all children, and that it is a social force that can strengthen the mind, heart and soul of both the individual child and his/her community.

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John Austria

John Austria is a jazz pianist who has been performing and teaching professionally in New York City for over ten years. He performs regularly with the Sonny Simmons Quintet, Michael Marcus Quintet, and Makane Kouyate's West African/Jazz fusion ensemble "Denbaya.” John is a long time student of Dizzy Gillespie’s pianist Mike Longo and received his Bachelor's degree in music from The City College of New York with a focus in music theory.

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Caitleen Kahn

A native of Milwaukee, WI, Caitleen is a soprano and arts administrator currently based in New York City. She received her degrees in Vocal Performance from Indiana University's Jacob's School of Music, graduating with Departmental Honors in Music, and the Eastman School of Music, where she was also an Arts Leadership Certificate student. Caitleen works for UpBeat as Administrative Coordinator and as a violin teacher. An advocate for the universal accessibility of music, she is also Operations Director for Musicambia, an organization that creates musical conservatories in the prisons of the United States, and she co-runs Lynx Project (lynxproject.org), a nonprofit dedicated to connecting performers and audiences through art song. She was the recipient of Eastman’s 2015 Catherine Filene Shouse Fellowship Award, and was a 2016 Byron Fellow.

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Mariel Bildsten

Mariel Bildsten currently works as professional trombonist in New York, playing mostly in jazz big bands and small groups, as well as world and Caribbean music, classical, funk, R&B, and Latin music bands.

She has performed at venues such as Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Smalls Jazz Club, the Kennedy Center, and Swing 46, performing alongside Wycliffe Gordon, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Brian Lynch, Pedrito Martinez, Cyrus Chestnut, Lew Soloff, Jerry Dodgion, and Frank Lacy, among others. Mariel also leads her own quartet and trio.

Mariel graduated from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in December 2015 with a BFA in Jazz Performance. During her time there, Mariel had the opportunity to study with fantastic teachers and mentors, such as Elliot Mason, Steve Turre, Vincent Gardner, Sam Burtis, Jimmy Owens, Mike LeDonne, Reginald Workman, and Jane Ira Bloom.

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Gustavo Briceño

Venezuelan violinist Gustavo Briceño began his music lessons in Caracas when he was nine years old in “El Sistema”, the Venezuelan National Youth Orchestra Foundation founded by José Antonio Abreu in 1975. Mr. Briceño studied violin with Professors Luis Miguel Gonzalez and Sergio Celis at Simon Bolivar Conservatory of Music and the Latin-American Violin Academy, both in Caracas. He also received lessons with notable professors as Donald Weilerstein, Nina Beilina, Ani Kavafian, José Francisco Del Castillo, Francisco Cabán, Roberto Valdéz, Felicitas Hoffmeister, Elina Vähälä, Mihaela Martin and Yuri Nasushkin. Gustavo has played with orchestras such as Miami Symphony Orchestra, Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, and Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and in many prestigious festivals including Lucerne Festival, Beethovenfest (Bonn) and Salzburg Festival with these orchestras. He also played in legendary halls as Berlin Philharmonie, Konzerthaus of Vienna, and Het Concertgebouw of Amsterdam. Mr. Briceno has had the honor to be conducted by Claudio Abbado, Sir Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel and Frühbeck de Burgos. As a founding member of Teresa Carreño String Quartet, he studied with professors from Latinoamerican String Quartet for several years. He also took lessons with Maestro José Antonio Abreu, Chilingirian String Quartet, Borromeo String Quartet and Cleveland String Quartet. In 2013, the quartet won the third prize in the Chamber Music Competition I in Caracas, sponsored by Maria Paula Alonzo Foundation (Spain) and they also played in the String Quartet Festival 2014 in Esterhazy Palace located in Austria. Gustavo is a BCC Music Scholarship recipient for 2015. He graduated from Purchase College at SUNY Conservatory of Music with his Master of Music degree under Deborah Buck. He joined the Symphoria’s violin section in 2016, and plays with the Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra. Mr. Briceno is living in Westchester County, New York with his wife bassoonist Gabriela Gonzalez.

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Ling Lopez

Ling Lopez is a New York based musician and arts administrator. She is a violin instructor at UpBeat NYC and is part of the administrative staff at the Bloomingdale School of Music. Ling received her Bachelor's of Arts degree in Music and Business from Queens College and is pursuing a masters degree in Music at Columbia University.
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Malcolm Parson

Malcolm studied at Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s “Talent Development Program” and Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, giving his first performance as a soloist with an orchestra at age 14. He made his debut in Atlanta with the Atlanta Symphony Community Orchestra after winning their Young Artist Competition, and followed with debuts at The National Black Arts Festival “Classics From The Next Generation”, and Andre Watts “50th Birthday Celebration”. He was also awarded his first personal violin from The Louis Armstrong Foundation Inc “Golden Horn Award” and his first personal cello from The National Academy of Recording Arts & Science (NARAS).

He has shared the stage with musicians and bands such as James Lauderdale, Della Mae, Del McCoury, Old Crow Medicine Show, Marcus Mumford, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Ron Carter, Paquito D’Rivera, Patrice Rushen, Toshi Reagon, Cyrus Chestnut, Terri Lynn Carrington, and Dave Liebman as well as performing at major festivals such as Northsea Jazz Fest, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, and Stutggart Jazz Fest.

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Lessie Vonner

A Dallas native, Lessie Vonner’s love of music began at a young age when she picked up the trumpet at eleven. Lessie’s passion encouraged her to pursue a music education at the renowned Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. With aspirations to pursue a career in the music industry primarily as a jazz musician, composer, and educator, Lessie chose to continue her education at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. Since arriving to New York, she has had the privilege of studying under Cecil Bridgewater, Charles Tolliver, Jimmy Owens, Tanya Darby, Ingrid Jensen, Reggie Workman, and Bobby Sanabria. She also worked as a private instructor for the Jazz Big Band's trumpet section at Frank Sinatra High School for the Arts in Queens during her first years of college.

Lessie has performed in Chicago, Kansas City, Boston, and Philadelphia and in jazz venues throughout New York City with musicians including Roy Hargrove, Snarky Puppy, Space Captain, Charli Persip’s SuperSound, JC Hopkins Biggish Band, Bobby Sparks, Keith Anderson, Bernard Wright, Quamon Fowler and JT Thomas.

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Pete Nater

Two-time Grammy Award-Winner Pete Nater is a band leader, musical director, arranger, trumpeter, and flute composer living in New York City. As a renowned trumpeter, Pete has been blessed to play and record with over 25 bands on a regular basis, including such groups as The Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra (winning Grammys with both bands), The Mambo Legends Orchestra, The Latin Giants of Jazz, and the Frankie Ruiz Orchestra. Over the years, he has also played with, recorded with, sub-ed with, or jammed with, many musical giants of our time, including Ray Barretto, Machito, Johnny Pacheco, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Charlie Palmieri, Hector LaVoe, Paul Simon, Cyndy Lauper and Dizzie Gillespie (to name only a few!).

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Leonard Mims

Lenny is a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn, growing up and currently living in Manhattan. He started with the piano at age seven and switched to cello at 11, introduced to the instrument through the public school system. He started private lessons the same year, studying for over 7 years and subsequently attended the prestigious High School of Music and Art after which he played sporadically throughout college, thereafter doing some accompaniment and solo playing. After an extended hiatus to help raise his family and pursue other projects, he returned to the instrument after retiring in 2010, most recently studying with cellist, Louise Dubin. Since his passionate return to the instrument Lenny has performed with a number of ensembles including the Broadway Bach Ensemble, Seniors Orchestral Society of New York, 92nd Street Y Orchestra, the Litha Symphony Orchestra, several operas produced by Vocal Productions NYC and various chamber groups throughout New York City.

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Charlie Sharzer

Originally from Southern California, Charlie Sharzer works with the violas at Upbeat. He has degrees in music composition and astrophysics from Yale University, and his music has been performed by the Jack Quartet and Yale Symphony Orchestra, among others. He was also the music director for Yale’s Davenport Pops Orchestra. Since graduation, Charlie taught high school science in the Newark Public Schools district, and still believes that the common denominator among all of his college-bound students was identification and participation in an after-school community. He currently plays viola occasionally with the Chelsea Symphony, writes when he can, and works for Palantir Technologies.

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Reynaldo Soriano

Reynaldo Soriano is a New York-based percussionist and has appeared internationally in a wide range of venues – from the showrooms of Las Vegas and clubs in Greenwich Village to timpani masterclasses at the Conservatoire National de Région de Paris, and the Rome International Festival. As an active freelancer, his expertise includes work in film, theatre, symphony orchestras, and small group projects traversing between jazz, improvisatory, rock, and contemporary music.

Rey Received his Bachelors from the University of Nevada Reno and his Masters in Music from New York University in 2010. He has lived in the South Bronx since 2009 and is excited to share his love for music with the kids in the neighborhood.

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Amy Gardner

Amy Gardner grew up just outside of Columbus, OH, where she was incredibly lucky to have a musical family and several amazing music teachers in the public schools she attended. She earned a B.A. from Barnard College while studying violin with Burton Kaplan at the Manhattan School of Music. Following her undergraduate studies, Amy spent several years abroad, first in Beijing, China and then in Quito, Ecuador, working as a musician and educator. Most recently before moving back to NYC she was the Orchestra Director at Academia Cotopaxi, a k-12 international school in Quito. Amy is a Suzuki-registered teacher and also holds a M.Sc. in Education from SUNY Buffalo.