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MusicFirst Ambassadors

MusicFirst Ambassadors are an elite group of music educators hand-selected by the MusicFirst team based on their educational expertise, music technology savvy, and software proficiency. These individuals represent MusicFirst at conferences, facilitate trainings, create & curate content, and provide valuable feedback to the development team.

To contact a MusicFirst Ambassdor, please reach out to Scott Casagrande, the Ambassador program administrator. Mr. Casagrande is also a resource for high school band-related questions. 

Contact Scott Casagrande

Kristina Abella Rey

Elementary and Middle School General Music & Choir

Kristina Abella Rey

West Newton, MA

Kristina Abella Rey most recently taught elementary general music and voice at the Fessenden School in West Newton, Massachusetts. She earned her B.M. in Choral and Vocal Music from the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at California State University, Long Beach and a M.A. in Music Education from the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. She has led both domestic and abroad workshops on utilizing technology in the elementary music classroom in order to build engagement and innovative music making.

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Jillian Caci

Middle & High School Chorus, Music Technology, and General Music

Jillian Caci

Newburgh, NY

Jillian Caci has taught general music, chorus, piano, and music technology in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District since 1989. She currently directs the choirs at Newburgh Free Academy. She has presented conference sessions and performances at the County, State, and National Level, and guest conducts within the State of New York. Her students are frequent participants in County and State festivals and her ensembles have performed at local and state level events, at NYSSMA Majors evaluations festivals and at State and National conferences. 

Jillian holds a Bachelor of Music from the Crane School of Music, a Master of Arts in Educational Psychology from Marist College, and TI:ME Level 1B Certification. She has served on the board of the Orange County Music Educators’ Association, where she instituted the first All County Vocal Jazz ensemble in Orange County.

Jillian serves on the Board of Directors of the Newburgh Teachers’ Association, Chairs the Newburgh Enlarged City School District Health and Safety Committee, and holds professional memberships in the Orange County Music Educators’ Association, the New York State School Music Association, the National Association for Music Education, the American Choral Directors Association, NYSUT, AFT, and the Badass Association of Teachers. 

As a vocalist, she has sung for US Military induction and change of command ceremonies, events such as the rededication of the Statue of Liberty, and with touring choirs throughout Europe in venues such as Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame, the Cologne Cathedral, and the Sacré Coeur.  She enjoys spending time with her family making music, skiing, bicycling, and hiking the High Peaks and Finger Lakes regions of NY.

 

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Drew Dickey

Band, Drum Corps

Drew Dickey

Austin, TX and Rosemont, IL

Christopher Drew Dickey currently serves as Assistant Instructor at The University of Texas at Austin, where he is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Wind Conducting. At UT, he assists with all facets of the university band program, including athletic bands, concert ensembles, and undergraduate teaching. In addition to this appointment, Mr. Dickey serves as the Brass Caption Coordinator with The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps from Rosemont, Illinois.

Prior to his current appointment, Mr. Dickey held positions at The South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson University, the Anderson School District 5 District Office, and Southwood Academy of the Arts. He also served as a Graduate Conducting Associate with the Louisiana State University Department of Bands and has spent many years as an educator and administrator in the South Carolina public schools.

Mr. Dickey holds the degrees of Master of Music in Music Education from the Ithaca College School of Music, Master of Music in Wind Conducting from Louisiana State University, and Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the University of South Carolina.

 

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Wendy Higdon

Middle School Band

Wendy Higdon

Carmel, IN

Wendy Higdon is the Director of Bands and Performing Arts Department Chair at Creekside Middle School in Carmel, Indiana.  Under her direction, the Creekside Wind Symphony was honored to perform at The Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in 2013. 

Ms. Higdon is in frequent demand as an adjudicator, clinician, guest conductor and speaker around the country.  She was recognized as the Outstanding Bandmaster for 2020 by Phi Beta Mu, Gamma Chapter.  She is also a past recipient of the “Fifty Directors Who Make a Difference” Award from School Band and Orchestra Magazine.  She is a contributing author for Foundations:  The Fundamental Elements for Building a Successful Middle School Band Program.   Her articles have appeared in The Instrumentalist Magazine, as well as being published by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), D'Addario Education Collective, and Music for All, among others.  She regularly speaks about important topics in music education, and has presented sessions at several national conferences including The Midwest Clinic, Conn Selmer Institute, The National Association of School Music Dealers Conference, and the Australian National Band and Orchestra Association Conference in Brisbane, where she was a keynote presenter.

Ms. Higdon earned her degree in music education from Ball State University Honors College, graduating summa cum laude.  She also holds two Masters degrees from Butler University, one in clarinet performance and the second in education administration. She is currently serving as the North Central Division Representative on the National Council for Band Music Education.  She has served as a board member for the Indiana Music Education Association, and is currently co-editor of the Indiana MEA Magazine, INForm.  She is a member of Phi Beta Mu International, Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society, the National Association for Music Education, the Indiana Music Education Association and the Indiana Bandmasters Association.

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Michele Kahn

Middle School Choir

Michele Kahn

Scottsdale, AZ

Michele Kahn is no stranger to Music and the Performing Arts. Michele has studied voice since eleven in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. She attended San Francisco State University, received her Bachelor of Arts in Theater, and attended The American Academy of Dramatic Arts (Pasadena) and New York University. She currently has a thriving vocal studio (The Vocal Studios of Michele Kahn). She currently is in her 6th year at Desert Shadows Middle School in the Paradise Valley Unified School district in Scottsdale, Arizona, teaching Choir and Musical Theater. Michele has 200 middle school students in her program. Michele has the vital responsibility of instilling the love of Music and Music Theory into her students. The choirs range from Mixed Treble Choirs, Concert Choir to Show Choir. Michele's groups have been awarded high honors at Forum Music Festival and World Strides On Stage. Michele has been a guest clinician for the Northern Arizona Honors Festival of performance for Middle/ Junior Highschool Musicians. Michele collaborated with The Arizona Opera, Ballet Arizona, Phoenix Theater, Arizona Theater Company, and Genesis High School in creating an after-school program for at-risk youth utilizing the arts to help build self-esteem and coping skills. 

 

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Jeremy Little

High School Choir

Jeremy Little

Vernon Hills, IL

An advocate for a deeper rehearsal learning experience, Jeremy Little has presented at numerous education conferences and workshops in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. He also enjoys spending as much time as possible with his wonderful family: beautiful wife Andrea, silly son Elliot, and feisty daughter Evelyn!  

Academically, he is involved in teaching the Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance model (www.ilcmp.org) to music educators across the Midwest and has contributed chapters in two recent publications: "Feedback: The Hinge that Joins Teaching and Learning" by Jane E. Pollock, and "The Power of the Social Brain: Teaching, Learning and Interdependent Thinking" edited by Arthur Costa and Pat Wilson-O'Leary.

He holds degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

 

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Aimee Mell

Middle School/ High School Choir/ Piano

Aimee Mell

Seattle, Washington

Choral director Aimee Mell has a passion for connecting people, cultures, and ideas through music. For the past ten years she has developed choir and music programs in Seattle Public Schools, including Title I schools.  She currently teaches choral music and class piano to grades 6-12. Trained in culturally responsive classroom practices for the arts, she uses technology to highlight student voice and expression through song writing and group composition, and to accelerate learning in her ensembles. She is especially excited about the creative opportunities music technology provides for students who may not be interested in traditional music ensembles such as band or choir.

 

Ms. Mell has presented original research at the Society for American Music national conference, the Hawaii International Conference for Arts and Humanities, the Music and Moving Image Conference at New York University, and The American Musicological Society regional conferences. In 2019, based on her work with her choral students, she was selected as one of five conducting fellows from the United States to travel to South Africa for an exchange of music and culture, through the American Choral Directors Association International Exchange Program. Past awards also include the Lily Endowment Teacher Creativity Award, which allowed for travel and musical exchange in the small African county of The Gambia.

 

Dedicated to service, she has participated in district and school race and equity initiatives, and as a member of the culturally responsive teaching for the arts cohort. Outside of school she has served on the Washington State Board for the American Choral Directors Association, her regional Washington Music Educators Association board, and was a member of the Tacoma Arts Commission by mayoral appointment. In 2020, she joined the Board of Trustees for Seattle Opera where she serves on the Education and Community Engagement, Long-Range Planning, and Revenue Committees.

 

Ms. Mell holds a B.M. in music education, an M.M. in Music Composition, and is a Ph.D. Candidate in Music History. She also has completed the Smithsonian Folkways Certificate in World Music Pedagogy, where her projects focused on traditional music of Morocco.

Contact Amiee

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Keith Ozsvath

Middle School Band, Music Technology

Keith Ozsvath

Batavia, IL

Keith has been sharing his life-long passion for music with the students at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia, Illinois, a seven-time NAMM Best Community for Music Education, since 2001. Keith currently co-teaches band and orchestra, directs the Jazz Ensemble and Symphonic Band while finding unique ways to integrate technology to enhance his students’ learning.  

​In addition to being a dedicated middle school teacher, Keith teaches graduate courses at VanderCook College of Music. He has presented numerous webinars and professional development sessions for music educators at the The Midwest Clinic, Virginia Music Educators Association, Illinois Music Educators Conference, VanderCook College of Music, and the Association of Middle Level Educators. His dedication to teaching has been recognized through the Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator award in 2015 and twice by “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers”.  In 2017, Keith was honored with an “Exemplary Educator Award” from the Batavia CANDO parent organization. Most recently, he was inducted to the Nazareth Academy High School Fine Arts Hall of Fame in 2018. He is a member of the American School Band Directors Association, National Band Association, and Illinois Music Education Association.

 

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Kelli Pence

High School Band

Kelli Pence

Broken Arrow, OK

Dr. Kelli Pence currently serves as Associate Director of Bands for Broken Arrow Public Schools and has taught in the district since 2008.  Before coming to Broken Arrow, she taught at Marshall University, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and Wright State University.  Dr. Pence is the conductor of multiple concert bands, assistant director of the Pride of Broken Arrow Marching Band, director of E Jazz, and instructor of AP Music Theory. 

Dr. Pence’s ensembles have received consistent OSSAA Sweepstakes Awards for excellence on the concert stage and marching field.  Her Symphonic Band 1 was selected to perform as an Honor Ensemble at the Oklahoma Music Educators Association Annual Conference in 2016 and 2020. Symphonic Band 1 was also selected as a Featured Ensemble for the 2020 Music For All National Concert Band Festival. 

Dr. Pence earned Bachelor of Music Education and Bachelor of Music Performance degrees from Bowling Green State University, a Master of Music Performance degree from Northwestern University and a Doctorate of Music Performance in saxophone with an emphasis in wind conducting from Northwestern University.  Her principal teachers have included Dr. Frederick L. Hemke, Dr. John Sampen, Dr. Mallory Thompson, and Dr. Ryan T. Nelson. 

As a saxophonist, Dr. Pence has performed with the Grant Park Symphony, Elmhurst Symphony, Miami Valley Symphony, was a soloist and chamber performer throughout Italy as part of the Studio Arts Center Internationale and Faenza Festival del Sassofono, and was a soloist and chamber performer in Trondheim, Norway and at Domaine Forget in Canada.

Dr. Pence has been a member of the faculty of the National High School Music Institute and Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, served as vice-president for the Northeast Oklahoma Band Directors Association, served on several strategic planning committees for the Broken Arrow School District and continues to work around the United States as an adjudicator and clinician. 

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Darcie Pickering

High School Orchestra

Darcie Pickering

Pearl River, NY

Darcie Pickering has been teaching in the Pearl River Public Schools since 2006. She has taught strings to students as young as third grade but has felt most at home at the High School Orchestra Director - a position she has held since 2012. Darcie is especially interested in using technology to support and enhance her Orchestra curriculum.

Darcie graduated with her bachelors degree from the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2004. During her time at UMass Lowell, Darcie gained valuable experience as a teacher in the UMass Lowell String Project and as a camp counselor at the Mary Jo Leahey UMass Lowell Summer Band Camp. Darcie's course work at UML developed her interest in technology and creativity in the music classroom. This interest lead her to Teachers College, Columbia University where she earned a Masters of Arts in Music Education in 2006.

As a double bassist, Darcie has performed with the New England Philharmonic, Metropolitan Wind Ensemble, and the Rockland Symphony Orchestra. She also enjoys playing electric bass in pits for several high schools in her area. Past performance experience includes playing mellophone in her college marching band and a Viper electric violin in an electric violin duo, Vis a Vis. 

 

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Lisa Sempsey

Elementary/ Choir/ Orchestra/ General Music/ Higher Education

Lisa Sempsey

Lititz, Pennsylvania

Lisa Sempsey has taught kindergarten through sixth grade general music, elementary choruses, elementary and middle school strings, as well as been the Artistic Director and Prelude Choir Director for the Children’s Choir of Lancaster from 2005-2012, and has experience as a curriculum coordinator within a public school district. Currently, she teaches kindergarten through sixth grade general music, chorus, and strings in Hempfield School District, and is adjunct faculty at Elizabethtown College teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses in music education focusing on general music methods and curriculum, assessment, and measurement. Lisa is the Elementary Representative on the PMEA District 7 board and is a member of the Board of Directors for the American Center for Elemental Music and Movement.

Lisa holds two degrees from Millersville University of Pennsylvania, a Bachelor of Science in Music Education and a Master's of Education in Leadership for Teaching and Learning.  Additionally, she has completed all Kodály Levels and Orff-Schulwerk Levels, as well as World Music Drumming level one.

Lisa is a clinician and workshop presenter who loves to share and collaborate with her colleagues.  She has presented workshops at the local, regional and national levels with sessions covering topics including classroom management, choral reading sessions, technology in the music classroom, movement and music curricular connections, Kodaly Pedagogy in the modern elementary music class, curriculum development and lesson planning, and Orff-Schulwerk inspired elements in K-6 music classes.

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Krystal Williams

Music Theory, Composition, Music Technology

Krystal Williams

Baltimore, MD

Krystal Williams is a Music Adjunct lecturer for Woodwind Method for the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She is currently the Music Theory Teacher at Northwestern High School's Visual and Performing Arts Program for Prince George's County Public Schools. She served as the Band Director at Western High School for 8 years and 14 years with Baltimore City Schools. Mrs.Williams attended Morgan State University as a Music Major and as the Graduate Assistant from 2006-2009. She holds a B.A. in Music, and a M.A. in Teaching from the College of Notre Dame Maryland. She is currently serving as the Music Technology Chair for MMEA Maryland, the Professional Development Chair for The Association of Black Women Band Directors, a member of the Women Band Directors  International Association and a member of the Baltimore Alumnae Chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity for Women.

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