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Congratulations to the 2020 Teachers of Distinction

Congratulations to the 2020 Teachers of Distinction

Published on October 1, 2020

RCM Teachers of Distinction are leaders in the field of music education, recognized for their contributions of creativity, dedication, innovation, and passion.

This award is given to teachers across North America who are recognized as leaders in the field of music education. Through their years of teaching experience, they provide mentorship to other teachers and instill a lifelong love of music in their students. RCM Teachers of Distinction are an inspiration to others and are influential in creating a brighter future for music education.

We are thrilled to announce the 2020 recipients of this distinguished award who will be celebrated at their regional Canadian and American Celebration of Excellence events.



Chris Marti
Chris Marti has been teaching music for more than twenty-five years. She fell in love with music at a very young age, beginning guitar lessons even before starting school. After completing a Bachelor and Master of Arts, she studied both piano and flute. She discovered her passion for teaching music to children while working as an elementary school teacher. In 2001, she left the school system to open her own studio, and in 2008, she founded the Do Re Mi for Kids Music School in Mississauga. Chris is an advocate for the importance of music education for all children and served for four years as president of the Early Childhood Music Association of Ontario.
Dr. Michael Esch
Dr. Michael Esch earned his DMA from Rice University. The teachers who had the greatest influence on him include Robert Roux, Jon Kimura Parker, Rosemary Collins, Rebecca Penneys, Lazar Berman, and Anton Kuerti. Michael has been featured as recitalist, chamber musician, and orchestral soloist throughout Canada, Europe, and the US and he often adjudicates at the provincial, national, and international levels. He is a member of the RCM College of Examiners, and a masterclass clinician for The Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy for Young Artists at The Royal Conservatory. Dr. Esch's students have won top prizes in many international and national contests and two of Michael’s students have earned LRCM Gold Medals. He has twice been named a Steinway and Sons “Top Teacher” and Composer Robert Rival dedicated his ‘6 Pieces for Piano’ to him.

British Columbia & Yukon

Dianne Bohn
Dianne Bohn holds both a Performer’s and Teacher’s ARCT with the RCM as well as a Music Performance Diploma from the London College of Music.  She is in the final submission stage of the RCM ARCT in Theory and Composition. Dianne teaches piano, pedagogy, history, theory, and musicianship in her studio, and regularly participates in piano pedagogy and master classes with performing artists. She accompanies soloists, choirs, and musical events in her city and church and is the piano chairperson for the Mid Island Performing Arts Festival.

Alberta, Northwest Territories & Nunavut

Allen Reiser
Allen Reiser came to the study of piano quite late at age twelve. Three years later, he began to study with the remarkable Mary Fenwick, whose kindness, wisdom, and professional and personal generosity, formed the backbone of his teaching practices, and the foundation of his playing. It is her humanity and wisdom to which he aspires daily. Allen continued his studies with Dr. Robin Wood at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Allen has been teaching piano for fifty years and credits his achievements to his desire to pass on the lessons in music and life that he learned from the two most influential teachers in his life.


Bonnie Nicholson
Bonnie Nicholson is a pianist, teacher, and chamber musician from Saskatoon.  Her degrees include a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Saskatchewan, as well as an ARCT in Piano Performance from the RCM. Ms. Nicholson has recorded with bass-baritone Henri Loiselle, the Saskatoon Children’s Choir, and trumpeter Dean McNeill. In 2015, she and fellow pianist Dianne Gryba released their first piano duet recording, ‘Les Quatre Mains, Volume 1.’ Since 1986, Bonnie has served as a Sessional Lecturer in Piano at the University of Saskatchewan and she is the current President of the Saskatoon Music Festival Committee.


Jane Petroni
Jane Petroni began piano at age twelve with Thelma Wilson. She studied with Garth Beckett at the University of Manitoba, and continued her studies with Ken Adams and John Melnyk Senior. She has also studied in Vienna, Austria and attended masterclasses in the US, Austria, Hawaii, and Manitoba. Thirty-five years ago, Ms. Petroni joined the Prep department at the University of Manitoba and she has given masterclasses in Manitoba, British Columbia, and Hawaii; and has adjudicated in Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia. Jane’s students have won many awards and scholarships, performed with orchestras, and earned gold medals with The Royal Conservatory.


Dr. Benjamin Chapman
Dr. Benjamin Chapman, currently the director of Chapman Piano Studio Montreal, enjoys a multifaceted career as a performer, instructor and RCM examiner. Dr. Chapman holds a doctorate and master’s degree in piano performance from l’Université de MON-RAY-AL where he studied under Marc Durand. He is also an alumnus of The Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School where he obtained an Artist Diploma in the studio of John Perry and David Louie. Since leaving Australia to establish himself in both Toronto and Montreal, Benjamin has been an adjudicator and judge for various festivals and examining bodies. Le docteur Chapman détient une maîtrise et un doctorat en piano de l’Université de Montréal, où il a étudié sous la tutelle de Marc Durand. Il est également diplômé de l’École Glenn Gould du Conservatoire royal, où il a eu pour professeurs John Perry et David Louie. Benjamin est présentement directeur de Chapman Piano Studio, à Montréal, en plus de se produire en concert et d’être examinateur pour le Conservatoire royal.


Brenda Gatherall
Brenda Gatherall holds degrees in Music, Music Education, and a Master’s in Education. She has also completed advanced studies in Orff Schulwerk and Instrumental Conducting. Ms. Gatherall is on the faculty at St. Bonaventure’s College in St. John’s. She is a founding member of the Lady Cove Women’s Choir, a member of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, a sessional instructor at Memorial University, and an Associate Conductor with the Shallaway Youth Choir. Brenda has presented at both the Pan-Canadian Think Tank on Music Education and the International Society of Music Education conference. A supporter of the arts community in Newfoundland, she volunteers with the Rotary Music Festival organizing committee as well as “The Singing Network.” Ms. Gatherall currently teaches Music for Young Children as well as piano, clarinet, saxophone, and music theory.

United States

North East

Felicia Feng Zhang
Felicia Feng Zhang, an MTNA Nationally Certified Teacher of Music with 32 years of teaching experience, is currently the President-Elect and Vice President of the CSMTA and is the founder of All Talent Academy. She teaches all levels of piano performance, theory, and pedagogy, created the CLEF Series and established an innovative 3EFM teaching method for students of all ages and levels. Felicia has earned numerous prestigious international piano education awards for her outstanding teaching. Her name was included in the Hall of Fame Piano Guild USA in 2006, as well as the Marquis Who’s Who of American Women 2000/2001. Felicia was nominated as CSMTA Teacher of the Year in 2019 and is an active adjudicator who delivers lectures, workshops, and master classes internationally.

California & Hawaii

Michele Karin Nardone
Michele Karin Nardone began her Violin, Piano, and Conducting studies at a very early age. Upon High School Graduation, Michele received a music scholarship to pursue her violin studies at the prestigious Thornton School of Music at The University of Southern California. Graduating on the “Dean’s List with Distinction”, Michele was invited to become the Concertmaster for The Los Angeles Debut Orchestra, under director Lalo Schifrin. Michele became a Recording Artist and joined the Studio Orchestras of Paramount, Warner Brothers, Universal, MGM, Sony Pictures, and 20th-Century Fox Studios.
Steven Casano
Steven Casano received his Bachelor degree in Piano and Music Education from the Crane School of Music and a Master’s degrees in Ethnomusicology and Music Librarianship from the University of Hawai’i. Mr. Casano’s principal piano teachers were Dolores Johnson (piano pedagogy), and Frank Iogha. Steven is on the music faculty of the Punahou Music School in Honolulu, where he teaches piano performance and music theory, and he has served on the executive boards of the Hawai’i Music Teacher’s Association and the Honolulu Piano Teachers’ Association. Mr. Casano’s students have won top prizes and honors in local, state, and international competitions. He is an MTNA Nationally Certified Teacher of Music and a Royal Conservatory of Music Certified Teacher in both Piano and Music Theory. He also served as the Honolulu RCM Center Representative for more than 10 years.

North West

Dr. Yelena Balabanova
 Dr. Yelena Balabanova, a native of Moscow, holds a Doctor of Musical Arts and is one of only six Steinway Classical Artists in the state of Washington. An acclaimed soloist, she is widely recognized for her extensive repertoire and original interpretations, and is a sought-after clinician on healthy technique and artistry. Dr. Balabanova has received a Recognition Award from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, and is a founder of the International Conservatory Studio and the North Sound Federated Music Club. Her students have received numerous awards and scholarships to schools including Juilliard, Harvard, and the Cleveland Institute of Music. Dr. Balabanova continues to serve the community as a Board member of the Washington Federation of Music Clubs and Artistic Advisor to the Bellevue Symphony.

 South West

Dr. Mary-Elizabeth Brown
Dr. Mary-Elizabeth Brown enjoys parallel careers as a performer and pedagogue. She has earned accolades as a concertmaster and appeared as an invited soloist with orchestras in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Her recording of the last 3 Mozart Violin Concerti for the newly-released Mozart Effect recordings were released worldwide in 2017. Dr. Brown is also a sought-after teacher, clinician, adjudicator and speaker. Her initiative, The AVIVA Young Artists Program, makes music education and teacher training accessible to violinists worldwide. She began studying the violin in her local Suzuki program at the age of 5 and holds degrees from the University of Toronto and l’Université de Montreal where she completed her doctoral research as a Schmeelk Fellow. Mary-Elizabeth is a trained Suzuki Teacher and a member of the RCM College of Examiners.

South Central

Dr. Maria Guénette
Dr. Maria Guénette earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Ottawa under the tutelage of Jean-Paul Sevilla. At the Eastman School of Music, she was awarded a D.M.A. specializing in Piano Accompanying and Chamber Music, as well as a Master of Music degree in Harpsichord Performance. Dr. Guénette is the keyboardist for East Texas Symphony Orchestra and serves as staff pianist at Southern Methodist University. She was previously on faculty at University of Texas at Tyler, Winston-Salem State University, Greensboro College, and the North Carolina School of the Arts. Maria runs a private piano studio in Carrollton, Texas and is member of the RCM College of Examiners.

South East

Gregory Center
Gregory Genter received his BA in music from Pensacola Christian College in 2002.  He is the founder and owner of The Piano Express Studio in Ashburn, Virginia which is also a testing center for the RCM.  His studio teaching fuses cutting-edge internet tools with age-old pedagogy resulting in a one-of-a-kind experience for students. Greg's students have earned multiple NVMTA awards as well as RCM State Certificates of Excellence and a National Gold Medal.

North Central

Dr. Marie Alatalo
Dr. Marie Alatalo has appeared in concerts throughout the United States and Japan, capturing attention with a repertoire embracing both classical and contemporary literature. Her performance of George Crumb’s ‘Makrokosmos, Book 1’, at the Music Institute of Chicago received critical acclaim, holding the audience “at rapt attention.” Dr. Alatalo was raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy and the University of Michigan, and earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music, where she was Teaching Assistant to Rebecca Penneys. She is currently on the Artist Faculty at the Music Institute of Chicago, and the Director of its Chicago campus. Dr. Alatalo is also a member of the RCM College of Examiners.