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Congratulations to the 2023 Teachers of Distinction

Congratulations to the 2023 Teachers of Distinction

Published on October 23, 2023

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 2023 recipients of this distinguished award who will be celebrated at their regional Canadian and US Celebration of Excellence events.


Michalis Andronikou

Alberta, Northwest Territories & Nunavut

Michalis Andronikou 

Michalis Andronikou is a composer and musicologist currently residing in Calgary, AB. He holds a PhD in composition from the University of Calgary. He received his Bachelor’s and Integrated Master’s degrees in musicology from the Department of Music Studies, University of Athens, Greece. He has a Diploma in Classical Guitar, Clarinet and Music Theory from the Trinity College and the Royal Academy of Music, and a Diploma in Byzantine Music from the Argyroupolis Municipal Conservatory. Michalis gained credentials in Harmony, Counterpoint, Fugue, and Music Composition (with Theodore Antoniou) from the Hellenic Conservatory. He has composed music for small and large ensembles, theatre plays, art exhibits, movies, and songs. Eight CDs with his works have been released since 2003, and his scores are published by the Canadian Palliser Music Publishing, the Bulgarian Balkanota, the Italian Da Vinci Edition, the English Trübcher Music Editions, and the American Alea Publishing & Recording. 

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Jennifer Moss headshot

New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island

Jennifer Moss

Jennifer began studying the piano at the age of four. In school, she played the clarinet and was a member of Gower Youth Band and the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Orchestra. Jennifer holds a BSc in Psychology from Dalhousie University, an AVCM Teacher’s Diploma from the Victoria Conservatory of Music, and an ARCT Performer’s Diploma from The Royal Conservatory of Music.

She has taught at the Music Collection in St. John’s, NF, Allison Pianos in Victoria, BC, the Merriam School of Music in Oakville, ON, and the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts in Halifax, NS. Jennifer served as the Music Director for Sheridan United Church in Mississauga for twelve years.

She recorded a CD of classical piano pieces entitled "Believe" in support of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Jennifer is an active member of the Nova Scotia Registered Music Teachers' Association and enjoys teaching students of all ages and levels.

Fariborz (Fred) Safaei Tehrani  headshot

British Columbia & Yukon

Fariborz (Fred) Safaei Tehrani 

Fred Safaei, a seasoned pianist, and educator, embarked on his musical journey at age eight, inspired by his renowned tar-playing uncle. After twenty-two years of training in the Russian tradition in Iran, he established his private studio in 1981. A graduate of Tehran University of Art with a Bachelor's in Music, Fred began instructing at the Tehran Conservatory in 1988. In 1995, he relocated to Canada, with a mission to provide exceptional music education on the North Shore. Recognized as an Advanced Specialist in Piano and Theory by The Royal Conservatory of Music, his students consistently excel in festivals and exams. Some have earned doctorates in music or distributed their work on iTunes and Spotify.

Beyond his teaching role, Fred is a renowned performer, gracing stages worldwide. He actively mentors students throughout British Columbia, enriching music education through workshops. As the head of the education department, he shapes the future of music teachers and has elevated Ava Music & Art Centre Ltd. into an internationally acclaimed institution. Notably named the Businessperson of the Year by the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce in 2017, Fred remains a dedicated force in the realm of music education.

Margaret Sawatzky headshot


Margaret Sawatzky 

Music has been a lifelong passion of Margaret’s. She began teaching at age fifteen and feels blessed to have had the opportunity to teach so many students over her 55 year career. Grateful for The Royal Conservatory of Music’s comprehensive teaching program, she has always appreciated the variety of music and the regular updates of the program that embrace both traditional and contemporary music. Many of Margaret’s students learned to love music during their lessons and have chosen to pursue music in their lives.

Cheryl Graham headshot


Cheryl Graham 

Cheryl earned an ARCT Teacher's Diploma and has been inspiring piano students for over 45 years in Barrie, Ontario. Cheryl is an RCM Advanced Specialist and specializes in the teaching of pedagogy. Her principal teachers were Joyce Langford and Daryl Irvine. In 2009, she was the recipient of the ORMTA Special Teacher Award. Her patient, persistent, and constant belief in each student has resulted in many pursuing careers in music.

Although her studio consists of many advanced students, Cheryl enjoys nurturing young musical talent. Her students have won numerous awards at the local, provincial, and national levels including RCM Regional and National Gold Medals.

Cheryl’s childhood teacher taught her the art of improvisation, which has been a great asset to her as a church pianist and music director for over 40 years. Along with her students, Cheryl has organized “Music to Make a Difference” concerts. She enjoys presenting workshops on teaching beginners, and engaging students. Her goal of instilling a love of music in her students helps them focus and achieve higher goals in life.

Silvia Buttiglione headshot


Silvia Buttiglione 

Silvia Buttiglione pursued her music studies with Nevio Zanardi at the Conservatorio di Musica N. Paganini of Genoa, Italy where she earned a Master’s degree with honours in cello performance. In 2000, she played as soloist in front of the celebrated conductor Carlo Maria Giulini.

After completing her Master’s degree, she studied at the Scuola di Alto Perfezionamento Musicale of Saluzzo and at the Scuola di Musica of Fiesole (Firenze),. She joined the Orchestra Giovanile Italiana, collaborating with many orchestras and performing in many celebrated concert halls in Europe, and North and South America. Cellist of the Vaughan String Quartet, Silvia is a passionate chamber musician and pedagogu.

She has been teaching cello and beginner piano for for over two decades and speaks English, French, and Italian. Silvia also holds a Master’s Degree in Law and has worked as a lawyer in Italy.

Amy Boyes headshot


Amy Boyes 

Amy Boyes holds an ARCT (Performance), ARCT (Teaching), LCTL, B Mus from Brandon University, and an M Mus from the University of Alberta. She teaches piano and music theory in Warman and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She is an RCM examiner (piano and music history) and has adjudicated music festivals from Prince Edward Island to Alberta. Her students regularly perform in recitals, competitions, and examinations.

Amy’s writing has been published in American Music Teacher, Canadian Music Teacher, Piano Magazine, Piano Professional, Teaching Music, and by the CBC and the Globe and Mail, among others. She has presented at conferences for the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers' Associations, Music Teachers' National Association (USA), and the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.

United States

Yoko Hoshihara headshot

California & Hawaii

Yoko Hoshihara 

Yoko Hoshihara is an RCM Certified Piano Specialist, composer, arranger, and improvisor. She started her musical journey at age 4 in the Yamaha Music School. Throughout her youth, she received rigorous classical training with an extraordinary lineage of outstanding instructors, from Japan’s celebrated educators, concert musicians, to an international competition jury. Yoko majored in piano at the Showa College of Music, then was scouted to become a member of the International Musician Artist Society. Through IMAS, she accompanied an orchestra chorale and classical singers. After moving to the US, she continued to accompany women’s chorale groups and musicians while arranging many different genres of music.

As a private piano teacher, Yoko has carefully crafted a methodology that incorporates all her well-rounded musical experiences, including her conducting skills influenced by European expressive playing. She is eternally grateful to her mentors for their training. Yoko’s students’ quality performances come from instruction in beautifully choreographed body movement natural to the individual, resulting in a polished look at all levels. Her studio was awarded “Top Achieving Studio,” for the MLTW Piano Festival with multiple students selected as finalists and first place in the US and CANADA. Consistently producing First Class Honors with Distinction students, many have earned RCM awards, qualifying them to participate in Celebration of Excellence recitals.

Dr. Afrim Shabani headshot

North Central
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin

Dr. Afrim Shabani 

Dr. Afrim Shabani, a composer, pianist, and educator, holds a Doctor of Education from Bradley University, a Master of Music from Illinois State University, and a Bachelor of Music from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. He is certified as an Advanced Specialist in piano, Theory, and History by The Royal Conservatory of Music. Since 2016, the Music Teachers National Association has certified Dr. Shabani as a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music, specializing in piano, group piano, and recreational piano. In 2016, he established the Shabani School of Music. In 2023, the school earned RCM America's “Smart Start: Music and Neuroscience” accreditation. Dr. Shabani teaches piano at Heartland Community College and Pro-Sound Center. His students often attend the IFMCF-NFMC Festival. In 2017, his protégé won 1st Place in the MTNA-Illinois Elementary Composition. His students compete and attend masterclasses; one joined Maestro Leonard Slatkin's conversation masterclass.

Charl Louw headshot

Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia

Charl Louw

Charl Louw holds a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from the University of Missouri, Kansas City where he studied with Robert Weirich. His teachers include Seymour Bernstein, Frank Heneghan, Jeaneane Dowis, Pamela Mia Paul, and Truida van der Walt.

Mr. Louw has taught and performed throughout the US and South Africa as soloist, collaborative pianist, and with orchestras including the South African National Chamber Orchestra, Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, New Orleans Civic Orchestra and University of Missouri Chamber Orchestra. He served as Director of Chamber Music and Pianist in Residence for the Mid-West Chamber Ensemble and, as pianist of the Filamental Trio, collaborated on a recording project of newly commissioned repertoire by award winning composers from Kansas City in 2012. Throughout his career Mr. Louw has received prestigious awards including the Kauffman Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching, MC Roode, and Getrude Buchanan awards. His students have received top awards in piano competitions including performances in Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Louw currently serves as a member of the RCM College of Examiners, Artistic Director of the Greater Princeton Steinway Competition, and Director of the Program for Excellence in Piano Studies at The New School for Music Study. He has presented at the NSMS Practical Piano Pedagogy Seminar, NCKP, MTNA and NJMTA, and has given lectures and master classes in South Africa and the US.

Irena Kirova headshot

Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington

Irena Kirova 

Irena Kirova’s interest in music began as a young child. In 2000 Irena completed her high-school diploma from the music school at Vicho Grancharov, and later enrolled at the Academy of Music and Dance Art in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. While attending the Music Academy she studied with world-renowned pianist Professor Georgi Petrov and famous organist Velin Iliev. She taught piano and theory in Bulgaria throughout her high-school and college years.

Irena’s piano performances include solo recitals and accompanying and chamber music groups. After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Pedagogy in 2004, Irena moved to Renton, Washington to pursue her passion for music education.

Irena’s students regularly achieve accolades in local and international competitions, and by earning RCM Gold Medals and distinction exam results. For the past nine years her students have been invited to play at Carnegie Hall, as winners of Crescendo International Competition. In 2022 and 2023, Irena received the Teacher of the Year award from Crescendo International Competition. Irena has been a faculty of Prosser Piano and Organ for 8 years and Chopin Academy of Music, Issaquah, for more than 10 years. She currently teachers in Renton, WA where she has been teaching The Royal Conservatory of Music program since 2012. A founding teacher of the RCM Certificate Program, she also serves as an RCM Center Representative in Seattle.

Grace Long headshot

South Central
Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas

Grace Long 

Dr. Grace Long started piano study at the age of five. She came to the United States in 1981 to further her education and received her D.M.A. in Piano Performance in 1991. Grace is devoted to all aspects of music education and is actively involved in the local music teachers association and music communities, providing abundant learning and performing opportunities for her students. Grace’s students have earned high remarks in The RCM Certificate program, as well as many top prizes, including 1st place and Grand Prix in the local, state, and international competitions. Recently, she received the 2022 Top Piano Teacher award by the Steinway Piano Gallery of Plano, Texas, and a Teacher Award Certificate by the Vivaldi International Music Competition for 2023 Season 2.
Anna Brock headshot

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Caroline, Tennessee, Virginia

Anna Brock 

Anna Brock is a Certified Royal Conservatory piano teacher and exam center representative from Charleston, South Carolina. She is a Nationally Certified NMTA piano teacher. She accompanies choirs and music theater, teaches piano at Ashley Hall, and is the pianist for the Charleston Gospel Choir and North Charleston Pops! orchestra. Anna studied piano performance at Oberlin Conservatory and vocal accompanying at the Stuttgart Musik Hochschule. Her ensemble work includes performances with the Charleston Symphony and Charleston Opera Theater. Anna has played keyboard for numerous Broadway road shows (her favorite is WICKED), and has accompanied choirs in Charleston’s Spoleto USA and Piccolo Spoleto music festivals.

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Christie Sowby headshot

Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming

Christie Sowby 

Dr. Christie Sowby, NCTM, attended Brigham Young University, Harvard University, the New England Conservatory, and the University of Utah. Her expertise is in extended piano techniques.

Christie has served various organizations including, Encore Piano Teachers Association as President, Website Chair, Technique Assistant, Keyboard Competition Chair, and Handbook Chair; UMTA’s Communication Chair, Collegiate President (twice), Collegiate Vice President, and the Website Committee Chair; BYU’s School of Music student committee chair; and MTNA’s National Conference Committee and Marie Sue Harris Studio Teacher Fellowship Committee.

As an active performer and accompanist, Christie performs regularly and has collaborated with orchestras and performers on every instrument. She has performed in Carnegie Hall and is an award-winning teacher. Her greatest passion is to see her students succeed in life, on and off the stage.