Accent Music Academy is dedicated to the musical education and instruction

of our community's students.  As such, we are proud of our staff of superbly trained, experienced professionals who represent the diversity of the Pittsburgh musical scene.  Our instructors can be seen and heard regularly in the Pittsburgh area and beyond, in rock and jazz clubs, on the musical theater stage, and in classical concert halls.  They bring real-world experience and knowledge to Accent Music Academy's studios, and are committed to excellence in teaching.

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Elisa Aquino

Elisa Aquino (Cello) is a Guatemalan cellist and anthropologist. She graduated from the National Conservatory of Guatemala where she received several mentions for her outstanding performance, and also from the “Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala”. Elisa has been part of different orchestras and festivals including the National Symphony Orchestra of Guatemala and the Youth Orchestra of Central America and the Caribbean, playing in different scenarios around Mexico and Central America.  She has performed in master classes for international cellists conducted by Carlos Prieto, Alfredo Mazariegos, Emilio Colón, Robert deMaine, Anatole Wieck, Luis Viaba, Liina Leijala, Amparo Lacruz, among others.  In 2018 Elisa moved to the US to study her Master’s in Music in Cello Performance under the tutelage of Ovidiu Marinescu at the West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where for two years in a row she was awarded with the “Dean's Scholarship for Global Diversity & Academic Achievement”.  Simultaneously, Elisa is also co-founder of the International Chamber Music Festival in Guatemala, and the award-winning educational project “Puros Cuentos” (Just Tales).  For many years,  Elisa has taught private lessons to kids and adults of all ages. She was part of the faculty of the French Alliance Pedagogical Music Program founded by members of the National Symphony Orchestra in Guatemala. During her Master’s she was assistant to the cellist Ovidiu Marinescu, teaching cello to students pursuing a minor in Music.

 John Arrigo-Nelson 

John Arrigo-Nelson (Composition, theory, guitar, piano) has taught music in both the private and university setting for over 20 years. He holds a Bachelor of Music Education and a Bachelor of Guitar Performance from Rhode Island College, as well as a Ph.D. in Composition from Stony Brook University. Performing in both popular and classical styles, he has appeared with a variety of ensembles, and is currently a member of the contemporary music collective Alia Musica Pittsburgh. John’s compositions have been performed and broadcast throughout the United States and in Europe and he has received numerous awards and recognition, including Fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Wellesley Composers Conference. John has served on the adjunct faculty at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana University South Bend, Suffolk County Community College, and Stony Brook University teaching theory, analysis, and composition.  To learn more about John's work, visit

 David Cooke 

David Cooke (voice, piano) has been featured in main stage productions with Pittsburgh Opera and Opera Theater of Pittsburgh in addition to performing in outreach programs for children. Past roles have included Little Bat in Susannah, Belfiore in La Finta Giardiniera, Edgar in Wuthering Heights and Lechmere in Owen Wingrave. Having held soloist positions in several area churches, he has performed a varied repertoire of sacred and secular music. David earned his undergraduate degree in vocal performance from Duquesne University, with his minor instrument being piano.  In addition he holds a Master’s in Arts Administration from Carnegie Mellon University, and has completed the equivalent of a Master’s in Vocal Performance.   With over twenty years of experience as a singer and educator, he has developed a unique approach to teaching that allows him to apply classical vocal technique to a wide variety of styles.  David also enjoys applying his knowledge of music theory and piano to teaching keyboard students of all ages.  In addition to teaching and performing, David has served as music director for hundreds of area youth in a multitude of fully staged productions, recitals and concert presentations.

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Daniela Jofre

Daniela Jofré Arroyo (violin, viola) began her violin lessons at the age of 9 at the University of Talca- Music Conservatory in Chile. Years later, she would continue her undergraduate studies in the same institution, graduating as the best student of her generation. In 2018 Miss Jofré traveled to the USA as a recipient of a Fulbright scholarship to continue her graduate studies at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville where she earned a master’s degree in music performance with an Eephasis in Suzuki Pedagogy. She also served as concertmaster in SIUE Symphony Orchestra.  In 2020, Daniela traveled to Pittsburgh to start an Artist Diploma Program at Duquesne University.  There she studies with well known local violinist Charles Stegeman.  Miss Jofre has taught violin both in Chile and the US to students from 3 to 55 years old. She teaches the Suzuki method, having certification from Early Childhood through Book 8.

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Zachary Mathes
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Hayley Plauger

Zachary Mathes (Drums, Percussion) was appointed Principal Timpanist of the Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale in the spring of 2017. In addition, he plays as Principal Timpanist with the Butler County Symphony Orchestra and has performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra, and the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra. Since 2017, Zachary has been Adjunct Instructor of Percussion at Kent State University. A native of Charleston, West Virginia, Zachary received his Bachelor’s of Music Performance from Oberlin College and Conservatory. He then pursued his Master’s of Music in Performance at Sam Houston State University and continued his education in Pittsburgh, where he graduated in 2017 with an Artist’s Diploma. His primary teachers have included Michael Rosen, John Lane, Edward Stephan, Chris Allen, and John Soroka. Zachary proudly endorses Innovative Percussion sticks and mallets and Drum Dial.

Hayley Plauger (Woodwinds and Brass) Saxophonist, educator, and Maryland native, Hayley Plauger now resides in Pittsburgh, where she teaches K-8 General Music at Propel Hazelwood. As a passionate educator, Hayley strives to give equal opportunities to anyone who wants to learn an instrument, regardless of their age or ability. In previous years, she taught high school students woodwind and brass lessons through the BGSU Music Plus Program and gave masterclasses throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio. Hayley volunteers her time adjudicating Solo & Ensemble Festivals, leading Woodwind Sectionals, and helping with local instrument petting zoos. As a performer, Hayley has given recitals along the East Coast and has performed at various venues including the LAMP NOW Festival in Nova Scotia, the Navy Saxophone Symposium in Washington D.C., the 40th Annual Bowling Green New Music Festival in Ohio, and the PASSHE Women’s Consortium Conference in Pennsylvania. Hayley holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s of Music in Saxophone Performance from Bowling Green State University under the direction of Dr. John Sampen. During her time at BGSU, she was also able to study Jazz and Improvisation with David Bixler. Previous mentors include Dr. Keith Young, Dr. Jim Flowers, and Tedd Griepentrog. Throughout her education, Hayley has performed with a Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, a Gamelan Ensemble, various Saxophone Ensembles, Jazz Bands, Wind Ensembles, and Marching Bands.

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Sarah Richards

Sarah Richards (Voice, Piano) is an active vocalist in the Pittsburgh area and holds a Master’s degree in Early Music Vocal Performance from the IU Jacobs School of Music, where she studied baroque and renaissance vocal repertoire with Steven Rickards and Dana Marsh, as well as piano, harpsichord and organ. She actively collaborates with instrumentalists on recording projects and has performed opera roles such as Ms. Pinkerton in Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief at West Virginia University, where she received her Bachelor’s in Vocal Performance in 2017, and roles in operas by Cavalli and Monteverdi at Amherst Early Music Festival and International Baroque Academy in Oberaudorf, Germany.  While at WVU, Sarah studied piano pedagogy with Julianna Contreras in addition to her vocal studies.  Currently, she sings in the newly formed vocal trio, Halcyon Voices, and teaches voice and piano to students of all ages, as well as accompanying for student recitals. Sarah strives to inspire confidence in all students and to help them reach their own unique goals as musicians.

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Tommy Starr

Tommy Starr (Drums/Percussion) is a current freelance composer and percussionist, residing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A recent graduate of Youngstown State University, he received his Bachelor of Music in Composition with Honors. In addition to studying Music Composition, Tommy received training in classical percussion and jazz studies. In Youngstown, he also served as a bass chorister in the St. John’s Episcopal Chancel Choir, under the direction of Dr. Richard Konzen. Currently, Tommy works as a private percussion and drum set instructor with the Varsity Tutors platform, where he instructs K-12 and adult students in percussion techniques, sound production, and music reading. He has been an active member of St. Paul’s Episcopal for twenty-two years. At an early age, he participated in the Canterbury choir, was part of the Confirmation Class of 2010, and served as the drummer for the 8:45 AM contemporary ensemble for eleven years.​

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Nichole Thomas

Nichole Thomas (Violin, Viola, Piano) began studying violin at age 12, taking private lessons with Nancy Zachary.  As a high school student, Nichole was a member of the PMEA orchestras, and in 1981-82 was invited to perform with the American Youth Symphony.  Through this opportunity, she traveled to Europe, performing in Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Nichole was a member of the Three Rivers Training Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra and the McKeesport Symphony, all prior to graduating from West Miflin Area High School.   After High School, Nichole earned a B.S. in Music Education from Duquesne University in 1991. While at Duquesne, Nichole studied with Alan Grishman and Ruth Osgood. While still in university, she began teaching private violin, viola, piano, and beginning cello lessons at a local shop and from her home.  Nichole has been a member of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, JSO, for 30 years and recently performed at Shanksville on the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Nichole also played as music director/organist at the First Presbyterian Church of Boston, Pa from 2009 to October of 2019. Recently, Nichole was hired as a string teacher for the Summer Music Program at West Mifflin Area School District.  Nichole has been loving teaching and playing music for 33 years and counting and is thrilled to join Accent Music Academy!

Claire Falvo (Piano, Voice) has been playing piano since she was eight years old. Her passion and love for music came when she realized how rewarding and empowering piano lessons were. She was training classically on the piano by the time she was 10 and joined various concert bands and jazz bands throughout Pennsylvania. At age 12, she began learning mallet percussion and eventually became a member of the Reading Buccaneers Drum and Bugle Corps. Claire started learning about guitar and singing when she was in college, where she was a member of Duquesne's electronic ensemble and Voices of Spirit traveling choral ensemble. Claire graduated in 2019 from Duquesne University with a degree in Music Therapy (Piano Concentration) and Psychology.  Throughout all of her training, Claire found herself teaching other young musicians in both college and high school. Though she was learning how to use music therapeutically, she found a great passion for sharing her knowledge of music with those who were looking to find it. As an instructor, her goal is to make sure students walk away feeling confident on an instrument that they love.

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Claire Falvo