At PYO Music Institute, we believe music educators play a transformative role in shaping lives and inspiring future generations. Through the Ovation Award, we honor outstanding music teachers who inspire and lead in their communities. This year, we received nominations from ten different states after expanding the geographic scope of the competition to recognize music educators from all over the country.

Out of numerous deserving nominees, ten exceptional educators were chosen by our Panel as finalists. These finalists represent a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences, with five coming from different states across the country and the other five being local to the greater Philadelphia region and southeastern Pennsylvania.

Without further ado, we are pleased to announce the finalists of the 11th Annual Ovation Award:

  • Rick Barrantes Agüero – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Bassoonist / Conductor; Faculty – Temple Music Prep, University of Pennsylvania, The Music School of Delaware
  • Kimberly Doucette – Wilmington, Delaware
    Wilmington Children’s Chorus:  Artistic Director
  • Dr. Cordara Harper – Grambling, Louisiana
    Grambling State University:  Assistant Professor of Music Education, Vocal Coordinator, and Director of Choral Activities
  • Marcos J. Rodriguez – Lantana, Florida
    Santaluces Community High School:  Director of Bands
  • Erin Scalisi – Lumberton, Texas
    Choral Educator
  • Bailey Smith – Wells, Maine
    Founding Artistic Director:  Atlantic Harmonies Youth Choirs
  • Jason Stein – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Trombonist; Northeastern Philharmonic, Lancaster Festival Orchestra
  • Rié Suzuki – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Clarinetist; Faculty – Rowan University, Temple Music Prep, Settlement Music School; Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia
  • Nina Wilkinson – Lansdowne, Pennsylvania
    Philadelphia School District, Retired
  • William Wozniak – Havertown, Pennsylvania
    Percussionist/Timpanist; Delaware Symphony, Reading Symphony; Faculty – Temple University

The winner of the 11th Annual Ovation Award will be announced during the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s 84th Annual Festival Concert on Sunday, June 2nd, at 7:00pm in Verizon Hall at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. We invite you to join us in celebrating excellence in music education and honoring these outstanding educators who continue to inspire and enrich the lives of young musicians across the nation. This event promises to be a memorable occasion, marking one of the last performances before Verizon Hall is renamed Marian Anderson Hall.

Join us on Sunday, June 2nd, at 7:00pm in Verizon Hall for the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s 84th Annual Festival Concert and the announcement of the winner of the 11th Annual Ovation Award. The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra promises an exciting conclusion to the 2023-2024 season.

The program includes Humperdinck’s Prelude to Hansel and Gretel, W. A. Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, featuring The Philadelphia Orchestra musicians William Polk on violin and Kerri Ryan on viola, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10. Don’t miss this unforgettable season closer! 

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Keep reading to learn more about the 11th Annual Ovation Award finalists!

Meet the 11th Annual Ovation Award Finalists

Rick Barrantes Agüero, Bassoonist / Conductor; Faculty – Temple Music Prep, University of Pennsylvania, The Music School of Delaware (Philadelphia, PA)

Rick Barrantes Agüero is the Principal Bassoon and President of the Board of Directors of the New Jersey Chamber Orchestra, Assistant Conductor with the University of Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestras and Temple University Symphony Orchestra, and Principal Bassoon with the Second Ending Ensemble. Additionally, he holds teaching positions at the University of Pennsylvania, The Music School of Delaware, and Temple Music Prep. A 1st Prize Winner of the COFCAM Püchner Competition, he has played as a soloist with the Temple University Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Chamber Orchestra, Delaware Youth Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Sinfonia, GGS Chamber Orchestra, Youth Orchestra of Guatemala, and University of Costa Rica Symphonic Band.

A passionate orchestral player, he regularly appears as a guest bassoonist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, York Symphony Orchestra, and Lancaster Symphony Orchestra. He has also previously played with the APEX Ensemble, Symphony in C, Pennsylvania Philharmonic, Toronto Concert Orchestra, Niagara Symphony Orchestra, and
National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica. Additionally, he has appeared as principal bassoon with the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra (Switzerland), AIMS Festival Orchestra (Austria), Brevard Music Center Institute, Sewanee Summer Music Festival, and Youth Orchestra of Central America (Panama).

An esteemed music educator, he previously served as bassoon teacher at the Interlochen Arts Camp, The Philadelphia Orchestra All-City Fellowship, Guaranda International Music Festival (Ecuador), SiNEM/El Sistema (Costa Rica), School of Symphonic Music of Pérez Zeledón (Costa Rica), and ANC Young Music Camp (Panama). He has also presented masterclasses at The Glenn Gould School (Canada), the University of Delaware, the University of the Pacific, Temple University, and the National Music Conservatory (Honduras). His teaching experience and research cover multiple topics such as bassoon, reed-making, chamber music, music theory, solfege, orchestral playing, practicing techniques, and conducting.

He earned degrees from the National Music Institute of Costa Rica, The Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music (Canada), and Temple University. Currently, he is working on his Doctor of Musical Arts at Temple University, majoring in bassoon performance and minoring in orchestral conducting. His main bassoon mentors include William Short, Danny Matsukawa, and Glenn Einschlag.

Kimberly Doucette, Artistic Director, Wilmington Children’s Chorus (Wilmington, DE)

Kimberly Doucette has been Artistic Director of the Wilmington Children’s Chorus since 2009, after serving as an integral part of the artistic staff since 2005. Ms. Doucette leads the artistic and educational programs of Wilmington Children’s Chorus, which serve over 650 children, ages 6 weeks to 18 years old without the barrier of tuition or membership fees. Through her unique training and experience in both singing and music education, Ms. Doucette has forged a reputation for excellence as a conductor, educator, and performer. 

Under her artistic leadership, WCC has solidified its reputation for vocal artistry, music literacy, professionalism, and community connections.  In addition to leading the Performing Choirs in their own concerts, Ms. Doucette has prepared them to sing alongside the area’s top arts organizations, including the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Newark Symphony Orchestra, OperaDelaware, Delaware ChoralArts, First State Ballet Theatre, Wilmington Ballet, the Cartoon Christmas Trio, and the Philadelphia Arab Music Ensemble. Her leadership was integral in creating an on-going international exchange program between the chorus and the youth orchestra from Wilmington’s sister city of Fulda, Germany.  She also oversees WCC’s Neighborhood Choirs, Early Learners, and summer programs which collaborate with community centers, extended care sites, and early childhood centers in underserved communities throughout New Castle County.   

Ms. Doucette holds a Bachelor of Science in Music Education and a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from The Pennsylvania State University, a Master of Music in Voice Performance from the University of Delaware, and is certified in Elementary General Music by The Gordon Institute for Music Learning.  Sought after for her work on developing young singing voices within a choral curriculum, she is a frequent presenter, clinician, conductor, and adjudicator for regional music festivals and conferences.  

Dr. Cordara Harper, Grambling State University, Assistant Professor of Music Education, Vocal Coordinator, and Director of Choral Activities (Grambling, LA)

Dr. Cordara Harper, a native of Cove City, North Carolina, currently holds several distinguished positions at Grambling State University, including Assistant Professor of Music Education, Vocal Coordinator, and Director of Choral Activities. With a comprehensive background in teaching music at various educational levels—ranging from elementary to collegiate—Dr. Harper is recognized both nationally and internationally for his expertise. He is esteemed as a scholar, versatile musician, accomplished choral conductor, and respected instructional leader. 

Throughout his professional journey, Dr. Harper has achieved notable milestones, including advanced training in Kodály and Orff Schulwerk methodologies. Furthermore, he serves as the secretary on the executive board of The National Choral Collegiate Organization, underscoring his commitment to advancing music education on a broader scale. 

Dr. Harper’s dedication and excellence in teaching have been recognized with prestigious accolades, including the 2023 Teaching Excellence Award at Grambling State University and The 2024 Outstanding Faculty Award for the University of Louisiana System. 

Dr. Harper’s academic credentials include a Ph.D. in Music Education with a cognate in Choral Conducting from the University of Memphis. Additionally, he has earned a Master of Music degree in Music Education and post-master Certificate in School Administration from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, along with a Master of Science in Human Resources Training and Development from Amberton University. His educational journey began with a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from North Carolina Central University and a Bachelor of Psychology from Fayetteville State University. 

Beyond his academic and professional achievements, Dr. Harper remains active in various organizations, including Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Additionally, he serves as the music director at Saint Rest Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, further contributing to his engagement in both music and community service. 

Marcos J. Rodriguez, Director of Bands, Santaluces Community High School (Lantana, FL)

Marcos J. Rodriguez has been a music educator for over 20 years. A graduate of Florida International University, he studied conducting under Dr. Roby George, Dr. Robert Carnochan, and Steven Rivero. Mr. Rodriguez was awarded Teacher of the Year in 2016 and 2019, was a Broward ArtsED Finalist in 2017 and 2018, was recognized by Univision 23 in 2019 as “Un Maestro Especial Award”, and was the 2020, 2021 Grammy Quarterfinalist in Music Educator. In 2019, Mr. Rodriguez was also awarded the 2019 Florida Music Educators Association Enrollment Award, and the 2021 Henry Ford Innovation Teacher Award.

Professionally, Mr. Rodriguez was the former principal flute in the Broward Symphonic Band and the South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble. His ensembles have been invited and performed at Carnegie Hall at the New York Invitational Music Festival & the National Band & Orchestra Festival, the Cork International Choral Festival, and the FMEA All-State Conference. In addition to his profession, Mr. Rodriguez, for the past 32 years, has served with the Civil Air Patrol, a member of the US Air Force Auxiliary. In 2001, he received the Gen. George C. Bobick Musician Award for his work at the National Music Academy and was a former member of the 71st Maryland Wing Band. Currently, Maj. Rodriguez is the Emergency Service Officer at the North Perry Composite Squadron and on staff under the Director of Cadet programs for the Florida Wing. Mr. Rodriguez is also a member of the Florida Wing Ground Team where he specializes in Air & Ground Search & Rescue. Throughout his career, he has been deployed for National Disasters such as Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the 1998 Storm of the Century, Frances and Ivan in 2005, Wilma in 2006, and recently Irma in 2017. Maj. Rodriguez has received numerous awards and achievements including the Squadron Officer of the Year, the CAP Commendation Medal, the CAP Meritorious Service Medal, and the CAP Life Saving Medal. Currently, Mr. Rodriguez serves as the Director of Bands at Santaluces Community High School in Lantana, Florida.

Erin Scalisi, Choral Educator (Lumberton, TX)

Erin Scalisi, originally from a small town in Southeast Texas, has a diverse background in music education and performance. She began her career studying and performing in Europe before earning her degree from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. 
Erin’s journey as an educator took a unique turn when she became the mother of two special needs children. This experience not only shaped her as a teacher but also fueled her belief that every student deserves access to affordable, quality music education. 
Having worked primarily in low socioeconomic areas of the Dallas Fort Worth area, notably at Nimitz High School in Irving, Erin is dedicated to bringing quality music education to underserved communities. Her passion for the transformative power of music led her to recently relocate to Southeast Texas, where she continues to advocate for inclusive music programs. 
Erin is a sought-after speaker and has presented at various clinics, including the Texas Music Educators Association. She also works with school districts to provide professional development clinics for music educators.  
Outside of her professional endeavors, Erin finds joy in singing with master works groups in her local community and cherishes spending time with her husband and children. She is a member of TMEA, TCDA, ACDA, and NAfme. 

Bailey Smith, Founding Artistic Director, Atlantic Harmonies Youth Choirs (Wells, ME)

Bailey Smith has committed her work to providing southern Maine with quality, accessible music programs for all. Bailey lives in Wells, Maine, and is the owner of Atlantic Harmonies Studio and the Founding Artistic Director of Atlantic Harmonies Youth Choirs, a nonprofit community choir organization for youth. Bailey’s vision for both organizations revolves around providing access to all who seek music regardless of financial status or ability level and maintaining strong ties to the community. Both the studio and the nonprofit partner with local restaurants, organizations, and groups to provide music students with numerous opportunities for performance and service including parades, ceremonies, holiday events, community concerts, gigs, and more.

Atlantic Harmonies Studio serves over 300 students annually providing private vocal, piano, and instrumental lessons and summer musical theatre programs. Atlantic Harmonies Youth Choirs has over 75 students enrolled in one or more of the four choral ensembles within the organization. To enhance the sense of community, staff for the AHS summer theatre program, the student-teacher mini-lesson program, and choir program interns are primarily high school music students seeking experience and training on the other side of music education. Additionally, the summer theatre program includes prevocational and vocational skills opportunities for individuals with differing abilities to learn job skills and explore music, education, and childcare.

Bailey and her students keep a busy performance schedule and have had the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall, Maine State House, Sea Dogs Baseball, Ogunquit’s Christmas by the Sea, ACDA Honors Choirs, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, NATS CompeAAons, Music in the Parks, local piano festivals, and many other wonderful venues and events.

Now entering her tenth year, Bailey serves on staff for the Macy’s Great American Marching Band, an all-star marching band that appears annually in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This parAcipaAon sparked from fixeen years serving as Guard Programs Director for Wells High School where she continues to serve as music director for spring musicals. Bailey studied vocal performance at Berklee College of Music and is a certified judge for the Massachuse/s Judges Association, NATS, and Varsity Vocals.

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Jason Stein, Trombonist; Northeastern Philharmonic, Lancaster Festival Orchestra (Philadelphia, PA)

Jason Stein is a professional trombonist living in the Philadelphia area. He has had a diverse career as a performer, playing with some of the finest orchestras in the United States as well as playing commercially with artists such as the Beach Boys, BB King, Amos Lee, Chicago, Indigo Girls, Weird Al Yankovic, Kansas, and others. 
Jason has performed with many professional orchestras nationally, including the Chicago Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Charleston Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, Hilton Head Symphony, IRIS Orchestra in Memphis, and many others. Jason was also a member of the Jacksonville Symphony for 3 seasons. 

In the Philadelphia region, Jason performs regularly with many of the areas best regional orchestras including the Pennsylvania Ballet, Princeton Symphony, Reading Symphony, The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Kennett Square Symphony, Bay Atlantic Symphony, Lancaster Symphony, Ocean City Pops, Garden State Philharmonic, among others. Jason is a member of the Lancaster Festival Orchestra, which performs every summer in Lancaster, Ohio. He is also a member of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic and serves as the orchestra’s librarian. 
Jason won his first audition with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago in 2009, which is the training orchestra of the Chicago Symphony. He spent two seasons with the orchestra while studying with CSO trombonists Michael Mulcahy and Jay Friedman. Jason received his Master’s degree from Northwestern University and his Bachelors from Boston University. His teachers were Michael Mulcahy and Charlie Vernon (Chicago Symphony), Scott Hartman (Empire Brass), Don Lucas (Soloist), and Per Brevig (Retired Principal Trombonist of the Metropolitan Opera).  
In addition to his performing career, Jason is also very passionate about teaching. He is currently on faculty at Temple University Prep Division, is the trombone teacher for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s All City Fellowship Program, and coaches students involved with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic’s Mentorship Program. He also maintains a private studio in the Philadelphia region. 
Jason has taught at the University of North Florida, University of Florida (Gainsville), Pennsylvania Performing Arts Institute, and was a faculty member at Luzerne Music Center in the Adirondacks. He was a teaching assistant for the trombone seminar at Boston University Tanglewood Institute. He has given masterclasses at the University of Kentucky, Delaware State University, Newberry College in South Carolina, University of North Florida, and the Curtis Institute of Music. 
Many of Jason’s students have gone on to further their musical careers in college and the professional world. His students have attended Temple University, Carnegie Mellon, New England Conservatory, Boston University, Northwestern University, and Mannes School of Music. Many others have also continued on with their own passions in Engineering, Mathmatics, Liberal Arts, and Education. 

Rié Suzuki, Clarinetist; Faculty – Rowan University, Temple Music Prep, Settlement Music School; Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA)

Clarinetist Rié Suzuki is a dedicated musician whose passion for teaching enriches her performances. Currently, a respected member of The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and principal clarinet of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, Suzuki’s recent soloist appearances include engaging concerto performances with the Rowan University Wind Ensemble and the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra. 

In addition to her stage engagements, Suzuki shares her expertise with students at Rowan University, Temple University Music Prep, and Settlement Music School. Recently appointed as Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Central Florida, Suzuki’s commitment to nurturing young talent is evident in her approachable teaching style and her focus on instilling a love for music in her students. 

Suzuki’s musical journey has included notable collaborations and performances, such as a recital series with the Poulenc Trio and a concert tour of Central America sponsored by the U.S. Embassy with the Liberty Winds. Her recordings on respected labels like Capstone Records and Naxos Records reflect her dedication to musical expression and exploration. 

With her background including a doctorate and graduate performance degree from The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, where she was recognized with the Orchestral Fellowship, Suzuki embodies the essence of a passionate educator and performer, leaving a lasting impact on those she teaches and performs for. 

Nina L. Wilkinson, Retired, Philadelphia School District (Lansdowne, PA)

Nina L. Wilkinson began her musical journey with the viola at the age of eight in the Philadelphia School District. By thirteen, she earned a scholarship to the Settlement Music School, where she studied under Leonard Mogill, a violist in the Philadelphia Orchestra. She attended Overbrook High School’s prestigious Music Magnet Program with the late Dr. George E. Allen as her mentor and played in the All-City Philadelphia High School Orchestra.

Nina pursued higher education at Temple University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education while performing with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. She furthered her viola studies with Karen Tuttle, a renowned instructor at Curtis and Juilliard.

Throughout her career, Nina has received numerous awards, including those from the Ford Foundation, Philadelphia Foundation, and the Board of Education Music and Fine Arts Scholarship. She has participated in esteemed festivals such as Tanglewood, California Chamber Music Festival, Portland String Quartet Festival, and the Music Festival in Rome, Italy.

After 38 years of dedicated service, Nina retired as an Instrumental String Teacher from the School District of Philadelphia in 2020. Her influence has inspired many students to become leaders in various fields including education, healthcare, and the arts.

Currently, Nina is an Adjunct Viola Professor at Eastern University and a String Instructor for the Tune Up Philly After School Community Program at the Kroc Center. She has also been a Lead Instructor at the Temple University String Program and taught at the Rowe Academy in Philadelphia, Musicopia, and the Philadelphia International Music Festival.

Nina continues to perform in the Philadelphia area with ensembles such as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Orchestra, Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey, Bay Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Virtuoso Chamber Players, Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, Philly Pops, and the Helena Symphony Orchestra in Montana. Her performances include collaborations with celebrated artists like Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson at Carnegie Hall, and Stevie Wonder.

William Wozniak, Percussionist/Timpanist; Delaware Symphony, Reading Symphony; Faculty – Temple University  (Havertown, PA)

Born in Toledo, Ohio, William Wozniak began studying percussion at the age of 5 with members of the Toledo Symphony. His first orchestra concert he remembered was the Toledo Symphony playing Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. It was ironic to learn later that performing in that concert was the late Charlie Owen, Principal percussionist of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1953-1972. William came from a musical family. His mom was a Jazz Clarinetist, and his brother, who is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, was the Bass Trombonist with the West Point Military Band.  

Upon graduating High School, he entered the Curtis Institute of Music to study percussion with Michael Bookspan and Don Liuzzi of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He spent 4 wonderful years there participating in recordings, Ned Rorem’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand; tours/Festivals, Evian Music Festival; and performances at Carnegie Hall. During the summers, he performed in the Berkshires at the Tanglewood Music Center, National Orchestral Institute in Washington D.C. and the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge CO. 

In the Fall of 1996, William accepted the invitation to study for his Masters Degree with the renowned Percussionist Alan Abel at Temple University.  

Upon graduating Temple University, William accepted the Principal Timpani chair with the New World Symphony, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. He spent 4 seasons performing as Principal Timpanist. He can be heard on the recordings of the music of Steve Mackey and toured extensively with NWS. 

After New World Symphony, William joined his wife Sarah Sutton who was a member of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra at that time and together they traveled, moved and performed around the globe in London, UK (Sarah as No. 2 Violist with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden); Toledo, OH (William as Principal Percussionist with the Toledo Symphony); Naples, FL; before settling in the Philadelphia Area. 

Currently, William is both Principal Timpanist with the Delaware and Reading Symphony Orchestras. He is frequent Guest Timpanist and Percussionist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Adjunct Professor of Percussion at Temple University and runs a successful Private Percussion Studio. 

Highlights of his performing career include performances at Carnegie Hall, European Festivals Tour with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Evian Music Festival in France, the Tanglewood Music Center, the 2005 MTV VMA’s in Miami, FL, Luciano Pavorati on his Farewell Tour and with Hugh Jackman. 

William has been a Guest Timpanist and Percussionist with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, Naples Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, National Arts Centre Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Baltimore Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.  He has performed under the batons of Michael Tilson Thomas, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Jaime Martin, Seji Ozawa, Natalie Stutzmann, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Claudio Abbado, Simon Rattle, Robert Spano, Marin Alsop, Charles Dutoit, John Williams and Michael Giacchino.   

In addition to his recordings with the Curtis Orchestra and New World Symphony, William can be heard on Philadelphia Orchestra recordings Deutsche Grammophon label and the Sony label with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland on Michael Giacchino’s Music from ‘Lost’.   

In his spare time, he loves to spend time with his wife and son, coaching Ice Hockey, teaching Golf, reading and playing Scrabble Games with his family.