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Artistic Staff

GMYS: OCT 30 GMYS Photo ShootMelissa Lesniak, PhD

Executive Director and Concert Orchestra Conductor

Dr. Lesniak earned her Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance and Business minor from Indiana University in Bloomington where she studied with Mimi Zweig. In 2005, she received her Doctorate in Music Education from the University of Miami, where she was a teaching assistant, teaching String Techniques and Elementary String Classes. She also coordinated the first and second annual Extraordinary Strings High School Chamber Music Festival.  Dr. Lesniak has presented sessions on string pedagogy at state and national conferences, is a published author in state and national journals, and has participated in numerous music festivals, including the Henri Mancini Institute in Los Angeles, CA. She is also a regular performer and studio teacher in South Florida. Dr. Lesniak joined GMYS in January 2004 as the Concert Orchestra conductor. In August 2005, she became the first Executive Director for GMYS, where among other duties, she instituted the GMYS Preparatory Division and the GMYS Summer Camp. Dr. Lesniak is Past President of the American String Teachers Association State of Florida Chapter and is a grants panelist for the Miami-Dade and State of Florida Cultural Affairs Councils.

Huifang Chen
Music Director, Symphony Orchestra Conductor

As a dynamic, diverse musician, Ms. Chen enjoys a dual career as a performer and an educator. She received her Bachelor of Music Degree from the Curtis Institute of Music and her Master of Music Degree from the University of Miami in violin performance. She was a member of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra from 1994 until its demise in 2003. As an educator, she is currently a violin instructor at New World School of the Arts and was Interim Director of Orchestra at Florida International University. Ms. Chen has also taught violin and chamber music at the University of Miami Frost School of Music and at Lynn University. She has led youth orchestras in concert halls such as Arsht Center in Miami and Carnegie Hall in New York City.

As an international violin soloist, Ms. Chen has appeared with many orchestras around the globe. She was the recipient of the 1999 Young Concert Artist of the Year awarded by the Na- tional Concert Hall of Taipei, Taiwan and a Concerto Competition Winner at the University of Miami in 2003. She is currently the Concertmaster of the Ars Flores Symphony, a member of the Florida Grand Opera Orchestra, and the founder and the principal violinist of the chamber ensemble Dynamic Strings. As a recording artist, Maestra Chen appears on dozens ofaward winning recordings for Sony, EMI, and Warner Brothers.

Vivian Ventura
String Orchestra Conductor, & Strings Chamber Coach

Vivian Ventura is a native of Puerto Rico who studied in the Conservatory of Music until she moved to Jacksonville, Florida in the 1990’s. In Jacksonville, she graduated from the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts receiving a National String Orchestra Award for outstanding dedication and violin performance. She also was a member of the Jacksonville Youth Symphony for many years and  a concerto competition winner who performed with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. She has attended various music Festivals throughout the Americas including the Pablo Casals Festival in Puerto Rico, Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina, and the Trujillo World Opera Competition in Peru. Mrs. Ventura received a full scholarship to attend the Florida State University to attain a K-12 Instrumental Music Education Degree. At Florida State, she performed in the Philharmonic, Symphony, Chamber and Opera Orchestras. During her internship she directed the prestigious Coral Reef High School Orchestras until she acquired her current position as director of Chorus, Orchestra, and Keyboard at Arvida Middle School. During her first year at Arvida, she was nominated for Rookie Teacher of the year and her Orchestra received a superior rating at district evaluations. As a violinist, she has performed with the Symphony of the Americas, Encore Chamber Players, Arabesque Chamber Ensemble, and A Touch of Class Strings and on MTV, Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago for his wedding and other occasions, and is a freelance musician throughout the South Florida tri-county area. Mrs. Ventura is currently the District Chair of the Florida Orchestra Association for Dade County, is an adjudicator for the Dade-County district solo and ensemble evaluations, and teaches private violin lessons. Mrs. Ventura began her work with GMYS in the Fall of 2005 as the String Orchestra Director and is the FLASTA 2012 School Teacher of the Year.

Besnik Hashani
Young Mozarts Orchestra Conductor

A native of Kosovo, Mr. Besnik Hashani started his violin studies in his hometown of Pristina. After graduating from the Music High School of his native city, he attended the Academy of Music of the University of Pristina. The troubled winds of war brought him to Miami where he pursued a degree in Music Education at Florida International University School of Music. Mr. Hashani has been much in demand as an adjudicator and has adjudicated for the Florida Orchestra Association’s all state orchestra selections, Solo and Ensemble MPA’s, and for the honors orchestra selections in the Miami-Dade County school system. Formerly a music teacher at F.C. Martin K-8 Center, Mr. Hashani is now the orchestra director for South Miami Middle School’s music magnet program.

Eugene Timmons
Concert Band and Jazz Band Director

Eugene Timmons is currently the Director of Bands & Orchestra at Robert Morgan Educational Center in the Miami-Dade Public Schools System. He earned his B.S. from Winston-Salem State University & M.S. from Nova Southeastern University where he has served as the Department Chairman of the Fine Arts Department. For a span of over sixteen years, Mr. Timmons was the Music Director and saxophonist for the popular music group, KC and the Sunshine Band. Mr. Timmons has traveled worldwide and has demonstrated a variety of music styles to vast audiences. As an instructor and musician with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools System, he was selected as a guest conductor for the All County Superintendent’s Honors Orchestra. His orchestra and jazz bands have consistently received Superior and Excellent rating in all phases of the performance evaluations.

Currently, Eugene Timmons serves as a music adjudicator of Concert, Jazz, and Solo music performance for the Florida Bandmasters Association (FBA). Recently, he performed in the hit musical “CATS” playing the baritone, tenor, and soprano saxophone. In addition to his musical pursuits Mr. Timmons has been selected as Teacher of the Year and Region Finalist Teacher of the Year in the Miami-Dade Public School System. He has additional course work through attendance at Southern Illinois University, Howard University and Florida International University.

Lakeisha Frith
GMYS Program Director

Lakeisha Frith is a GMYS alumni and a graduate of Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelors Degree in Arts and Humanities. Ms. Frith began working with GMYS in 2005 as the String Orchestra Assistant and is now the GMYS Executive Assistant, teaching beginning string classes and fulfilling administrative office duties and grant compliance. Ms. Frith has attended teacher trainings at the Indiana University String Academy’s Teacher’s Retreat as well as Suzuki method teacher trainings and is a popular private strings teacher in Miami-Dade County.

Oliver Diez (Improved)Oliver Diez

Young Sousas Conductor

Mr. Oliver Diez, born and raised in Hialeah, received his Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Florida International University in 1999 and promptly began his teaching career at Palmetto Elementary School where he still teaches today. Throughout the past years he has helped develop a strong music program by starting a chorus, string orchestra, salsa dancers club, a full concert band, and a jazz ensemble. He was named Rookie Teacher of the Year in 1999 and Teacher of the Year in 2003. His groups have performed throughout the communities of Pinecrest and Miami. In 2007 he was chosen to direct the Recorder Ensemble at the Superintendent Honors Music Festival. Mr. Diez’s Palmetto Singers and Concert Band have received countless Superior ratings at the annual Music U.S.A. Festival in Orlando, Florida where his concert band has been declared one of the three top elementary concert bands in the state. His jazz combo performed at the Superintendent’s Holiday Program in 2010. Recently Mr. Diez received a proclamation from the Mayor of the Village of Pinecrest naming June 7th, 2011  “Oliver Diez Day.


LindaBWLinda Shapanka
Young Mozarts/Miami Beach Conductor

Born on Long Island, Linda Shapanka attended SUNY’s Crane School of Music and received her B.A. from the Hartt College of Music, then continued an education in Bornoff, Kodaly and Orff techniques before starting a career as a professional musician in Connecticut and Venezuela and later studying for her Masters degree at the University of Miami. She has taught K-12 general music, strings, and orchestra in Michigan, Massachusetts and Florida. She has also has served on faculties of Conservatorio de la Orquesta Filarmonica and Collegio Internacional in Caracas Venezuela as well as Lansing Community College, and taught string pedagogy at the University of Miami School of Music. Currently she is the Director of Orchestras for Miami’s Scheck Hillel Community School. She has been a teaching member of the Greater Miami Youth Symphony’s preparatory division for five years and previously conducted  with the South Florida Youth Symphony. Ms. Shapanka has personally coached a number of All-State participants and music scholarship recipients from dozens of Miami schools and has performed with the Greater Lansing and Greater Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestras, Orquestra Filharmonica de Caracas, and I Giovani Musici, a string quartet which she founded in Hartford, Connecticut. Currently she performs both violin and viola professionally with local chamber groups.

Preparatory Division Teachers

Jacolyn Alvarez, Lakeisha Frith, Kimberly Rotalante, Stephanie Jaimes, Besnik Hashani, Glenn Perry, Lori Patrick, Laura Wilcox, Magdalena Luciani, Sarah Wallace, Erich Rivero, Linda Shapanka, John Bixby, Luis Fernandez, Felipe Diaz, Mirlynez Mendez

Orchestra and Chamber Coaches

Laura Wilcox-Chamber Coordinator, Jose Leon, Carol Nicholson, Tyson Voigt, Sandra Rubio, Hector Gomez

Symphony Manager

Carol Naveira-Nicholson

Office/Grant Assistant

Cat Berriz

Finance Manager

Jessica Sun

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