For every professional artist, there are, of course, countless mentors behind the scenes. It’s no surprise that some of the best award-acceptance speeches include mention of childhood teachers setting the recipients on a path of greatness or awakening a self discovery. In reality, artists never stop learning—even Spoleto’s lead opera singers work with a vocal coach during the rehearsal period—and teachers of all kinds continue to push, guide, coax, finetune.

As composer and Festival Conductor & Director of Orchestral Activities John Kennedy puts it: “Teachers exhibit an unending quest for knowledge themselves—the healthy spirit of being a lifelong learner. We owe so much to people who devote themselves to teaching, to the art of learning, to fueling curiosity, and to passing on knowledge and practice across generations. They may not hear it often enough, but their influence goes farther than they’ll ever know.”

As people around the world join in a global celebration of teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked Spoleto artists and staffers to share their gratitude for educators who have helped shape their careers.


From Nicole Heaston, who stars in Vanessa:

I would like to thank Dr. Lena McLin, my high school choir teacher, who, during my sophomore year, told me that I was an opera singer. I promptly told her that opera singers were not Black. She spun me around to reveal the posters on her wall of Leontyne Price and William Warfield. She replied, “They are Black opera singers, just like you will be.” Dr. McLin entered me into an NAACP vocal competition and I won first place both locally and nationally. Without her encouragement, I would not be here in Charleston for Spoleto.

From Pedja Muzijevic, Bank of America Chamber Music pianist:

I met Albert Fuller when I enrolled in his performance practice class at Juilliard. Albert was a harpsichord player, conductor, and a great expert on Baroque music; someone who could speak about Louis XIV (or “Louis Katz,” as Albert would mischievously refer to him) and J. S. Bach in great detail. But Albert never lived in the past. He purchased every new Apple product there was and hired someone to teach him how to use it to its maximum potential. He loved pop music and disco dancing just as much as he loved Couperin or Mozart. Albert would open his eyes wide and speak about “the inner theater of imagination.” He would show videos of both Maria Callas and Madonna and state a simple fact—that they move millions of people with their music. Albert made me realize that our primary task as musicians is to connect people across time and place. Thank you, Albert. You changed my life.

Ayane Kozasa and Kirsten Docter

From Ayane Kozasa, Bank of America Chamber Music violist:

I would not have the career I have now or be the musician I am today without Kirsten Docter scooping me up and letting me be her viola student while I was still figuring out life as a violin major in undergrad. I remember changing my major right before my senior year to viola, and it felt so daunting. But her encouragement and trust in me meant the universe. It’s so crucial to find a mentor that will go to bat for you, and at a time of deep unknown, she was always there. Thank you, Kirsten. You’re my hero!

From Geoff Yost, Spoleto Digital Marketing Manager:

Ben Outen, my choir director at Charlotte Choir School, helped me find my voice—not just in song but in daily life. Singing for Ben taught me the power of adding my voice to a chorus, and how music can connect one to history and provide a path to the future. The program’s foundational experiences, like touring England, meant I performed the repertoire of the English choral tradition not just in a Charlotte church, but in the cathedrals meant to house this music.

From Renate Rohlfing, pianist and Tell Your Story project director:

My piano teacher Margo Garrett at The Juilliard School continues to be one of the most important people in my life. In addition to being an inspired musician, she seemed to know exactly what to say when my inner critic affected my learning. I remember one day when I was particularly exhausted, she said, “I hope you remember that you are enough.” I’ve leaned on that during challenging times in my musical and personal life.

Philip Snyder (center) with Jennifer Parker-Harley (left) and Greg Stuart (right)

From Philip Snyder, flutist and Spoleto Associate Producer:

My flute mentor Jennifer Parker-Harley and my experimental music mentor Greg Stuart helped me develop curiosity, open-mindedness, and the critical thought that have allowed me to find immense fulfillment in my life. I think about both of them every day and I continually learn from them as I find my way through the world, develop my musical practice, and support other artists. They gave me access to a mode of thinking that approaches each moment and each event on its own terms—they taught me on my own terms and I now aim to give that same experience to the people in my life.

From Todd Palmer, Bank of America Chamber Music clarinetist:

My clarinet teacher and mentor in New York City was the British clarinetist, Gervase de Peyer, one of the great musicians of his era. Of his many recordings in his lifetime, I consider his recording of Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsodie with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez to be the most beautiful. The recording was also the sole reason I came to New York City as a teenager: I needed to meet and study with this incredible musician. At the time, he was newly appointed to the faculty of the Mannes College of Music where I later auditioned and was accepted. I studied with him for five years and heard many of his performances as the first clarinetist of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. He also invited me to play a number of concerts with him, and he was instrumental in my audition for Young Concert Artists, which is the primary reason that I have been part of Spoleto. Around 10 years ago, I arranged the Debussy Rhapsodie for a chamber setting which premiered at Spoleto. The arrangement is now published by Boosey & Hawkes Co., with a dedication to Gervase de Peyer on the title page.

From Jenny Ouellette, Spoleto Associate Director of Media Relations:

My choreography and dance history teacher Mary Wolff at The Boston Conservatory gave me the confidence to forge my own path, even though it, at the time, seemed so different from my peers’ direction. She introduced me to an entire world beyond classical performance and I am grateful she encouraged me to follow my own interests and strengths. I’ll also never forget the lessons of my first ballet teachers Mr. and Mrs. Novak. They had performed with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo (one of the spinoffs) and the foundation of ballet choreography they instilled in my muscle memory astounds me even to this day. I didn’t get to tell them just how much their work shaped my entire life, which is one of my great regrets.

Courtney Lawson with Dr. R. Andrew Crane

From Courtney Lawson, Spoleto Producing Administrator

Dr. Jennifer Youngs, Dr. R. Andrew Crane, and Bridget Benton at Brigham Young University all took a chance on my career goals. They each provided me with experiences in my desired field and continued to provide support after I received my undergraduate degree. Dr. Youngs advocated for my involvement in student experiential trips so that I could see performance from the perspective of an arts administrator. Dr. Crane placed me in leadership roles, allowing me to take on new experiences and learn how to lead a group of people. And Bridget let me mess up and grow in the most organic way, then offered her trust and advice as I moved into the workforce. It’s because of those experiences and opportunities that I was led to my position today. They took a chance on an overly eager student and I’ll forever be grateful to them.

From Rebecca Weatherby, Spoleto Producing Assistant

Dr. Valerie Bullock, my choral music and music education professor at Charleston Southern University, had a profound influence on not only my education, but also on my worldview. From her I learned the value of a strong work ethic and desire to be a lifelong learner. She also taught me that the most valuable thing a person can do with their life is to show kindness through your words and actions. She was, and still is, an advocate for people whose voices are often lost or silenced by others. Dr. Bullock will always be someone I look up to and I am forever grateful for her mentorship and friendship.