Ben Healy - Director of Private Lesson Department, Piano
Ben grew up in St. Paul, MN and has a M.F.A in Jazz Piano Performance from The New School for Jazz. Music has always been a part of Ben’s life: “Both my parents play piano and I started taking lessons at age 3. Over the years I had a number of teachers who helped to instill the joy of making music. One of them, who I met around age 12 to begin studying jazz, was Nate Shaw. Much of what I do today can be traced back to my parents discovering Nate’s business card on the bulletin board of a coffee shop across the street from my junior high in St. Paul, Minnesota. I took private lessons with Nate and participated in a few summer jazz camps organized by a local band he played in called the Motion Poets. Those experiences inspired me to pursue a degree in music, which eventually led me to The New School for Jazz and later to work for Nate as he founded Brooklyn Music Factory.”
Ben gets to share that inspiration with his students during Club Keyboard classes. “We love being able to see students every day and really build a relationship with them and camaraderie in the group. Since we play a lot of games and act out the storyline together the classes are so much fun it doesn’t feel like “practice,” but they really do learn a lot in a short period.”
Ben would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Never stop learning, exploring, studying, striving and creating. Always have a teacher, coach or mentor. Whatever your interests are, wherever they take you, seek out others who inspire you and develop relationships with them.”
Benny Woodard - Piano, Drums, MiniKeys
Benny grew up in South Hadley, MA and has a BFA in Jazz performance from New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He started playing music at 6 years old. “My dad is a singer and blues harmonica player, my grandfather was a guitar player, my uncle is a drummer, and my brother is violinist. We would play music together at my grandfather’s house and I would sit on my uncle’s lap while he played drums.”
Aside from music, Benny has a passion for Environmental Activism, Collaging, Climbing Trees, Hiking, Biking, and Eating. Anything else that he’d like to share with the BMF community? “I capsized in a canoe last week and lost my Crocs.”
Most importantly, Benny would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Give yourself permission to make mistakes.”
Bethany Faubion - Marketing and Enrollment Systems
Bethany grew up in Indianapolis and has a B.S. in Marketing Management. “When I was 5, I started hanging out with an older lady named Alice who had just retired from teaching piano... and my mom mowed her grass in exchange for lessons. It was such a unique experience because my piano career started by learning big band jazz/swing. My first song was Glenn Miller's In the Mood."
Aside from music, Bethany... doesn't exist. "All I do when I'm not teaching or working is attend music festivals and concerts, or jam with friends. Or watch live shows on YouTube. There's rarely a moment when I'm not doing something music-related (I guess if you count the hours I'm logging into Zelda: Breath of the Wild, that's something)."
Most importantly, Bethany would like to offer one piece of advice to BMF students: “The music you're creating is worth something. Don't ever hold on to the idea that anything you do isn't 'good enough'... it absolutely is, and if you're creating, you're doing it right!"
Dan May - Drums and Beginner Piano
Dan grew up in the South Suburbs of Chicago and has a degree in Percussion Performance from McNally Smith College of Music. Dan started playing drums in 5th grade after seeing his friend Raj bring home a snare drum. “I went over to his house and saw it on a stand in the middle of their kitchen - it was like a monument, and I had never seen something cooler. To this day, the snare drum is my favorite part of the drumset."
Dan's inspirations? “I love the jazz fusion and funk drummers of the 70's and 80's... these days, I draw a lot of inspiration from the electronic music that was being produced out of bedrooms in Detroit and Chicago in the 1990's."
When he’s not playing the drums, Dan is rock climbing, playing video games, board games, and learning new things.
Dan's ONE piece of advice to his students: “Investigate your curiosity. When you find something that is worth learning deeply, it will give back to you in abundance!”
Davis Rowan - Drums
Davis grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and has a degree in Drum Set Performance from Berklee College of Music. Believe it or not, Davis began his musical journey on piano at a young age. “My parents made me. When I was 9, I found a drum set in my neighbors attic while we were looking for legos. That’s when the real magic started to happen.”
Davis’s coolest gig? “I’ve toured around the world with actor turned musician, David Duchovny (yes, the dude from the x-files.) Last spring we played a show in Moscow and I played a drum groove while 3,000 Russians sang some famous Russian song. It was very strange and very cool.”
When he’s not playing the drums, you might find Davis taking care of his physical and mental health with activities such as rock climbing and running. Anything else he’d like to share with the BMF community? “I found a dead bird inside of my very first bass drum.”
Most importantly, Davis would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Never stop exploring.”
Elora grew up right on the border of Long Island and Queens and has a BFA in Vocal Jazz Performance from The New School, where she also minored in Psychology.
“I started playing bass guitar when I was 12 after reading the comics Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Soon after I got into singing musical theater, opera, and jazz!"
When she's not teaching music, you might find Elora crocheting, drawing, cooking, or spending time in nature.
Most importantly, Elora would like to offer one piece of advice to her students: "Never doubt the importance of something that interests you! If you are curious about something, pursue it with passion."
Frank Hartman - Product Designer / Front-End Developer
Frank grew up in Minneapolis and received his Bachelor's in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.
He started taking piano lessons around 6-7 years old... "and I've been in love with music since. What really kickstarted my interest was when I discovered music production. My dad had a copy of FL Studio installed on his computer, and it was the funnest thing. Making my own compositions is still one of my favorite activities. Both my parents are musicians (they met because they played in the same band), and they have been a huge influence on my life. Currently, I find inspiration in the musicians I've met over the years."
His coolest experience performing? "I got to play a 24-hour Drone festival in Knoxville, Tennessee at Big Ears music festival. It was a super fun and weird experience; I played around 4am to a crowd of half-asleep ambient aficionados. I highly recommend the festival for fans of Jazz and Experimental music."
When not making music, Frank loves playing video games... and has been sinking "way too many hours" into Elden Ring. "Also, I've been honing my photography skills for the past 6 years or so, and I hope to present a collection in a gallery soon. Beyond this, I love to cook, do yoga, hang out with my cat, and travel."
Advice to BMF students: "One of the most gratifying aspects of music is personal expression, so find a way to express yourself that feels right to you. What works for your teacher may not work for you. Try out different genres, styles of playing, instrumentals, etc. and I'm sure something will resonate."
Gregory Baldwin - Guitar, game designer
Greg grew up in Yorktown Heights, NY and has a degree in Studio Production and Composition from SUNY Purchase. He started playing music when he was 12 years old. ”I was born and raised on MTV. My dad got me into 80s alternative at a very young age. Bands like The Replacements, The Smiths, Husker Du…”
Aside from music, Greg has a passion for biking. Anything else that he’d like to share with the BMF community? “ I LOVE cheesy reality TV.... it’s my one vice…”
Most importantly, Greg would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “My advice is to listen, learn, and play with your peers. Keep creating and never stop.” 🎵 ❤️
Hilarie grew up in a small town in Eastern Kentucky, right at the base of the Appalachian Mountains, also known as the Cumberland Gap. Her hometown, Middlesboro, is hilariously known for being placed right in the middle of a crater!
She holds two Bachelor degrees from Western Kentucky University, one in theater with a minor in music theory and performance and the other in Community-Based Arts, with focuses on storytelling, community songwriting, and social justice. She is also currently working on a Masters Degree in Arts and Cultural Policy/Management from Pratt Institute, and will be finishing up in April 2021!
Hilarie started playing music at a young age. “When I was little, I wanted to do EVERYTHING my older sister did so I started taking piano lessons at age 4, to follow her lead, and just fell in love with music after that. My family has always appreciated music.My grandpa, who sang tenor in a southern gospel quartet, filled my ears and mind with musical stories. That was the beginning of my desire to find my own songs and ways of expressing them. He has always been an inspiration to me.”
Carole King was one of the first artists that really got Hilarie interested in songwriting, and she grew up listening to King’s music with her parents. She is also deeply moved by the words and music of Florence Welch, Rhiannon Giddens, Maggie Rogers, and Joni Mitchell. When not teaching at BMF, Hilarie enjoys playing Bluegrass music, so these types of artists are inspiring her a lot right now!
What was one of Hilarie’s favorite and most rewarding musical/theatrical experiences? Working with TimeSlips Creative Storytelling in Morgantown, KY on an immersive theatre piece called Wendy’s Neverland. The piece took place in Morgantown Care and Rehabilitation Center. “I was able to be both a choral leader and make music alongside the coolest elders you’ve ever met and their care buddies, fabulous musicians, and artists from around the U.S. The piece was all about embarking on a journey of belief and how when we, collectively, believe in ourselves and in others, we can accomplish anything! Which is a lesson I’ll carry with me forever!”
When not making music, Hilarie loves to travel, spend time in the mountains, learn new languages, and play with her perfectly adorable and fluffy black cats! She also loves to do anything and everything that involves a community of people. Fun fact about Hilarie: she spent a summer living in a barn in Northern Ireland as an apprentice to a storyteller, who is now a dear friend and mentor. She also plays the Celtic harp and speaks Italian!
Hilarie would like to offer one piece of advice to her students: “The most powerful tool you have is your voice. Your voice can create change, it can make waves, it can be expressed in so many ways and is so unique to you! When you believe in your voice, you can create extraordinary things!”
Jessica Tolliver - Director of Administration & Family Communication
Favorite part of your job: I try to make sure the whole BMF community has what they need to create awesome music together every day.
When and why did you discover you wanted to be a musician, or work closely with music?: Nate and I were in a heavy metal cover band together in college. I played the drums!
Fun fact: A movie--"Trail of the Lonesome Pine" starring a young Henry Fonda--was made about a (real!) family feud in Kentucky, involving my Tolliver ancestors. Henry Fonda played a Tolliver!
Bands/groups/projects: Annual family holiday video!
John Russell - Guitar, Band, Summer Camp
John grew up in the California Bay Area and received a BA in Narrative Studies from the University of Southern California - where he wrote his thesis on the narrative properties of music.
"I got my first beat machine when I was 15 and spent years trying to produce like Kanye and Pharrell and Timbaland. In college I bought a guitar and discovered I loved writing songs as much as programming colossal 00’s R&B drums and began a quest to meld those things together."
Aside from music, John has a passion for reading and playing soccer… "I am always either juggling a deflated soccer ball in my house or reading one of the 5 books I’m halfway through if I’m not making music."
One of John's coolest musical experiences... "Far and away the most powerful experience I have had in music is exploring the voice as an instrument. Potent social, emotional & spiritual lessons are unavoidable in the pursuit of singing with freedom…"
What do you do at BMF? I work the desk two days a week, welcoming students and families--and helping out with what’s needed.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, right above where Brooklyn Music Factory began!
Do you hold any degrees? From where/in what? I’m currently finishing up a BFA in Visual Art with a concentration in painting at Hunter College.
When did you start playing music? Why? Who are your inspirations? I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember! I began with violin lessons as a toddler, but since then I’ve dabbled in almost every instrument out there. I love to explore, but I always return to singing:)
What was one of your coolest gigs/musical experiences? When I was in high school, a recording of the chorus I was in was used in Beyonce and Jay Z’s On The Run tour! I was able to go to one of the shows and it was such a surreal experience!
What are your passions aside from music? I love to work with my hands. Right now I do a lot of painting and sewing!
Fun Fact: Nate, my father, gave Ben Healy piano lessons in the 90s in Minnesota. When I turned 4 I started taking piano lessons with Ben and went on to study with him for 8 years!
Kai M Sorensen - Director of Production
Kai was born in Cedar Rapids, IA but grew up in Blair, NE. IN. He has a BA in K-12 Music Education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an Associates in Contemporary Writing and Production from Berklee College of Music. As a child, music wasn’t difficult for Kai to find - It ran in the family! “The first time I remember playing music was when I would attend my Uncle Jim’s children’s music shows. He goes by “Mister Jim”! I started really getting into music when I joined choir, and found the trumpet in 5th grade. However, my love for performing music came from playing in my High School garage band “Those Guys”. We covered all the early 2000 alt-pop/punk hits. Just best friends playing music together and we got the attention of the whole town (of 8,000 people…)”
Kai’s coolest gig? “I’m a member of the psyche/rock band Evolfo. Honestly I find everytime we play to be so cool but recently, we shared a bill with Steve Earle and the Dukes. It was at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and Steve was celebrating the 30th anniversary of Copperhead Road (great record!). Great town, amazing music, and a sold out show.”
When Kai isn’t playing music, you might find him exploring the great outdoors! “Any opportunity to fish, swim, or run around outside - that’s where you’ll find me.” Kai is also a self-proclaimed Star Wars Mega-Fan.
Most importantly, Kai would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Do everything you can to retain your voice. That was some advice that came to me a little too late. Don’t worry about what anybody thinks and speak from your heart. Translate that energy and passion into what you have to say musically and you’ll never go wrong.”
Kaitlin Pelkey - Director of Advanced Bands, Voice, Piano, Guitar, Bands, Song Lab
Kaitlin grew up in Miami, FL and has a degree in Music Therapy from Berklee College of Music. With this degree, she was able to work for a year doing music therapy at Mount Sinai with patients in chemo/radiation and in rehab. Kaitlin got her start playing music at a very young age, stating “I’ve Always sang and played. My mom was a jazz singer and my dad a jazz pianist. I practically grew up in the theater.”
When she’s not teaching, Kaitlin can be found writing music for her band Pinkie Promise, a local Brooklyn band (currently working on their second album! Keep those eyes peeled…) Kaitlin's inspirations? “I'm REALLY inspired by the local rock bands in Brooklyn right now but always find myself coming back to classics like Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Neil Young, Black Sabbath, and Fiona Apple.”
Most importantly, Kaitlin would like to offer one piece of advice to her students: “Let yourself be obsessed! If you love a song, love it loudly and learn it! If you follow the thread of interest you'll never get bored. :)”
If you could give one piece of advice to your students what would it be?Once you start something you enjoy, don't stop. Keep getting better. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep having fun. Keep sharing that passion with others. Be yourself and love everything you create!
When and why did you discover you wanted to be a musician, or work closely with music? I started around age 8 singing for fun and it wasn't until I got to high school that I started learning and studying more about being a vocalist because of my desire to be a professional vocalist. My inspiration was the many great music teachers I had in high school. Specifically my Gospel Choir and Mixed Choir teachers who helped me become a more competent musician.
Fun fact: I did a 3 day camp wilderness trip in the Adirondack Mountains when I was 15. It was one of the best experiences I had and I'd love to do something like that again.
What are your passions aside from music? I enjoy health, fitness, and mental health. You can always find me cooking something in my house, training at the gym, or meditating when I'm not practicing or teaching. I'm also very passionate about early childhood education and fostering children to become creative thinkers and be free to use their imagination.
Favorite part of your job: I cherish being a child's first music teacher. In MiniKeys, I love creating a playful, successful experience that will lay a foundation for their lifelong love of music.
When and why did you discover you wanted to be a musician, or work closely with music?
Everyone was singing in house growing up. My Mom sang in MGM musicals and Broadway and my Dad sang Opera. I was a shy kid and as a teenager loved The Smiths as much as Stephen Sondheim. Music gave me confidence and a sense of belonging. Fast forward years later, I was performing with a theatre company in hospitals and shelters. It hit me how deeply music can reach any population with any ability. I studied my Master's in Music Therapy at NYU and worked in early intervention and with dementia patients. I love leading group singing and building community through song.
Fun fact: I sang on The Grand Ole Opry stage but surprisingly not country music.
Bands/groups/projects: Raising my daughters is a big project right now. Slowly working on a collection of lullabyes. These have been passed down and a few are original.
Nate Shaw - Co-founder, Piano, Big Music Games LIVE
Favorite part of your job: Absolutely it's building a sense of self in my students.
When and why did you discover you wanted to be a musician, or work closely with music? I was playing piano in a blues band in Hong Kong (of all places).I was 21 yrs old & living abroad studying Chinese for 3 hours a day. Digging the food and the massive culture shock. It was a Sunday night gig that I did every week. I was just a wide eyed kid who saw everything as a possible. And then one song (a minor blues in E...I remember it perfectly) I played a chord on the piano and all of a sudden felt something shoot through my body that I'm not sure I had ever felt before. It was bliss. It was joy. It was totally real and physical and emotional. That one moment was when I realized that I needed to keep doing music for the rest of my life. My life has continued to be finding ways to feel that daily through music.
Fun fact: I have been to Bali twice to play with a friend who lives there. I'm always willing to travel for adventure.
Bands/groups/projects: Gowanus Reggae And Ska Society & J Granelli's trio: Mr Lucky
Natalie Young - Voice, Piano, Guitar & Curriculum Designer
What do you teach at BMF? I teach voice and beginner piano! I’m also a curriculum designer for BMF.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Hershey, PA. Before the chocolate factories moved when I was 10, the entire town smelled like chocolate!
Do you hold any degrees? From where/in what?
I hold my Bachelor of Music in Music Theatre Vocal Performance from New York University. I minored in Applied/Educational Theatre and Mathematics.
When did you start playing music? Why? Who are your inspirations?
My parents are both theatre performers, so I started singing before I could form full sentences! I was inspired by the powerful vocals of musical theatre legends like Audra McDonald, Judy Kuhn, Stephanie J. Block, and Sutton Foster. I performed in my first musical at the age of 6, and began taking formal voice lessons at age 11. I first learned to read music through musical theatre and choir, which led me to study piano and guitar.
As my relationship with music has grown over the years, I’m now inspired by musicians who break the boundaries of genre, like Anais Mitchell, Moses Sumney, and The Staves.
What was one of your coolest gigs/musical experiences?
During my senior year of high school, I booked a gig as a primary soloist in a concert showcasing the music of Stephen Schwartz. I got to sing “Morning Glow” from Pippin as a duet with Stephen Schwartz himself- that was pretty cool!
What are your passions aside from music?
As a disabled musician and educator, I’m extremely passionate about access and equity in artistic environments. On a slightly less serious note, I’m passionate about animals (mainly my rescue pup, Mocca!), plants (I have 85 house plants!), and experimental theatre.
If you could give one piece of advice to your students what would it be?
Enjoy the human moments of music-making! Your journey with music will bring about so many feelings- joy, frustration, surprise, defeat, curiosity, determination- and they are all important! Embrace the challenges and feel the beat. :)
My dream in life is to create a residency space for new work development in music and theatre. I’m passionate about making space for new voices to thrive!
Perry Smith - Guitar, Bass, Adv. Bands
Perry grew up in San Francisco, CA and received a Bachelor of Music in Studio/Jazz Guitar from USC, and a Master of Music in Jazz Studies from NYU.
He was 10 years old when he started playing his Dad’s acoustic guitar. Major inspirations of Perry’s are Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Wayne Shorter.
One of Perry’s coolest gig experiences was playing the main stage at Montreal Jazz Festival for 20k people.
Besides playing music, Perry enjoys yoga, sports, cooking, hiking and camping. And pizza! Perry says, “Bay Ridge has the best pizza in all of Brooklyn.” :)
Most importantly, he would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “It’s okay to try new things in music and feel challenged on your instrument. That’s how you grow as a musician.”
Peira is Co-founder and Camp Director of Brooklyn Music Factory. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Peira started playing music at a very young age, and loved to play the piano in her family living room. She began voice lessons at 9 years old, and started writing her own songs in middle school. “Once I discovered the power of writing your own music, I never looked back!”
Peira’s most treasured musical experiences have been when she’s had the opportunity to see artists she loves in small, intimate venues. “There’s nothing like being in a small room, watching a performance of an artist you admire, and feeling like the music is right on top of you. I love that.”
Aside from music, Peira is passionate about the environment and making our planet a better and cleaner place. “I love that saying, There is no Planet B. Feels like there’s no better way to sum it all up.” Peira lives with her awesome husband who she met playing in a band 25 year ago. They now have two amazing kids and love playing music together as a family.
One piece of advice Peira loves to share with her students: “Create without limits. Creativity is hindered by rules. Allow yourself to be free and you’ll be amazed at what you can create.”
Sienna Sears - Piano, Voice, Guitar
Sienna grew up in St. Louis and received her BFA in Musical Theater from Seton Hill University. She started playing music as a kid with her brothers and sisters in their sibling band. "I loved being on stage as a kid; we had fun creating shows."
Her inspirations are Nina Simone, Norah Jones, and Joni Mitchell.
Sienna's coolest gig? "My coolest musical performance recently was performing with my brother, Christopher Sears at Rockwood Music Hall for a lovely, lively crowd. It was our first live show back in person after almost 2 years and it felt magical."
Aside from music, Sienna has a passion for theater, art, dancing, and yoga.
Most importantly, Sienna has an important piece of advice for his students: “Stay curious, keep playing, and keep creating!"
Zoe Dongas - Voice, Piano, Camp
Zoe grew up in Nashville and has a bachelor’s degree in Music in Musical Theater from Oklahoma State University. She started singing in her church's children's choir and played piano in middle school "after many months of pestering my parents, asking to take lessons."
Zoe's coolest gig? "One of my coolest musical experiences was my university senior recital! With the help of my professors, I put together a program of music that I loved - from Sondheim to Carole King to a Filipino protest song. It was a blast."
Aside from music, Zoe is passionate about working with and advocating for the immigrant and refugee community.
Zoe has one important piece of advice for her students: “Don't be afraid to be silly and fail proudly!"
We like it here :)
Our team comes from all over the map from California to Nebraska, Florida to Texas, Australia to Sweden! We are not just a music school; we are a mission-driven company intent on growing a body of 100,000 students worldwide with the tools needed to connect with others and build something bigger than themselves through music. Playing & performing in bands. Writing & sharing songs. Jamming around the campfire or around the world. We grow musicians for life and are changing a generation of music-making families.
"The most fun thing about being a part of the BMF community is all the opportunities they offer to engage kids. They are really good at it. It’s a really high quality & well run operation, and has sparked something special in my child. And they’ve been amazing during the quarantine with the switch to online lessons & other opportunities for remote learning. Highly recommended!"
- Andrea, a Brooklyn Mom
Are you ready to see your child excited about music class each week?