Music Teacher Bio Page


Jeff Knell – Woodwind and Brass Teacher

Jeff Knell is a woodwind and brass instructor at David’s Music House.  He has been involved with instrumental music since the age of 10.  Beginning with the clarinet, his musical experience broadened to include playing the trombone, saxophone, oboe, trumpet, and the bassoon, his primary instrument. As a McMurray native, Jeff graduated from Peters Township High School in 2007. Throughout his education, he has participated in concert and marching bands, symphony orchestras, jazz ensembles, instrumental chamber groups, pit orchestras and vocal ensembles. Jeff enjoys helping students to find and grow their talents, whether it is on their first instrument or learning a new one. Graduating from Mercyhurst College in 2011 with a Bachelor’s of Music in Music Education, he is an Elementary Band teacher in the Bethel Park School District.

Kelsey Backstrom – Woodwinds & Beginning Piano

Kelsey Backstrom is a woodwind instructor at David’s Music House. Music has always been a part of her life, growing up. She started taking flute lessons in fourth grade and has continued playing ever since. Kelsey participated in the marching band, symphonic band, and the pit orchestra before graduating from Bethel Park High School in 2006. She then went on to pursue a degree in Music Education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. While there, she performed as a member of the Concert Band, Symphony Band, the IUP Marching Band, and several small quartets. Kelsey graduated in 2010 and is a substitute teacher in Bethel Park, South Park, Upper St. Clair, and Peters Township school districts. She truly enjoys teaching and sharing her passion with students.

Brian Smith – Beginning to Advanced Guitar & Recording Engineer.

Brian is a 2013 graduate of California University of Pennsylvania’s Commercial Music Technology major. There, he studied guitar performance and jazz theory under Duquesne’s own Ken Karsh, and commercial arranging with Pittsburgh’s Ralph Guzzi. He also studied piano, performed with Cal-U’s guitar ensemble, jazz & big band ensemble, and choir band. As a part of the CMT curriculum, he is fluent in the recording arts, certified in Sibelius 7, and user certified by Avid’s ProTools 11, the industry standard in recording technology. Brian is versatile in a wide variety of genres including: classical & instrumental, blues, jazz, rock, fusion, hard rock, and metal. Brian is very active as a freelance guitarist and recording engineer. He has performed with the Washington Symphony Orchestra, shared the stage with saxophonist Curtis Johnson (Aretha Franklin), interned with Grammy winning engineer Dino DiStefano, recorded at Ocean Ways studio in Nashville, TN; and contributed in musicals, solo performances, and events at Cal-U’s campus. Brian has also recorded a number of independent albums from rap and jazz to blues and metal. He frequently plays shows with his progressive rock band and has performed at many of Pittsburgh’s notable clubs & venues.

Emily Cook – Woodwinds, Brass & Beginning PianoEmily Cook

Emily Cook, an Illinois native, completed a master’s degree in clarinet performance from Duquesne University and is a freelance musician and teacher throughout the Pittsburgh area.  She also holds a degree in instrumental music education from Lawrence University in Wisconsin. She completed her student teaching at Whitney Young High School in Chicago, Michelle Obama’s alma mater, where she assisted in taking the wind symphony to perform in New York’s Carnegie Hall.  She has performed with professional orchestras in Wisconsin and Arkansas, and has been featured as a concerto soloist with the Duquesne Wind Symphony and the Quincy Symphony Orchestra.  In Pittsburgh, she plays with Alia Music and ELCO, as well as with the Directions Duo, a clarinet and viola ensemble dedicated to working with composers to create new musical works.  Emily also loves playing music outside of the “classical” realm, and spent four years playing Gamelan Cahaya Asri, a Balinese percussion ensemble, and played with the University of Chicago’s Middle Eastern Ensemble.  Emily is dedicated to helping students of all levels find their own musical voice, all while developing strong fundamentals and, of course, having fun!

Benjamin Barson – Woodwinds & Piano

Ben is a saxophonist, pianist, recording engineer, and educator. Ben moved to Pittsburgh from New York City, where he was responsible for the launching of the music program of the chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem. As an educator he taught in schools around the city through the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, an organization that worked with aspiring students to master their musical craft. As a musician, Ben has played with a diverse roster of America’s leading big band jazz composers such as Fred Ho, Arturo O’Farrill, Craig Harris, and Frank Lacy, playing at stages such as Lincoln Center, the Guggenheim Museum, and many others. Ben is excited to have joined the family at David’s Music House, whose commitment to education and performance, he feels, is second to none in the region.

gizel(1)Gizel Rodriguez  – Beg to Advanced Vocals & Beg Piano

Gizel Rodriguez  was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. A naturally talented opera singer, she has extended her repertoire range to an almost all encompassing one which includes musical comedy, french popular songs, latin american boleros, jazz, sacred music, afro-peruvian-style pieces, argentinean tango and mexican folklore, in addition to the standard operatic repertoire. Her artistic qualifications include operatic studies and Masterclasses in highly prestigious universities such as: The Mozarteum Hochschule für Musik (Salzburg, Austria), The Ark Institute for the Performing Arts (San Diego, California), The Conservatory of Music (Tijuana, México) and The University of Baja California. She has  been the recipient of many noteworthy awards including: The University of Fresno Zarzuela Scholarship, and The Metropolitan Opera Encouragement Auditions Award 2003.

Among the many professional achievements throughout her musical career, it is worth to highlight her brilliant performance as Cherubino in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Small Opera of San Diego, 2000), Lola, in Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana (2002 – 2003), Serafina, in Enrique Medina’s Serafina and Arcangela (Los Angeles Eutrepe’s Opera Company, 2003), Gretel in Hänsel und Gretel (New York at Lincoln Center National Dance institute 2010). Her Recording catalog includes three solo albums: Cartas de Amor (1998), Passion Tango (2009), and Piensa en mi (2010), as well as many collaborations with world-renowned artists. Today she thrives as one of the most versatile mexican sopranos, performing regularly throughout the United States and internationally.

Rob Browell – Drums & Percussion

Rob is a long-time resident of Peters Township. Growing up in Baldwin, Rob began playing percussion professionally for various musical theater groups and ensembles around the Pittsburgh area at sixteen. He then attended Penn State University for art education and taught for twelve years earning his master’s degree and principal’s certification. He has instructed marching band drumlines and competitive indoor percussion ensembles that have garnished national recognition. Rob’s emphasis is not only on the technical aspects of playing drums, but also to expose students to the universal impact percussion has on music and its diverse implementation in all cultures.

Jon KleinJonathan Klein – Beg to Inter Drums and Percussion, Beg Guitar & Recording Engineer

Jonathan Klein is a freelance musician, is a live and studio audio engineer and music instructor at David’s Music House. A recent graduate of California University of PA’s Commercial Music Technology course, Jon has been involved in music since 1985 when he began taking lessons in trumpet and many other instruments, and has been playing his main instrument, drums and percussion since 1998.

At Cal U he studied drums and percussion under Jan Fung, percussionist with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, as well as commercial arranging under Ralph Guzzi of Pittsburgh. Jonathan has performed with several Cal U ensembles including the jazz and big band, choir and the Young and Gifted Gospel Choir under the direction of Dr. Randy Tillmutt, a Fredrick Douglas Fellow from Jamaica. Jonathan enjoys playing drums in many styles including blues, jazz, rock, hard rock, punk and funk.

jennifer searles (1)Jennifer Searles – Low Brass, Low Woodwinds, Beginning Piano & Voice

Jennifer Searles is excited to be a brass instructor at David’s Music House! As a trombonist primarily, she performed with the Symphony Band, Jazz Ensemble, and the Marching Band at Bethel Park High School. She was also in the Concert Choir and Top 21 audition choir before graduating in 2011. She then attended Duquesne University, where she got her B.S. in Music Education in 2015. While there, she was a part of the Symphony Band, as well as the Jazz Ensemble. She student taught in within the Washington School District doing elementary general music, 4th and 5th grade choir, and the bands for the entire district. She is a member of PMEA and NAfME, and she currently holds her teaching certificate in Music K-12. She is the Assistant Marching Band Director and Low Brass/ Low Woodwind specialist at the Carlynton School District, where she has enjoyed working with the students there since 2013. Jennifer is honored to become part of the DMH family!


Megan HabovickMegan Habovick – Flute, Woodwinds and all brass, Beginning Piano

Megan Habovick is a woodwind, brass, and beginning piano instructor at Dave’s Music House. Megan began her musical instruction at an early age, and received instruction in various instruments throughout her life. Megan graduated from Bethel Park High School in 2011, where she was involved with the school’s marching band, symphonic band, concert band, and jazz ensemble. She graduated from Duquesne University in 2015 with a B.S. in Music Education with flute as her primary instrument. At Duquesne, she received instruction in flute under various Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra members. She also participated in Duquesne’s flute choir, symphonic band, and wind symphony. Megan has also performed in small concerts at local hospitals as part of Duquesne’s community service program. She is currently a member of PMEA and NAfME and holds Pennsylvania certification in K-12th grade music. Megan currently is a freelance musician and teacher within the Pittsburgh area and is excited to teach at David’s Music House!

Justin DouglasJustin Douglas – Beginning to Advanced Voice, and Beginning to Advanced Piano

Justin Douglas is a native of Somerset County, PA. He began formally studying piano at 6 years old under Mrs. Paula Kretchman. At 13 years old Justin began studying voice with her as well. At age 16 he began studying advanced piano under Mr. Don Stoner.

Justin is a 2006 Graduate of Frostburg State University in Frostburg, MD where he studied Piano and Vocal performance. He was also a member of the FSU choir and Chamber Choir. His musical background consists of Classical, Opera, Musical Theatre, and MainStream Pop Music. Justin is also an acoustic songwriter. He is currently working on building his online fan base and social media music to get more exposure in the MainStream Music Industry.  Justin is so excited to start teaching as well as learning at David’s Music House.

Vince Carrola Vince Carrola – Beginning to Advanced Guitar

Vince Carrola began playing guitar at the age of four, and studying classically with Thomas Kikta (Assistant Professor, Music Technology; Classical Guitar) of Duquesne University at twelve. He has entered numerous competitions, including a young artist national concerto competition in which he was a finalist and played the first movement from Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. He also attended, and even instructed, a performance development class at the Mary Pappert School of Music, becoming a recipient of a prestigious classical guitar scholarship. Vince is also a member of the Pittsburgh Classical Guitar Society and performs with their guitar orchestra, which he also arranges for. From 2008-2010, Vince studied jazz clarinet and guitar at Duquesne’s City Music Center under the instruction of Jim Guerra (Buddy Rich Band, Glen Miller Orchestra, Pittsburgh Jazz Society). He’s also performed at churches, shows, and on the radio with the Carrola Brothers Jazz Trio. An active performer, Vince has performed collectively for 5,000 people at one venue; his guitar arrangements have been played on WQED, he has performed with the Washington Symphony Orchestra, and he is the guitarist for the Washington Jazz Orchestra.

Vince also actively writes for the guitar repertoire. In 2011, Vince published his first book of guitar arrangements through Alfred Music Publishing, entitled, This Holy Night, 12 Christmas Classics for Guitar. Seven more books followed between 2012-2014. His arrangements, and studio recordings, have been sought out worldwide by guitar orchestras, ensembles, soloists, and amateurs.

Christina pic Christina Ankenbruck – Beginning to Advanced Strings

Christina began playing the viola in the 4th grade and music has been a big part of her life ever since. In 2012, she graduated from Ball State University with a Bachelor’s in Music Education. She did her student teaching at Fall Creek Middle School in Indianapolis, IN teaching beginning orchestra, intermediate orchestra, and general music. She moved to Pittsburgh in 2013 and is currently a preschool teacher at Marian Manor Child Development and Learning Center. She played viola in the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra for 3 years. She is also a very active member of The Hills Church’s worship band, playing viola and singing. Christina is excited to be a teacher at David’s Music House and is dedicated to helping her students find a love and appreciation for music!

Steve Stephen Ippolito – Drums, Percussion & Beginning Piano

Steve Ippolito is a drummer, percussionist, and beginner piano educator. He is a native of Burlington County, NJ where he began studying drums and percussion at the early age of 8 and continued on into high school and college. Steve graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 where he was involved in a multitude of ensembles including the Pitt marching band, pep band, jazz ensemble, small jazz combo group, and symphonic band. He has received top notch instruction from jazz greats such as Geri Allen, Poogie Bell, James Johnson III, and Greg Humphries.

Steve also marched in the Drum Corps International (DCI) circuit and has experience instructing marching drumlines and indoor percussion groups. He currently plays out with his rock/fusion band, The Clock Reads, who play a slew of national music festivals and club/venue gigs that attract fans from all over to hear their mostly improvisational music. Steve is thrilled to be a new member of the DMH family to continue the mission of musical enrichment.


 Celeste Siimpson – Flute, Guitar, Beg Piano and Voice

Celeste Simpson is a flute, guitar, beginning piano and beginning voice instructor at David’s Music House. Music has played a major role in her life from a young age. She began taking flute lessons at the age of 8, studying under the owner of the Pittsburgh Flute Academy, Wendy Kumer. Celeste graduated from Bishop Canevin High School in 2012, where she was involved with the marching band, concert band, PMEA honors bands, and as a member in the Three River’s Young Peoples’ Orchestra (TRYPO).  She graduated from Seton Hill University with a Bachelor’s of Music in Music Therapy degree where she received instruction in flute, piano, guitar and voice. She also participated in Westmoreland Symphonic Winds, Seton Hill University Flute Ensemble, Vocal Jazz Ensemble and Concert Choir.

She is currently a board certified music therapist (MT-BC), a freelance musician and a music therapist within the Pittsburgh area. Celeste is excited to start teaching at DMH!