Meet the Collaborative Piano Studio

Meet the Collaborative Piano Studio

The UNCSA Collaborative Piano Studio is made up of five graduate-level students led by Allison Gagnon, D.M.A.

Natalie Barela

Natalie Barela

Natalie was born in Anaheim Hills, California and raised in Sweetwater, Texas, and has been studying piano since the age of 6. When introduced to softball, she quickly realized that she had a stronger pull to the arts and stuck with her music studies, and soon began competing in piano performance competitions. Homeschooled from the age of 5 until high school graduation, she then graduated from Hardin-Simmons University with a B.M. in Piano Performance. Natalie was recipient of three awards while a student at Hardin-Simmons: the Clara Freshour Nelson Music Scholarship, Ruth Skiles Memorial Scholarship and the Kelly Nichole Scholarship. She is now attending the University of North Carolina School of the Arts to obtain her M.M. in Collaborative Piano. Her teachers have included Noreen Carson, Mark Puckett and Allison Gagnon, and a guiding light on her collaborative path has been Abigail Payne, herself an alum (2009) of the UNCSA collaborative piano program.

Natalie was active in the Abilene Music Teachers and Texas Music Teachers Associations from 2017 until moving to North Carolina, and she is currently a member of the Greensboro Music Teachers Association and NCMTA. Natalie has collaborated in musical theatre, student recitals, choirs, both concert and jazz band, and "The Merry Widow" by Franz Lehár. At UNCSA she has already been active in chamber music and opera scenes projects.

Jessica Gulisek

Jessica Gulisek

From Wheeling, West Virginia, Jessica moved to Winston Salem, N.C. in January of 2020 to obtain her master's degree in Collaborative Piano from UNCSA. Jessica studied with Dr. Gerald Lee at West Liberty University in West Virginia and earned her undergraduate degree in Piano Performance. After graduating in 2018, Jessica served as a staff accompanist at her alma mater, while teaching piano lessons through local schools. She was a member of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh for the 2019 season, during which the choir presented the world premiere of a rock opera, Beethoven’s "Fidelio" and several holiday concerts with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. She has been the recipient of several scholarships, including the Samuel Griffin Seawell and Patsy Moore Seawell Memorial Scholarship from the Winston Salem Foundation, and the Elbin Scholar scholarship from West Liberty University.

In addition to her current collaborative activities at UNCSA, Jessica holds the position of music director at Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Va., and is a music teacher at Upbeat Music Academy in Lewisville, N.C. Jessica aspires to hold a staff pianist position at a music school in the Winston-Salem area. She enjoys going on long hikes with her husband, Devon, and her dog, Brooks, as well as painting with watercolors and tending her tiny flower garden.

Neil Mitchell

Neil Mitchell

Ever since taking home the saxophone as an eager elementary school student, Neil has devoted his life to music. Trained as a vocalist, Neil feels at home accompanying in the vocal studio and working as a vocal coach and has experience as a pianist in a wide array of musical settings. As a student at Westminster Choir College, he began to work as an accompanist and vocal coach for the voice department. Neil is likewise an active church musician, having held music director positions in which he led the choir and bell choir and managed the music department; currently he is music director at Thyatira Presbyterian Church in Salisbury, N.C. He also has been both music director and rehearsal pianist for several musical theatre productions while working at the Allegra School of Music and Arts in central New Jersey. In addition, Neil has worked as ballet accompanist for much of his professional life, engaged by Rutgers University, the American Repertory Ballet and Somerset County Vocational School.

With his sights set on a career in the opera house, he is currently working towards his master’s degree in Collaborative Piano at UNCSA, with an emphasis on opera and vocal coaching. His major teacher is Allison Gagnon, and he works with Steven LaCosse and James Allbritten through the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute. He has already played for the Fletcher Opera Scenes program and will continue as part of the team for the mainstage operas. Neil attended the Collaborative Piano Institute in Baton Rouge, La. in the summer of 2021, where he had the opportunity to work with Martin Katz, Kathleen Kelly and Warren Jones, and hopes to return this summer.

Clara Passmore

Clara Passmore

Clara is a first-year graduate student in the Collaborative Piano program at UNCSA studying under Dr. Allison Gagnon. She received her B.M. in Piano Performance at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va., studying with Dr. Taeseong Kim and coached by Dr. Tad Hardin. Clara fell in love with piano at a young age and started performing in studio recitals in high school as a student of Mrs. Alisha Brooks. During her time at Liberty, she grew in her knowledge of the piano world and chose the path of the collaborative pianist. She began working as a freelance pianist for singers and instrumentalists at Liberty following graduation, and in 2019 she was the accompanist for Acting Uncut, a high school musical theatre camp. Clara’s first major collaborative performance was in spring of 2019 in Liberty’s Chamber Music Showcase in works for flute, oboe and piano by Malcom Arnold and Steven Lester. Her favorite type of collaboration is work in chamber ensembles with several different instrumentalists.

Clara currently teaches piano at the Kernersville Music Academy and is a member of ArtistCorps at UNCSA. She loves to share her passion for music with her students, and with the community in Winston-Salem. In her spare time, Clara enjoys playing jazz gospel hymns and Disney music, and spending time with her husband James.

Douglas Perez

Douglas Perez

Douglas Perez is pursuing a Professional Artist Certificate in Collaborative Piano at UNCSA under the tutelage of Dr. Allison Gagnon. Previously, he studied with Dr. Kate Boyd and Professor Karen Thickstun, and earned a double Master of Music in Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy from Butler University. Perez also holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in Piano Performance from Pensacola Christian College, where he studied with renowned Brazilian pianist Daisy DeLuca Jaffé and Dr. Gustavo Peterlevitz.

Douglas Perez has performed with solo vocalists and instrumentalists, vocal and instrumental ensembles including UNCSA’s Nu Ensemble, the Butler University Chorale, Wind Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra, and Ballet, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and Men’s Chorus, and the Hancock County Children’s Choir. Perez has also stage-managed opera productions with director Dr. Ray Gibbs, former leading tenor at the Metropolitan Opera.

An active educator, Douglas has taught private and group lessons, to students of wide-ranging age, for several years. Perez was a teaching assistant at the Interlochen Arts Camp in the summers of 2018 and 2019. He served as President of the Butler Collegiate Chapter of MTNA from 2019-2021 and in 2019 presented the session, "Embracing Uniqueness: Understanding and Adjusting to Your Student’s Specific Learning Style" at the Indiana Music Teachers’ Association State Conference. In 2021, he was elected a member of the Society of Pi Kappa Lambda. Douglas is the current Graduate Teaching Assistant for Music Theory at UNCSA and teaches individual and group piano lesson at the UNCSA Community Music School. He plans to begin a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Collaborative Piano in Fall 2023.