Music Alumni

Our music alumni have gone on to many diverse careers: professional musicians, music teachers, television and radio announcers, piano tuners, attorneys, physicians, and administrators--just to name a few! Please read on for some of our success stories.

Anthony Leva (2020)

I began my journey at UAlbany in 2015 with no plans to make a career in Music. When I started my undergraduate career, I saw music as "just a hobby," after years of people telling me that I should choose a better career. Despite my better judgement, I listened and I declared a Psychology Major with plans to go to law school when I graduated. I still knew that I loved music though, so I decided to add a Music minor, simply so I could take some fun music classes! The professors in these classes, and particularly the Choir Director, changed my life forever! They cared enough to show me what a career in music, and particularly, a career in community music-making, could look like. Every single professor in this department cares so deeply about their students, and they truly are so knowledgeable, dedicated, and willing to help you achieve your goals in music--no matter how big or small! 

I very quickly found myself spending most of my time in the Performing Arts Center! In my second semester, I was hired as the Choral Assistant in the Music Department, and I served as the Music Director for the Harmonic Cadences A Cappella group on campus. I remained in both positions for the remainder of my time at UAlbany, and these positions truly made me discover my true passion--Choral Conducting. It was around this time when I decided to change my plans and devote my life to music. Through various conversations with former UAlbany Choir Director, Dr. Michael Pfitzer, who has become my lifelong mentor, we figured out that graduate school in music really seemed like the right fit for me! I started doing independent study conducting lessons with him and began practicing my conducting skills with the University Choirs. I also decided to stay at UAlbany for a fifth year to complete a B.A. in Music, which would set me up for success in graduate school. 

After graduating in the Spring of 2020, I was fortunate to be hired as the Director of Music at my childhood parish, The Church of Saint Clare in Colonie, NY, where I served for almost three years during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Devoting my life to music has proved to be one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I owe it all to UAlbany. I am currently beginning my Master of Music Degree in Choral Conducting at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI, and I plan to obtain my Doctor of Musical Arts Degree and to achieve my dream of directing choirs at a major University. 

I will forever remember my time at UAlbany, and I am so grateful for the influence that the Music Department has had on my career. 

Dara Ribis (2019) 

Before coming to the University at Albany, I had already settled into a professional career and was beginning to lose hope of ever achieving my musical goals, but joining UAlbany's music program changed everything.

Each step in this musical journey provided a newfound sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and I am extremely thankful that I had the chance to learn from such talented and passionate faculty. I enjoyed countless opportunities to perform, including playing in the University Symphony Orchestra as principal violist, at Youth Movements Festivals, for a retirement community, in a chamber group, and at recitals and masterclasses. The curriculum also prepared me for acceptance into a music therapy program to continue my studies.

I am deeply grateful to UAlbany’s Music Department for their continued support and for helping me reclaim my passion for music. I look forward to staying in touch with this wonderful, close-knit musical community! 

Alyssa Pyle (2016)

Alyssa Pyle is an alumni of the University at Albany where she holds degrees in Vocal Performance and Business Administration. Alyssa has been the recipient of the Howard Hansen Award in Rochester, NY and awards through local musical organizations such as Opera Saratoga, Mohawk Valley Chorus, Capitaland Chorus, and the Monday Musical Club of Albany. During her education at the University at Albany, Alyssa was fortunate enough to participate in numerous performances, including the opera Dido and Aeneas (Dido), Beauty and the Beast (Beauty), and Game of Chance (3rd Cleaning Woman). She also had the opportunity to work as a soloist for other ensembles within the university such as the Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Singers, University Chorale, and Percussion Ensemble. Alyssa now lives in New York City where she works in consulting and continues to work as a freelance musician. She would like to thank her family and all of her professors at the university for their support and for the invaluable education that she received.

John Rollason-Cass (2014)

I graduated from the University at Albany in 2014 with a degree in Music Composition, with a focus on Guitar and Electronic Music. Entering the department as a primarily self-taught musician, I was relieved to find a welcoming atmosphere with professors who genuinely cared about the student's progress and relationship with music. I was given many opportunities to perform as a guitar player in a wide range of styles, spanning from Big Band-style jazz with the Jazz Ensemble, contemporary musical theatre with productions of “Hair” and “Rent,” to classical, performing with the Classical Guitar Trio--all of which I found to be an invaluable source of experience that taught me not only about performing within an ensemble but also many essential practice habits and rehearsal techniques.

Since graduating, I’ve had the privilege of teaching music and guitar in Menorca, Spain, and several of my compositions have been heard on popular podcasts like “Stuff You Should Know,” “Lore,” and “NPR Politics.”

Joshua Tanis (2013)

I graduated from the University at Albany in 2013 with dual degrees in Music and Biology. Having first envisioned a career in dentistry, the UAlbany Music Department—faculty, staff, and fellow students—greatly and very positively impacted my decision to instead pursue a career in music. Perhaps the two greatest strengths of the department are its faculty and size. First, the faculty members are distinguished, decorated scholars, all of whom are approachable and supportive, and challenge students to work and think at the highest possible level. Having graduated a number of years ago, I still remain in touch with Music Department faculty members and, in turn, they continue to support my current research and performing career. Second, the size of the Music Department is relatively small, thus allowing individualized attention in class, lessons, and office hours. This tightly knit academic environment yields a conservatory-like atmosphere while maintaining a safe, encouraging setting in which students can hone their instrument and make life-long friends and colleagues.

The University at Albany’s Music Department also affords students the opportunity to perform regularly. Over the course of my four years at UA, I had the chance to perform in hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of productions, ranging from operas to recitals, masterclasses to cabarets, and much more. Rarely would a week go by without some kind of performance or performing opportunity, and I certainly kept busy accompanying a number of voice lessons each week. In conjunction with department-sponsored events, I was able to regularly engage with renowned artists and arts organizations. Aside from performing, the Music Department hired me as a student assistant for music theory and piano courses—just one of the ways by which students are kept involved in the goings-on of the department.

Life after UAlbany remains very musical! I have gone on to receive Masters Degrees in Collaborative Piano and Music Theory from the City University of New York – Hunter College, and am presently a Ph.D. student in Music Theory at Florida State University. Apart from my research and teaching at FSU, I maintain a busy and exciting performance schedule as a collaborative pianist and am honored to work with singers from the Metropolitan Opera; the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; the Teatro alla Scala; and many others. I owe much to the University at Albany Music Department; not only did they offer me an exceptional music education, but also the networking and performance opportunities which have allowed my performing and academic careers to blossom. 

Please visit my web site:

Melinda Cestaro (2012)

I could not be happier with the experience I had in the Music Department at UAlbany. I felt so at home right from the beginning. Because it was such a small department, I was afforded tons of opportunities, which helped me grow both as a musician and as a person. Everyone in the department knew one another, and it was obvious that each professor truly cared about the success of each student. I loved being a member of the Chamber Singers, and I learned a lot about teaching through my experience as a music theory tutor. As a pianist, I was able to accompany vocalists, participate in chamber ensembles, perform with the orchestra, and give multiple solo recitals. These opportunities not only helped me get accepted to graduate school in music, but also prepared me with solid experience for a career in music. The Music Department at UAlbany is a hidden gem which anyone interested in should surely take advantage of. 

Alexa Derkasch (2012)

A graduate of the class of 2012, the memories I have as a student at SUNY Albany are far from turning stale. While working towards a B.S. in biology, I also pursued a dual minor in English and music, which prepared me for the reading, writing, and analytical thinking that is now expected of me as a first year law student at the University of New Hampshire (formerly Franklin Pierce). My passion for science, song, and stories will hopefully lead to a promising legal career in patent and intellectual property law. Aside from school, I am currently volunteering at the Merrimack County Juvenile Diversion office, mentoring adolescent offenders and helping redirect them towards making good choices and becoming contributing members of society.

Above all, the Music Department was my breath of fresh air during college. I learned from invaluable professors and relived my high school years by playing viola in the University Symphony Orchestra. For that, I am so grateful. Thank you for the memories!

Nellie Rustick (2012) 

I graduated from UA in 2012 with dual degrees in Studio Art and Vocal Performance after transferring from Russell Sage College. The knowledge that I gained from my time at UAlbany, and especially the teachers that I worked with, have helped me to set a standard in my professional life that I continue to uphold. While at UAlbany, I participated in the world-renowned Chamber Singers under the baton of the late Dr. Griggs-Janower and sang in many student concerts, including Opera Scenes and Bach to Broadway. I was also encouraged to explore opportunities outside of school and was able to work with various local opera companies. My final year at UAlbany, again under the direction of Dr. Janower, I was the soprano soloist for the Dvořák Requiem with the UAlbany University-Community Chorale. 

Since graduating from UAlbany, I have actively pursued a professional operatic career, soloing with such groups as the Stockbridge Festival Chorus, the Berkshire Lyric Chorus (at Tanglewood's Ozawa Hall), the UAlbany University-Community Chorale, and the Stockbridge Congregational Church Chorale. I have performed lead roles at the Ghent Playhouse, West Sand Lake Center for the Arts, PS21, New England Opera Intensive in Boston, and Connecticut Lyric Opera, and have upcoming engagements with the Berkshire Opera Festival and Capitol Opera Albany. I am also an avid recitalist, giving recitals and benefit concerts throughout upstate NY, the Berkshires, and Connecticut, with more mini tours contracted for upcoming seasons. I am in my last year at the Hartt School of Music, pursuing a graduate professional diploma in vocal performance. 

One of the greatest parts of the music department at UAlbany, other than the excellence of its world-renowned teachers, is the fact that I continue to be a part of its community. I have been asked to come back and perform for benefit concerts and in its operas. But best of all, is that I can now call my former teachers colleagues and friends. I feel welcome in visiting my teachers (which I do!). The connections I made at UAlbany, both with my teachers and fellow students, have turned into life-long friendships—something that I am eternally grateful for. 

Please check out my web site for more information on where you can see and hear me next!

Melanie Shank (2012)

Having transferred to UAlbany after a semester at a premiere music conservatory, I can say that the UAlbany Music Department offered me more opportunities than I would have received in the conservatory setting. I was the featured soloist with a live orchestra and University Chorale several times, and I was involved in recitals with singers in the community as well as at UAlbany. The program is really student centered, and if there is something you want to explore, the faculty will make sure you have that chance; the Bach to Broadway concert for voice majors is a nice example of this because most programs don't allow classically-trained singers to perform musical theatre pieces. The electives offered were also impressive, and I was so excited to find courses in Arts Management, Film Sound and Music, Survey of Opera, and more. I graduated in four years with a double major in voice performance and psychology and a minor in business, and I know I could not have done that, and explored all my interests, without the support, flexibility, and quality of the UAlbany Music Department.

Justin Friello (2011)

Justin Friello is a singer/actor/composer/multi-instrumentalist from Schenectady, NY who has performed across New York State and beyond. He is the lead singer and guitarist for the rock/hip-hop band, Stockade Kids, and the leader of the Jack & Jill Orchestra, both of which wrapped up their own in-residence concert series at Proctors Theatre. He is a proud member of Actors' Equity and has appeared in numerous mainstage and touring productions as an actor, musician, composer/lyricist, and musical director. He recently performed at Feinstein's/54 Below in NYC as a lead vocalist/rapper in "A Cappella Goes Broadway," a concert of Broadway tunes arranged for a cappella choir. He also has two songs featured in a musical about the life of Harvey Milk currently being workshopped in New York City. Justin's classical music has also been performed statewide by ensembles like the Crane School of Music Cello Department and at festivals such as the Saxophone Chamber Music Festival. Justin is a composer/lyricist in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop in NYC. He is currently writing a full-length original musical with lyricist Cleo Handler. His most recent solo album and short film, "Jack & Jill," was released in August. Visit and for recordings and more information.

Michael Leczinsky (2011)

Michael Leczinsky is a professor of practice at the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity (CEHC).

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region and double graduate of UAlbany, he earned his bachelor’s degree in Music in 2011 and a Graduate Certificate in Online Learning in Teaching (COLT) last year. (Read more...)

Michael Lanci (2009)

Michael Lanci is a composer and educator currently residing in Brooklyn, New York. His music is viscerally engaging, stylistically diverse, and draws from a wide range of influences. Recent projects include a collection of 5 protest songs dedicated to late nineteenth century singer-songwriter and labor rights activist Joe Hill, that was awarded the American Prize, along with a new commission as part of the Beth Morrison Projects Next Generation Initiative that will be premiered at National Sawdust in the Spring of 2019.

Michael’s works have been performed at festivals such as the Cortona Sessions, Edmont Fringe Festival, Orford Festival, Detroit Bureau of Sound, Midwest Composers Symposium, and the Vox Novus Festival. He has received commissions from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Beyond Pluck, Unhread-of//Ensemble, Klangpar2, and the Vive! Ensemble. His works have been performed by the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra, Contemporaneous, Hypercube, All Of The Above, Buffalo Chamber Players, Duo d’Entre Deux, and the Decho Ensemble. 

Michael holds a B.M. in piano performance from SUNY Albany, where he also studied composition with Max Lifchitz, and a M.M. in composition from SUNY Fredonia, studying with Rob Deemer and Karl Boelter. Michael completed his D.M.A. in composition at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati where he studied with Michael Fiday. 

Rebecca Angel Maxwell (2007)

I graduated in 2007 with a B.A. in Music and English. I am currently a creative arts teacher with my own company. The Music Department at SUNY was just the place for me to explore my creativity and expand my knowledge. Although music theory was the bane of my existence during classes, it is now a language I use on a daily basis as a composer and teacher.  Conducting class gave me skills I use continually with my choirs today. Music history was the first time I understood the timeline of all history and inspired me to start successful camps for children that teach history through creative arts. Electronic music was an ear-opener to the world around me, and the lessons in that class I share with every student I meet. And the discussions from a history of songwriters class still spur me on my own journey as a composer and performer.

To check out my current world of music and teaching:

George Seror III (2007)

I graduated with honors from the University at Albany in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Psychology. I continued my graduate studies at the University at Albany, receiving a Master of Arts in Psychology in 2011 and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Developmental Psychology in 2016. I am currently Assistant Professor of Psychology at Dickinson State University in Dickinson North Dakota. My research focuses on music cognition, perception, memory, and attention. In addition to my work in psychology, I also teach classical guitar majors at the university and perform regularly as a solo and chamber musician. 

I learned a tremendous amount about the role of music in culture during my time as an undergraduate. In addition, I was challenged to observe and appreciate the sounds of the natural and man-made environments from an artistic perspective, and to vividly describe sound. This gave me an appreciation for post-industrial revolution composers that were experimenting with sounds and technology that did not previously exist. Finally, I developed an appreciation for the language of music, from the sounds of nature to Western music theory. I feel that my experience in the Music Department at the University at Albany broadened my cultural and historical understanding of music as an art form. 

Michael Vitalino (2006)

I received a B.A. (2006) in Psychology and Music with a concentration in Conducting from SUNY Albany. A student of David Janower, I assisted in directing the Concert Band and Chorale. Equally fascinated with music theory, Reed Hoyt provided me with several opportunities for independent study in music analysis. While an undergraduate student, I also held a post as Orchestra Director for the Albany Academy in addition to numerous other engagements as a guest conductor. 

After graduating, I went on to earn a M.M. (2008) in Music Theory from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. There, I studied with several scholars including: Gary Karpinski, Brent Auerbach, and Alexandra Vojcic. At the University of California-Santa Barbara, I completed a M.M. in Choral Conducting (2013) with Michel Marc Gervais and a Ph.D. in Music Theory (2014). Under the guidance of Lee Rothfarb and Pieter van den Toorn, my dissertation uses Schenkerian theory to establish a taxonomy of Franz Liszt’s song revisions. 

Currently, I am an Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the Crane School of Music (SUNY Potsdam). My publications to date appear in Notes (2015) and Indiana Theory Review (forthcoming). I have presented papers at the Society for Music Theory (2015), the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic Conference (2013), and the West Coast Conference of Music Theory and Analysis (2011). Additionally, I have given guest lectures at the Music Academy of the West and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. My research interests include nineteenth-century art song, Schenkerian analysis, music cognition, music-theory pedagogy, and the history of music theory.

John Rice (2003)

I graduated in 2003 with a B.A. in Music Technology, with a concentration in Electronic Music. I enjoyed my learning experience at SUNY Albany—from theory, composition, and history courses, to participating in both the University Chorale and Symphony Orchestra. But it was while studying with Bob Gluck in the Electronic Music Studio, that my ears were opened to exciting and new sonic possibilities.

In 2004, on upright bass--and with thanks to musician/inventors Ben Vigoda and David Merrill--I took part in the first Experimental Musical Instrument Workshop at MIT (EMI@MIT), an improvisatory workshop guided by artist-in-residence, John Zorn. The group later performed in Boston at ART RAGES at Mobius Gallery (2005) and SIGGRAPH 2006. Also during that time, I performed with the gypsy-jazz jug band, The Mustn’t Grumble, and the alt-country band, Iowa 80 formed by former Ominous Seapods guitarist, Dana Monteith.  

More recently, I have been recording and performing with my own bands, The Red Haired Strangers (country-blues) and Lüt (alt-rock), and also with regional acts such as The Blackwell Sinners, King Vidor, and MR Poulopoulos.

I am currently employed as an AV Technician at a local college, but continue to engineer, mix, and master various musical projects.

Jonathan Hansen (2000)

I attended SUNY Albany from 1996-2000 and graduated with a B.A. in Music Theory. I loved my experience in the Music Department. I was a co-founder of the Earth Tones and was a recipient of the President's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for several choral pieces I composed during my Junior and Senior years.  

I attended Albany Law School from 2004-2007 and am currently an Associate Attorney with the law firm of Carter, Conboy, Case, Blackmore, Maloney & Laird, P.C. in Albany, doing litigation. 

Anne Shonbrun (1992)

I graduated from SUNY Albany in 1992. As a transfer student from Brooklyn College, I immediately felt at home and fell in love with the small and active Music Department. I sang with the Chamber Singers and traveled with them to the Former Soviet Union and the Czech Republic. That trip was one of the highlights of my experience at SUNY Albany. 

I went on to complete a Master of Arts degree in Counselor Education at NYU and am currently the College Registrar at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. 

But to keep my vocal chops healthy, I perform the duties of a Cantor (song leader) for a secular Jewish congregation in New York City called The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism and recently produced my first CD of Jewish secular music. 

Steve Schwartz (1987)

A lot of my musical development and interests were sparked by a few of my professors (Max Lifchitz, Findlay Cockrell, and Leonard Kastle) as well as several students/roommates/classmates/record store owners that I met during my four years at Albany. I took several music courses between my Junior and Senior years. But, not enough to qualify for a major or minor. However, my post-college life has been devoted to music. I started working in a music store in 1988. In 1996, I opened up my own shop. I'm a full-line music store, but I specialize in guitar related products like stomp boxes and pickups:

Most recently, the band I am in released a CD. It's all original jazz fusion, very reminiscent of the 1970s fusion like The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Billy Cobham's Spectrum album:

Martha Mooke (1985)
"I had a terrific college experience at SUNYA." 

"Martha Mooke, composer/electroacoustic violist, a pioneer in the field of electric five string viola, transcends musical boundaries by synthesizing her classical music training with extended techniques, digital effects processing and improvisation. A Yamaha, Eventide and Thomastik-Infeld Artist, she is a leading clinician on electric and progressive approaches to string playing including the use of electronics, extended techniques and improvisation.

Mooke's diverse schedule includes touring, clinics and lecture demonstrations. She has toured internationally as a member of Barbra Streisand's acclaimed orchestra during the 2006 North American, 2007 European and the 2012 Back to Brooklyn tours. She has also toured with Peter Gabriel, Damon Albarn (Blur/Gorillaz), Marco Antonio Solis and Andrea Bocelli and traveled the U.S., Canada and Mexico with Star Wars In Concert. She has performed with Sir Elton John, Bon Jovi, Moby, Enya, Tony Bennett, Al DiMeola, John Cale, The Orchestra of St. Luke's and others. She has appeared on The Tonight Show, Regis Live, The David Letterman Show, The View, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

Martha Mooke is founder, violist and Music Director of The Scorchio Quartet. They have performed with David Bowie, Philip Glass, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Michael Stipe, Regina Spektor, Moby, Trey Anastasio, and Ziggy Marley among others. Scorchio, the House Quartet for the annual Tibet House Benefit Concerts at Carnegie Hall produced by Philip Glass, appears on David Bowie's 2002 release Heathen.

Mooke has received awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer and Arts International among others. Besides her catalog of works for solo and ensemble electric strings, she has composed music for theater and ballet and served as Music Director for national and international events.

Her solo debut Enharmonic Vision and the Café Mars CD (by the duo Bowing--Martha's collaboration with guitarist Randolph Hudson, III) have attracted wide critical acclaim. She is currently recording her next solo CD with Grammy winning producer Cynthia Daniels."

Please visit for more information. 

Robert Gluck (1977)

I am a pianist, composer, educator, historical writer, and rabbi. After serving on faculty from 1999-2022, I am now Professor Emeritus at my alma mater, UAlbany, where I studied with Joel Chadabe and Philip Royster. My work spans jazz, electroacoustic music, and much in between ( I have published three books, among them “Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band” (2012) and “The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles” (2016), each from University of Chicago Press. Other writing projects have addressed an international history of electroacoustic music, and the work of Mort Subotnick and the Downtown scene in New York City. Current projects include the music of guitarist Pat Metheny, and human music making in the context of other musical species. I have released eleven recordings on the FMR, Ictus, and EMF Media labels. These include five recordings for small jazz ensemble, three of duets, and three of electroacoustic music. My performance of Neil Rolnick's Faith for piano and computer was released on Rolnick’s CD, “Extended Family” (2010) on Innova records.

Warren Burt (1971)

I graduated from UAlbany Music in 1971 and then did my Masters at the University of California, San Diego, graduating in 1975. After that I moved to Australia, where I've mostly lived ever since. In 1975, I was involved in setting up the Music Department at La Trobe University in Melbourne. In 1981, I went freelance and was a freelance composer of experimental music for most of the next two decades. I taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign in 2001 and 2002, and since 2004 have lived in Wollongong, NSW. I am currently an Australian Research Council PostDoctoral Fellow at the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong. I have performed my music for instruments, electronics, video, words, etc. in the USA, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. I have built a number of acoustic and electronic musical instruments over the years and have also participated in the design of commercial music software. I have a number of recordings out on the XI, Pogus, Tall Poppies, New Albion, Sonic Gallery, and Move labels. I vividly remember my time at UAlbany, which gave me a solid foundation for the musical explorations I've been involved with ever since. More information about me and my work can be found at

Attention alumni: Please keep us updated on your career! To have your name added to this page, please  email us a brief paragraph about what you are doing now (even if it isn’t music-related), any comments about your memories as a student here, and your graduation year. Also, if you have a website of your own that you would like featured, please provide us with the link. Thank you.