CHAMPS Faculty

Amy Harris .jpg

Amy Harris

Amy Harris is a recent graduate of the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin where she received a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree studying with Vincent Frittelli. She currently teaches violin and viola students using the Suzuki philosophy as her basis for instruction.

Dr. Harris began her violin studies at the age of three, with Peggy Fasing. Upon graduation from high school, she attended the University of Northern Colorado where she studied with Richard Fuchs. For her masters level schooling, she attended the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where she studied with Piotr Milewski. She has held orchestral positions in the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Greeley Philharmonic, and Boulder Philharmonic. She has attended music festivals like National Repertory Orchestra, Round Top, the Henry Mancini Institute, and the Brevard Music Festival. She is a member of the Pi Kappa Lambda honorary music fraternity, and the Delta Omicron music fraternity, which invited her to play at the triennial conference as a guest soloist. Other honors include winning the Angie Southard Convocation Award for excellence in sonata and chamber literature, and winner of the CCM chamber music competition with her quartet FAZA.


Joseph Smith

Violinist Joseph D. Smith is Concertmaster of the Austin Lyric Opera Orchestra and a violinist with the Austin Symphony Orchestra. He has performed with the Key West Symphony, the Charlotte Symphony, the New World Symphony, and served as Principal Second Violin with the National Repertory Orchestra, where he also performed as a concert soloist. In alternative styles, Joseph has recorded with such artists as Christopher Cross, Kat Edmonson, and Okkervile River, in addition to touring with numerous other ensembles including the Austin Eurythmy Ensemble and the Trans Siberian Orchestra. Some of his greatest influences are conductors Andrew Litton and JoAnn Falletta, violinist Andres Cardenes, and the members of the Miro Quartet. Joseph is currently on faculty with the Austin Chamber Music Center and maintains a small private violin studio. He received his BM in Violin Performance from the UT Butler School of Music. When not playing violin, Joseph is also an avid ashtanga yoga practitioner and enjoys spending time with his church.

Rylie Harrod.jpg

Rylie HarRod

Dr. Rylie Harrod is an active teacher, orchestral cellist, and performer. Rylie has recently completed her Doctorate of Musical Arts at the University of Texas, studying primarily with Professor Joshua Gindele of the Miro Quartet, whilte taking an independent study with Professor Bion Tsang. In the final year of her doctoral degree, she completed her lecture document focusing on the 'fiendishly hard' cello concerto, titled "Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra, Op. 22 by Samuel Barber: A Historical and Methodology Guide". 

In New England, Rylie began studying cello through the Suzuki Method at the age of 5 after starting on violin at the age of 3. Rylie grew up along the New England Seacoast, studying with members of the Concord Community Music School and the Portland String Quartet. She served as the Principal Cellist of the (Greater) Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra and also participated in the Preparatory Program at the New England Conservatory. She attended high school at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Massachusetts where she studied with Andrew Mark.

She received a scholarship to attend the Royal Academy of Music, London, UK where she graduated with honors in 2012 with her Bachelors of Music in Cello Performance. After four rainy years in London, Rylie moved to Tempe, Arizona where she was the teaching assistant to Thomas Landschoot while working on her Masters of Music degree at Arizona State University. While living in Arizona, Rylie was a substitute player for the Phoenix Symphony and the Tucson Symphony. Recent summers have been spent at festivals in Japan at the Pacific Music Festival and at the National Repertory Orchestra.

Rylie served as Cello Faculty for the University of Texas String Project where she instructed private and group lessons for children aged 4 through high-school, and she now currently serves as the Office Manager for the program. She currently is the Principal Cellist of the Waco Symphony Orchestra and is also a substitute player for the San Antonio Symphony and the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Rylie's most recent summer was spent serving as Cello Faculty of the Longhorn Music Camp and the Austin Chamber Music Center Summer Workshop. She is looking forward to spending future summers working with Texas Strings Camp and Festival. She currently is the Cello Instructor at the École Jean-Jacques Rousseau French Immersion School and is a chamber music coach for CHAMPS and ACMC. Her private cello studio is filled with students from the pre-twinkle level through advanced high school students applying for collegiate music degrees. She greatly enjoys collaborating with musicians and artists from many different genres and walks of life. Her free time is spent obsessing over her really adorable dog, doing yoga, and drinking too much coffee. 


Caleb Polashek

Caleb Hans Polashek is an active violinist in Austin, performing with the Austin Symphony Orchestra,  Artisan Quartet,  and many other ensembles.  His students frequently earn top spots in their orchestras and place in competitions.  A double graduate of the UT School of Music, Caleb seeks to bring high level music to a wide audience in and around the central Texas area. As a coach of Champs ensembles he has seen his groups perform at high levels in local and national competitions. Mr.  Polashek looks forward to continuing to foster a quality level of encouragement for Austin area music students. 


Anna Park

Anna Park is currently the Assistant Principal of the Austin Symphony Orchestra.  She began her cello studies at the age of eleven in Atlanta, Georgia.  Anna earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland and her Master of Music degree from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.  Her primary teachers have included Carole Neuen-Rabinowitz, Martha Gerschefski, Alan Stepansky, and Hans Jørgen Jensen.  She has performed with numerous ensembles including the Houston Symphony, the International Contemporary Ensemble, and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.  While much of her time is spent performing, Anna can also be found working with her students in private cello lessons and coaching chamber ensembles through the Chamber Music in Public Schools (CHAMPS) program in Austin, Texas. 


Toby Blumenthal

Toby Blumenthal, has been Director of CHAMPS since 2010, and Artistic Director and Pianist for Classical Chamber Concerts in Round Rock and Georgetown since 2011. 

A native of Chicago, Ms. Blumenthal is a graduate of Northwestern University School of Music and has a Master of Music in performance degree from the University of Houston. Toby studied chamber music with Rudolph Serkin at Marlboro Chamber Music Institute in Vermont, and did post-graduate studies with Leonard Shure at the University of Texas. She has appeared as soloist with many orchestras including the Chicago and Houston Symphony Orchestras and is a Steinway Artist. 

She and her late husband, Philadelphia Orchestra cellist Bert Phillips, founded the Luzerne Music Center and Luzerne Chamber Music Festival in Lake Luzerne, NY, in 1980. She developed the Piano Program, was co-executive and co-artistic director until 2012, and piano teacher, chamber music coach and performing pianist until 2015. Toby now lives in Round Rock, Texas. She has played for the past six Georgetown Festivals of the Arts and has appeared in numerous performances with the Artisan Quartet, and Aeolus Quartet for Classic Chamber Concerts and the Mozart Festival in San Antonio, TX at Incarnate Word University. She will be piano soloist with the Austin Civic Orchestra in February, and will appear in the Georgetown Bach Festival in July, and the Luzerne Chamber Music Festival in August.

For more information please visit Luzerne Music.


Leah Nelson

An engaging performer and inspired educator, Austin native Leah Nelson has become a highly sought after violist. Leah has performed throughout the United States including Carnegie Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall. As a chamber musician she performs and collaborates regularly with other artists in the Austin Texas area and was a founding member of the Left Coast String Quartet and Felix Quartet. Leah enjoys working with a wide variety of musicians. Not only has she had the pleasure of sharing the stage with musicians such as Yo Yo Ma, Sarah Chang and Anne Akiko Myers, but she has toured with Andrea Bocelli and Trans Siberian Orchestra. Having the chance to perform with Barry Manilow, Willie Nelson, and recording with the Grammy nominated band Devotchka have been highlights of her career. Here in Austin Leah works frequently with composer Graham Reynolds.  She can be heard on the newest commissioned work by Ballet Austin, Exit Wounds, as well as on the sound track to the movie Bernie, directed by Richard Linklater. In November, Leah had the opportunity to work with composer Catherine Davis as a featured violist on the Illusory Impressions Project. As an orchestral musician, Leah has performed regularly with the Austin Symphony, Austin Lyric Opera, the New West Symphony and the American Youth Symphony.

Leah began her professional studies at the University of Texas at Austin where she received a Bachelor of Music in Viola Performance under the tutelage of Roger Myers. Ms. Nelson holds a Master of Music degree as well from the University of Southern California where she studied with the world-renowned performer and pedagogue Donald McInnes. In addition Leah has also studied at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena Italy under the great Russian violist Yuri Bashmet.

Leah is passionate about serving young people with access to high quality music education. She believes in the power of music study to deepen young people's artistic skills, minds and hearts. Growing up in Austin she attended Austin High School and had the opportunity to work with Robert Rudié, the founder of Salon Concerts as her string quartet coach in 11th and 12th grade. It was during those years that Leah developed a deep love for chamber music and small ensemble playing. While in Los Angeles, Leah was Director of the American Youth Symphony Educational Outreach Program and on faculty with Education through Music Los Angeles. In addition to being Executive Director for Salon Concerts and the CHAMPS program Leah continues to coach chamber music ensembles and has held a thriving private studio for over a decade.