Avi Friedlander – Founder and Artistic Advisor

Avi Pic
Avi Friedlander, Cello,  is the founder and director of STEP Birmingham.  Mr. Friedlander currently teaches at both STEP Birmingham and the Alabama School of Fine Arts and formerly taught at Emory University.  He received his Master’s and Bachelor’s of Music performance degrees from The University of Michigan, and pursued his professional studies degree from The Cleveland Institute of Music. Mr. Friedlander is the former Assistant Principal cellist of the Atlanta Opera and member of The New World Symphony. He has been trained in the Suzuki methods with Dr. Tanya Carey, Pam Devenport, Rick Mooney and Gilda Barston. Mr. Friedlander has also studied Early Child Development with Ed Sprunger, teaching group classes with Carey Beth Hockett, Ed Sprunger and Terry Durbin, Music Mind Games with Elizabeth Cunha and cello pedagogy with Irene Sharp. Mr. Friedlander has studied improvisation with Ellen Rowe at the University of Michigan, Eugene Friesen from the Berkely College of Music in Boston and Stephan Braun from Berlin . His primary teachers have included Anthony Elliott, Stephen Geber, Tanya Carey and David Premo. He has also studied with Richard Aaron, Eric Kim, Yehuda Hanani, David Premo and Hans Jensen. Mr. Friedlander has taught at workshops and festivals around the world and has performed and recorded music from classical to rock. Mr. Friedlander currently performs with Sunday Jazz Night and String Theory Birmingham and writes his own arrangements for solo cello and ensembles from Jimi Hendrix to Pearl Jam.

Danielle Dotson

Danielle Dotson studied violin and piano with the Suzuki Method in Sydney, Australia, before being awarded the Associate Diploma and the Licentiate Diploma of Music through the Australian Music Examinations Board. As a student and performer on violin and piano, she has participated in international music events in Germany, Austria, Japan, New Zealand, the United States, Ireland, Italy and France.

Danielle has a a Masters degree in International Education from the George Washington University in Washington DC, and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of New South Wales, Sydney. She received her initial teacher training with the Suzuki Talent Education Association of Australia in Sydney with supervision from Nada Brissenden (piano) and Patricia Moran (violin), and is continuing to broaden her experience with masterclasses and training sessions in the US.

Danielle continues to perform regularly as a piano accompanist. She also performed in the past on violin and viola with various quartets and orchestras in Australia and Japan.

She taught at the Levine School of Music in Washington DC for 5 years, and maintained an extensive piano and violin studio in the DC metro area from 2005-2016. Earlier she taught privately in Sydney, Australia before living in Japan from 1997-2002. She has served on the board of directors for the Suzuki Association of the Greater Washington Area (SAGWA) for 8 years, serving as treasurer from 2014-2016 and Board Chair from 2012-2014. She moved to Madison, Alabama, with her family in 2016.

Director – Troy Bast

TroyBastTroy Bast, Violin, currently performs regularly with the Alabama Symphony, the Chattanooga Symphony, the Huntsville Symphony, and the Mobile Symphony. He is the former assistant principal 2nd violin in both the Huntsville Symphony and the Chattanooga Symphony. He began his violin studies in Pennsylvania, where he was a student at Temple University Preparatory Division. Mr. Bast received his Bachelor of Music degree from New York University, and his Master of Music degree from The Peabody Conservatory of Music. His teachers have included Marie Griffith, Davyd Booth, Mark Steinberg, Shirley Givens and Laura Kobayashi. Mr. Bast received his training in the Suzuki methods with Edmund Sprunger, Marilyn O’Boyle, Carrie Reuning-Hummel, Allen Lieb, Thomas Wermuth, and Timothy Durbin.

Dr. Katerina Juraskova

Dr. Katerina Juraskova

Czech-born cellist Katerina Juraskova has been acclaimed for her “electrifying spells, natural intensity, beautiful phrasing and sonority” (Santa Barbara Independent), as “one of the great cellists of the future” (La Presse Montreal). 

She graduated from the Prague State Conservatory and holds performance diplomas from the International Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad, Switzerland, Conservatoire européen de Musique de Paris, France, Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal, and Masters and Doctorate degrees in Performance from McGill University, Canada.

For nine years Ms. Juraskova was the principal cellist and soloist for the McGill Chamber Orchestra.  Her passion for Canadian contemporary music led to a collaboration with the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal with whom she served as the principal cellist and toured across Canada.  She was the soloist in the highly acclaimed contemporary dance and music collaboration Corps Secrets working with Canadian dancer/choreographers Isabelle Van Grimde and José Navas, performing with them in Canada, Sweden and Japan.  From 2006-2008 Dr. Juraskova served as the Principal Cellist and Artist in Residence of the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra.  As soloist and chamber musician, her career has taken her to major concert venues on three continents.

She has taught at the Montessori Academy and the Montgomery Music Project in Montgomery, AL, as an assistant chamber music teacher at the Internationl Menuhin Music Academy, and as a lecturer at the University of Montreal.  She has served as an adjudicator for the 2010 National Tour of the Canadian Music Competition, for the 2015 Sherbrooke Music Competition in Québec, Canada, and annually for the ACES competition in Montgomery.

Ms. Juraskova studied the cello with František Pišinger of the Dvorak Quartet, Radu Aldulescu, Denis Brott, Antonio Lysy and Christopher Rex, and chamber music with Yehudi Menuhin, Alberto Lysy, Mauricio Fuks, Bernard Greenhouse, Kathleen Winkler and Jerome Lowenthal.

She attended workshops in the Suzuki method with Elayne Ras in Canada, and Rick Mooney and Timothy Durbin in the USA, took her teacher training with Dr. Tanya L. Carey, and is now a registered Suzuki Cello instructor. 

Katerina lives with her husband Thomas Hinds, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra, and their 4-year old son Christopher in Montgomery where they are active in the city’s musical life. 


Dr. Laura Usiskin – Artistic Advisor

LauraPicLaura Usiskin, cello, has diverse musical interests spanning from early Baroque to 21st century music and solo to orchestral playing. Laura’s solo, chamber, and orchestral performing have taken her throughout the United States and Europe. In 2008 she received the Aldo Parisot prize at Yale University, given to gifted cellist showing promise in a solo career. Laura’s cello studies began at age five with Gilda Barston of the Music Institute of Chicago and continued with Richard Hirschl of the Chicago Symphony. She graduated from Columbia University cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience and Behavior and from Juilliard School with a Master of Music in Cello Performance, where she studied with Fred Sherry. Laura studied with Aldo Parisot at Yale University’s School of Music, where in 2009 she finished her doctoral coursework. Laura did her Suzuki training with Jean Dexter, Pam Devenport, Nancy Hair and Sally Gross.

Dr. Samuel Nordlund

Samuel Nordlund is cello and chamber music faculty at Samford University in Birmingham, AL, where he is also cellist in the Samford Quartet.  He frequently performs with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, and has been a member of the Huntsville Symphony, Kalamazoo Symphony (MI), and Illinois Philharmonic, among others.  Samuel is currently President of the Alabama Orchestra Association, and serves on the faculty of STEP Birmingham, the Alabama School of Fine Arts, Samford Academy of the Arts, and the Samford Piano and Chamber Music Institute.  He earned his DMA from The University of Alabama, a MM from Northwestern University, and has additional studies at summer festivals including the Music Academy of the West, the Meadowmount School of Music, the Kent/Blossom Music Festival, and the BrevardMusic Center.  Primary teachers were Hans Jørgen Jensen and Carlton McCreery, and Suzuki training with Avi Friedlander.

Prior to moving to Alabama, Samuel was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and a substitute player with the Chicago and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestras.  He also served as Assistant Director of Performance Activities at the Music Institute of Chicago.  For several summers, Samuel taught cello and directed the Early Music Ensemble at the Lutheran Summer Music festival.  He is a previous Music Director of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestras of Central Alabama, and currently serves on their Board of Directors.




Melanie Rodgers

Melanie RodgersMelanie R. Rodgers, violist, violinist, music educator and music therapist, is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, with a degree in viola performance and music education.

Melanie’s career has been a blending of her passions; performing, teaching, and especially providing music as a means for therapeutic and spiritual purposes. As an orchestra musician, she performed in the viola sections of orchestras in the Northern and Southeastern United States including the West Virginia Symphony and her native Pittsburgh with The Pittsburgh Ballet and Opera Orchestra. Since moving to Birmingham in 1991, Melanie has been a substitute violist with The Alabama Symphony. For six seasons, she served as principle violist of The Huntsville Symphony, and through the years has contributed to the viola sections of the Chatanooga, Tuscaloosa, Gadsden, and Montgomery Symphonies.

Melanie’s thirty- five years of teaching experience ranges from private violin and viola instruction using Suzuki and Traditional methods to public and private school string classes of violin, viola and cello students. She enjoys presenting workshops in styles of fiddling; mostly Celtic and Bluegrass. During her seventeen years as faculty member of The Birmingham Southern  Conservatory of Fine and Performing Arts, Melanie has taught music theory and pre- school( Moppets) music classes, and incorporated introductory violin classes into general music classes of several local schools. Her private teaching studio has included violin and viola students ranging from 4 years old to retirees learning to fiddle. Melanie considers working with students and their families as one of the true blessings and privileges of her life.

Merging lifelong interests of psychology and music’s powerful influence on human behavior, Melanie completed  a two year course of study at the University of Alabama and became a board certified music therapist in 1999.

Living in Birmingham with her husband John and dog, Buddy, Melanie loves being part of this city’s vibrant musical community. This provides her the joyful opportunity of performing a wide range of musical styles with bands she loves including String Theory, Shades Mountain Air, Shelter in the Wreckage, local praise and worship bands, and Nouveau Reinhardt.

Meredith Treaster

MeredithMeredith Treaster joined the viola section of Alabama Symphony Orchestra in December 2015. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, she attended the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Massachusetts as well as the New England Conservatory Preparatory School. At age sixteen, she performed Brahms Piano Quintet at Carnegie Hall with her quartet and renowned pianist Hae-Sun Paik. Since then, she has become equally devoted to her passions for chamber and contemporary music. She has given chamber concerts across the United States, recent highlights including the George Perle Centennial Celebration and the closing performance of Juilliard’s 2015 ChamberFest. An avid performer of new music, Meredith performed frequently as principal violist with AXIOM and the New Juilliard Ensemble. She has also premiered and recorded several new works in New York City and at the Aspen Music Festival. As a soloist with the New Juilliard Ensemble, Meredith was hailed by the New York Times as “soulful yet refined” and “appropriately rough and folksy” for her New York premiere of Donald Crockett’s to airy thinness beat at the Museum of Modern Art, and as “excellent” for her performance of John Woolrich’s Envoi in Alice Tully Hall. Meredith gave a repeat performance of Crockett’s work a year later with Musica Nova at the University of Missouri Kansas City.
Meredith was a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in 2015, and has attended the Aspen Music Festival eight times, where she served as principal and mentor for the Aspen Concert and Philharmonic orchestras, and as a Fellowship recipient in the Aspen Chamber Symphony. Meredith was the event coordinator for the Weill Cornell Music and Medicine Initiative, organizing symposiums at Juilliard as well as hospital outreach performances for the terminally ill.
Meredith has been the principal violist of numerous orchestras including the Juilliard Orchestra, Juilliard Lab Orchestra, New Juilliard Ensemble, Aspen Concert Orchestra, and Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, also serving as a substitute violist for the New World Symphony in Miami. She has performed regularly in venues including Alice Tully Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall, and Jordan Hall. Meredith received her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees at Juilliard as a student of Misha Amory and Masao Kawasaki. She has taught viola classes in the NYC public schools and Success Academy charter schools, and substitute taught at Santa Fe Talent Education Suzuki Music Center.

Pei-Ju Wu

PeiJuWuViolinist Pei-Ju Wu, a native of Taipei, Taiwan, has established a performance career as an active chamber and orchestral musician. She joined the first violin section of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in 2013 and is a member of the Des Moines Metro Opera. Prior to moving to Birmingham, Pei-Ju was a member of the San Antonio Symphony, and performed frequently with the Houston Grand Opera, Fort Worth Symphony and Dallas Chamber Symphony. In 2010, Pei-Ju co-founded a chamber music ensemble, Quartus Chamber Players, which focused on collaborating with local artists and educational outreach through music. She was a member of the Hall Ensemble while living in Fort Worth, Texas, and performed frequently with other Texas chamber music groups, such as Aperio, Music of the Americas, Virtuoso String Quartet, Mount Vernon Music and Ensemble 75. Pei-Ju studied with Kathleen Winkler, Roman Totenberg, Shirley Givens and Rodney Friend, and received her degrees from Boston University and Rice University. Pei-Ju is a registered Suzuki violin instructor and has studied the Suzuki methods with Ed Kreitman.


Peter Garrett

Peter and cello 2From Normal Illinois, Peter started cello lessons at the age of six. He was appointed to the cello section of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in 2015 while pursuing a Master’s degree at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where he studied with Brinton Averil Smith. Prior to his studies at the Shepherd School, Peter earned his Bachelors in Music from the University of Michigan. An avid teacher of the cello, Peter comes from a family of music educators. He has studied music pedagogy with Dr. Sohyoung Park and Cornelia Watkins, and has been teaching private lessons and masterclasses since 2013. His past teachers have included Richard Hirschl, Anthony Elliott, Amir Eldan, Brandon Vamos, Astrid Schween, and Nina Gordon.

Rene Reder

RenePicRene Reder, Viola and Violin, joined the Alabama Symphony in 2004. She was born and raised in Tacoma Washington, where she attended the University of Puget Sound, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in music. She then studied at Temple University in Philadelphia, receiving her Masters of Music Degree and Performance Diploma. Music has taken her to a handful of beautiful and interesting places including Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, Europe, Israel, and Argentina. In 2001, after three years in the New World Symphony, Rene won a position with the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, where she played until 2003. In June 2004 she completed a one year position with the Virginia Symphony before moving to Birmingham. Rene has studied the Suzuki methods with Linda Steig at Capital University in Columbus, OH

Sarah Dennis

SarahPicSarah Dennis, Violin, currently plays in the first violin section of the Alabama Symphony. Previously she was a member of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sarasota Opera. She also taught violin with the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance from the University of Alabama, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude at age nineteen, and a Master of Music in Violin Performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music. She has performed collaboratively with members of the Berlin Philharmonic and in faculty recitals at both UA and CIM. She has also been soloist with the Tuscaloosa Symphony and National Repertory Orchestra. Sarah’s family has lived in Birmingham since 1990