We welcome 12 new full-time faculty members, who bring extraordinary talent and fresh perspectives to Eastman.
As an introduction, we asked the nine studio faculty to answer a few questions about their appointments:
- Why do you want to teach at Eastman?
- What are you most proud of in your career thus far?
- Share an interesting fact about yourself.
Answers to the first two questions are published in the September issue of our alumni magazine, Notes. Answers to the full three questions are below.
Justin Benavidez, Associate Professor of Tuba
Justin Benavidez is the former principal tuba of the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra and has performed as tubist with the Charleston, Charlotte, Jacksonville and Santa Fe Symphony Orchestras, the Philadelphia and Sarasota Orchestras, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Utah Symphony. He previously held a similar faculty position at Florida State University and annually teaches at the Round Top Summer Music Festival.
- The musical excellence of the Eastman student body and faculty. I am thrilled to immerse myself in the culture of artistry and creativity that define Eastman, characteristics that abound in the ethos of the faculty and in the passion of the students and alumni that I meet throughout the world. I cannot wait to be a part of it.
- As a first-generation college student and the child of an immigrant, I am incredibly proud to have completed my doctoral education. Earning a doctorate in music was a milestone in my life and the culmination of a story that began generations before me. This education started my career path and made it possible to share my musical knowledge with my students.
- In addition to playing in chamber ensembles and orchestras, I am a solo artist! In 2024, I will be performing and recording the recently composed Viet Cuong Tuba Concerto with David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony Orchestra. I have released two solo albums that have garnered several awards and represent one of my musical interests: highlighting the solo repertoire for tuba with new works and transcriptions.
Joshua Conyers, Assistant Professor of Voice
Conyers is a Grammy-nominated vocalist who has previously held appointments and residencies at New England Conservatory preparatory division, Longy School, University of Memphis, Wayne State University, and three North Carolina University campuses, as well as the Seattle Opera, Arte Lirico (Ecuador), and OperaFest Sewanee. Upcoming performing engagements include leading roles at both the Metropolitan Opera and Seattle Opera.
- Where to begin? Eastman has a rich history of incredible faculty and students. I wanted to have the opportunity to work alongside such amazing colleagues and the finest young talent across the world. But, there is one very specific thing that made me apply for this position and that is Eastman’s commitment to DEI practices.
- I’m proud of so many things in my career. My commitment to community engagement, mentorship programs, and my dedication to make the classical music world a safe space for everyone. Also, I’m proud of the fact that I never gave up on my goals and dreams. I went for years without getting any engagements and I had to do whatever it took to stay afloat. No matter the obstacles I kept at it for years and I’m so proud in the face of adversity I didn’t give up.
- I don’t know if this is an interesting fact about myself but this is a self-truth. I’m from the Bronx, NY and grew up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. My household was filled with drug abuse and violence. I wasn’t supposed to be here, and I was supposed to be a statistic. I found classical music and it saved my life. I’m constantly told that classical music is for the “elite” or the “rich” but how did I get here and why did I fall in love with it? I want to change the narrative of classical music because it belongs to all of us. It is my mission to share with my community how incredibly inclusive classical music can be.
Ran Dank, Associate Professor of Piano
Dank is the recipient of numerous honors, including at the the Naumburg Piano Competition and the Sydney International Piano Competition. He was also the First Prize winner of the Hilton Head International Piano Competition. In recent seasons, Dank has performed Kevin Puts’ ’94E, ’99E (DMA) piano concerto Night, the Tobias Picker concerto, Keys to the City, Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, and William Bolcom’s Pulitzer-winning set of Twelve New Etudes for Piano.
- First and foremost, I would have to mention the long and venerable tradition of excellence achievements, both academically and musically. The students coming out of Eastman have always left a mark and have stood out in various ways. Second, and which seems obvious, is the world-class faculty. Eastman has always had the cream of the crop in terms of the teaching body, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be joining their rank.
- I think I would say that successfully juggling all the different facets of my being––performance, teaching, and, of course, being a husband and a father––has been the most challenging and rewarding part of my career.
- I love languages and history, and I am an avid listener of podcasts and audiobooks that pertain in any way to this topic!
Patrick Diamond, Associate Professor of Opera and Director of Production for Eastman Opera Theatre
A New Mexico native, Diamond most recently served on the faculties of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and Yale University. Patrick taught previously at the Manhattan School of Music and has been in residence at Vanderbilt University and VOXLab Oslo. He has directed operas and plays nationally and internationally, and he has participated in over twenty American and World premieres.
- I have worked with amazing students and faculty from Eastman throughout my career, and so the school has always stood out to me as a solid place where artists are nurtured as they develop. And right now, opera at Eastman is very forward thinking and innovative. I feel lucky to be a part of that.
- I am proud of all the opportunities I have had and everything I have created with other artists. I don’t think I can hone in on one project or accomplishment. So, what I take pride in most in my work is making creative spaces. It may be my background in improv comedy or in theater, but I am proud to make spaces where artists can come together and play in order to create something living, breathing, and meaningful.
- I was born in the Rockies and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am very much of that place, a westerner through and through. But my parents were both born and raised in Rochester. We still have family and friends in the area. If my mother were still with us, I am sure she would smile and chuckle at my moving here. I know my dad does.
Kiera Duffy, Associate Professor of Voice
Duffy has performed as a soloist with many of the world’s preeminent classical music organizations, including the Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, London Symphony, Metropolitan Opera, and others. For the last seven years, she has been Professor of the Practice at the University of Notre Dame, where she served as the Coordinator of Undergraduate Voice Studies and Creative Producer of Opera ND for the Department of Music and voice faculty for the Graduate Program of Sacred Music.
- Asking a musician-teacher if they want to teach at Eastman is like asking an athlete if they want to participate in the Olympics. It’s really *the* dream job for me. The students at Eastman are the crème de la crème of today’s young artists. To be able to offer them some guidance at this critical stage in their development is a privilege.
- I know I am probably supposed to say, “singing with the Fill In the Blank Philharmonic,” but honestly, I am most proud of the fact that I have reckoned with the beast that is crippling stage fright. I don’t claim to have cracked the code on performance anxiety, but I have learned after nearly four decades of public performance how to work alongside it instead of in spite of it.
- I am thrilled to report that these days I am decidedly, 100% uninteresting! I have fully embraced my inner old lady. Nothing makes me happier than a hot bath and going to sleep by 9:15pm. Except for when I see my beans and tomatoes (started from seed, of course) coming along nicely in the garden or when the fall bulb catalogue arrives (oh, joy of joys!).
Sara Gazarek, Associate Professor of Jazz Voice
Joining Eastman after a 12-year tenure at the Thornton School of Music, of the University of Southern California, Gazarek is a two-time Grammy-nominated vocalist who has performed and recorded with an array of internationally acclaimed artists and is a founding member of the Grammy-nominated vocal supergroup, säje. She has been a clinician, adjudicator, and performer at universities, jazz camps, and jazz festivals throughout the United States and Canada. At Eastman, she launches a newly conceived Jazz Voice track in the undergraduate Jazz and Contemporary Media degree program.
- There is a legacy and reputation surrounding the faculty and students at Eastman that I can’t wait to be a part of—an openness to embracing what is coming paired with a respect for what has brought us where we are, combined with a love of the process and a dedication to explorational greatness.
- I have experienced the joy of a lifetime in spending the past twelve years working with the young minds of tomorrow in Los Angeles (at USC), while balancing my own aspirations and work as a professional musician. I’m proud to have been able to demonstrate this dual harmony for my students, in the hopes of inspiring them to achieve that which drives them, without sacrificing any piece of who they are.
- I’m a dog mom and a half-marathon runner, and I love improvisation of all types. Prior to the pandemic, I learned a lot about my musical approach to improv through comedy classes at Upright Citizens Brigade in LA—it was a blast!
Mikel Kuehn, Professor of Composition and Director of EMuSE
From 1998 to 2023, Kuehn was Professor of Creative Arts Excellence at Bowling Green State University where he served as director of the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music and the Bowling Green New Music Festival from 2007-2010. He has received awards and honorable recognition from ASCAP and BMI, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Composers, Inc., the Copland House, and numerous others.
- Eastman’s top-notch reputation and the quality of its students and faculty have always made me want to teach here. Additionally, Eastman has a uniquely special atmosphere, which I have always found exciting, inspiring, and productive. I’m thrilled to be returning.
- I’m most proud that I have been able to center my career and life around creating music. As a composer I have been lucky to have the freedom to follow my interests and at the same time I’m honored to have been able to help others along the way.
- I’ve had a connection with Eastman since I was very young. When I was three, I lived in Rochester for a year while my father was working on his DMA at Eastman. My sister was born here and my mom taught in the public schools. Each evening, we would pick up my father at the Swan Street bridge, which is one of my first memories along with the massive amounts of snow that winter. My wife Debbie and I met during the first week at Eastman as grad students.
Andrew McCandless, Associate Professor of Trumpet
McCandless was appointed Principal Trumpet of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1999. He has also held the position of Principal Trumpet with many notable orchestras including the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Dallas Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, in which he still performs today. McCandless is a Yamaha performing artist and is on faculty at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto, teaches privately, and has given masterclasses throughout North America including The Juilliard School, The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, and the University of Toronto.
- I was a student at Eastman in the early 1990’s. At that time, it never occurred to me that I might someday have the opportunity to teach there. When I realized that it was actually a possibility to come back, it was an easy decision. The faculty, facilities and most importantly the student culture was a huge draw. I can’t express what coming home to Eastman after all these years means to me. It feels like a dream.
- This is a very difficult question for me. I could talk about concerts, recordings, or tours, but those are fleeting moments. I think I’m most proud of the students I have taught and the connections we have made. Whether they’ve gone on to professional careers in music, or moved into another field, I’m so proud of having some small part in helping them reach their goals.
- About twenty years ago I was an avid rock climber! I started learning to climb at an indoor gym. After I had a good understanding of climbing and climbing safely, I started climbing outdoors. My wife and I took several trips climbing all over the US and Canada. So you don’t get the wrong idea and imagine me hanging from a rope 1000 feet up, I only learned sport climbing, so no higher than 100 feet off the ground.
Daniel Pesca, Assistant Professor of Composition
Equally talented as a pianist and composer, Pesca’s most recent compositions are “Walk with me, my joy” for Constellations Chamber Concerts in Washington, DC and “New Examples of Confusion” for the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition. As a pianist, Pesca has premiered over 150 solo and chamber works, he has shared the stage with leading new music ensembles and performed in places like the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, and contemporary music festivals internationally. Daniel previously taught at University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Chicago; Northeastern Illinois University; Ithaca College; and Syracuse University.
- Eastman is my alma mater: a place where I grew and developed enormously as a musician. What I have always treasured about Eastman is its close-knit sense of community, which turbo-charges its talented students towards creative, innovative careers that make waves across the music world. Playing a role in fostering that environment is simply an unmissable opportunity!
- I am proud that I successfully walk the tightrope of a career as a composer-performer, keeping both facets of my artistic life active over a couple decades now. My thesis has always been that being an active performer makes me a better composer, and being a composer makes me a better pianist. This dual identity is exemplified by my recent solo album Promontory, on which I play a few of my own works as well as those by composers who are friends and colleagues.
- As I was recently packing my house in Baltimore, I came across a cassette tape of the first full recital of my music, which occurred when I was thirteen years old. Several friends played my chamber works, and I contributed performances as a pianist and as an oboist. My older sister designed the cover, which depicts an owl, my favorite animal as a kid. Finding this relic caused me to reflect on my journey in music. Much has changed, but some things have stayed the same: I still love writing chamber music to play with my friends, and I still like owls.
In addition to our new studio faculty, Eastman students will have the opportunity to work with other new faculty members in the humanities and vocal coaching:
Joella Bitter, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Joella Bitter specializes in the anthropologies of sound and city-making, particularly in Uganda, where her research is based. She has a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University, with a Graduate Certificate in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. Her work has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Duke University.
As a multimodal teacher-scholar, Bitter’s work lies at the intersection of experimental ethnography, creative arts and digital humanities, and she is “thrilled to be joining the Eastman community.”
Filomena Fantarella, Assistant Professor of Italian
Filomena Fantarella completed her PhD in Italian Studies at Brown University where she taught language and cultural courses for the past seven years and coordinated their language program in spring ’20 and fall ’21. Her research interests include second language acquisition, the relationship between politics and literature, Fascism and anti-Fascism, the intellectual history of the nineteenth and twentieth century, and food studies. Her new research project is on the development of Italian Studies in the United States through the work of Giuseppe Prezzolini, for which she has been awarded a research grant from the Ragusa Foundation for Humanities in New York City.
“I am delighted to join the Eastman School of Music and its vibrant and diverse intellectual community,” shares Fantarella. “I look forward to working with so many bright and talented students.”
Brock Tjosvold, Assistant Professor of Vocal Coaching
Pianist, vocal coach, and conductor Brock Tjosvold ’22E (DMA) is coming to Eastman from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, where he has been the music director of the award-winning Crane Opera Ensemble. Tjosvold is an award-winning pianist who has performed at Carnegie Hall with clarinetist Amy Humberd, appeared as soloist with the National Repertory Orchestra, and has attended the Aspen Music Festival and Music Academy of the West with full fellowships.
Tjosvold says, “I learned so much during my time as an Eastman student and I’m thrilled to be returning as a faculty member. Being a part of this vibrant community is truly a dream come true.”