Private Lessons: Traditional, Classical, Jazz Piano

The piano is an excellent instrument to start your music education. Private piano sessions involve establishing a solid foundation in rhythm, pitch, ear training, and coordination/technique, as well as keyboard geography and music reading. Consequent sessions continue to expand student repertoire, and further develop improvisational, compositional, and music theory skills. Students will be exposed to a variety of musical styles, and also presented with various music notation and listening media.

Recommended session duration: Youth 30/45 minutes; Teenage and Adult 45/60 minutes.

2016-17 Winter
Art Classes and
Workshops Calendar

General Information

Age to Begin Piano Lessons

Instruction in piano may begin for students as young as 3 years old. We offer our ‘Mini Musicians’ and the ‘Little Mozarts’ program for preschoolers as introductory music courses.

Mini Musicians and My First Piano Adventures
Both Mini Musicians’ and My First Piano Adventures’ methods teach the fundamentals of music in a fun and comfortable semi-private setting, helping students develop music basics for a smoother transition into one-on-one private lessons. Learn More…

The Fox River Academy welcomes beginner students, transfer students, students with special needs, pupils preparing for auditions and competitions, adult students, individuals interested in pursuing a music career, students needing assistance with jazz band music, etc. We have a diverse piano staff with years of performance/teaching experience to help individuals develop in many areas of music.

Adult piano lessons are an increasing trend. Whether you had piano lessons as a child, or simply have always wanted to learn to play the piano, you can expect to work with supportive and experienced instructors at Fox River Academy.

Starting Supplies

If you do not already have a piano at home, you have several options. The first option is to purchase an acoustic upright piano, baby-grand piano, or a full grand piano. You may find them in used or new condition– what you select may depend on your budget and preferences. Our office also has a waiting list where we match students/families with free piano donations (please contact our Academy office if interested).

The second and least expensive option is to purchase an electric keyboard or digital piano. Electronic pianos with 88 weighted keys are preferred; any keyboard with 66 full-size keys or above is OK to start on for the first several months of study. If a student is committed to continuing music study after a quarter or two of lessons, we generally recommend students graduate to either a digital or acoustic full-size piano.

Our Piano Faculty

The piano department at Fox River Academy offers a comfortable and supportive learning environment for young musicians to adults at beginner to advanced levels of study. We provide the finest instruction, emphasizing the importance of each student‘s individuality, while establishing a solid foundation for all of our students.

Our piano faculties are professionals committed to music and their instruments, with outstanding credentials and years of performing and teaching experiences in the music field. We believe this real-life expertise is also key in offering a comprehensive music learning experience, providing a wealth of first-hand opportunities and growth potential.


Ellen Avery

Piano Instructor


Ellen graduated from North Central College with a double major in Music Performance and Elementary Education, receiving the Aurora Foundation and Hansen Furnas Scholarship, North Central College Presidential Scholarship, and North Central College Piano Performance Scholarship. She has studied with Zanieda Constantinova, Maribel Robinson, April Stovall, and Barbara Vanderwall.

Ellen has participated in various performance classes and events throughout the community, such as participating in the American Grands performances, teaching AWANA classes for five years, and acting as pianist for the Ukranian Baptist Church in Berwyn, Illinois.

In addition to teaching at Fox River Academy for over ten years and raising a family with her husband, Ellen continues to be active in mission trips and church activities.


Anne Badger

Piano and Organ Instructor


Anne received her Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College in Music and English and a Master of Arts from Yale University. She studied organ with Richard Litterst, piano with Donald Walker, Minka Roustcheva, and Wilbur Price.

Anne was a freelance pianist and specialist in early music in New Haven, Connecticut and the New York metropolitan area. She served as the Professor of English at Bucknell University, with a field specialization in eighteenth-century British literature, and with particular interests in the interrelations between the arts.

She currently holds the position as the organist at the First Congregational Church UCC in Ottawa and maintains a private piano and organ studio. Anne is also a registered instructor for the Royal Conservatory Music Development Program.


Karen Kulzer

Academy Director, Piano Instructor


In August 2003, Ms. Kulzer co-founded/incorporated Fox River Academy of Music and Art, Inc. (a community music and art school) with musician Ron Stark, opening its doors with three employees and 40 students. Since then, Fox River Academy has grown to 400 enrolled students and 30+ full- and part-time employees, with members participating in student recitals, charitable fundraisers, art exhibits, and numerous other community art and music activities.

Karen received her Bachelor of Music from DePaul University’s School of Music (Chicago, Illinois); she has studied piano performance and composition studies with Dr. Michael Fritsch, Dr. Melody Lord, Dr. Janice Misurell-Mitchell, Alan Swain, Jim Trompeter, and Dr. Kurt Westerberg. In addition to 20+ years of private piano teaching experience, Karen has been involved with many local organizations and community outreach associations.


Alyssa Griffin

Piano Instructor


Since she began studying piano at four years old, Alyssa continued her music education studies throughout high school and through college, where she was part of a national music tour group that traveled the Northeast. In addition to her bachelor’s degree from Hyles-Anderson College, Alyssa is scheduled to complete her Masters in Education from Maranatha Baptist University in 2018. Along with privately teaching piano students for the last six years, Alyssa currently teaches first and second grade at Jordan Baptist School.


Carla Schanstra

Piano and Strings Instructor


Carla received a B.A. from Western Illinois Univesity, and participated in studies at North Central College & American Conservatory of Music. She has participated as a violist in the DuPage Youth Symphony, IMEA State Orchestra, Downers Grove Oratorio Society, North Central College Orchestra, Western Illinois University Orchestra, Galesburg Symphony Orchestra, and the Elgin Symphonette.

Carla has studied with John Svoboda, Ki Joo Lee, and David Morse; she is also interested in Celtic fiddle music and has played with several local musicians and groups.


Rachel Zambrano

Piano Instructor


As a piano teacher, my main goal is to inspire my students to become passionate about music and playing piano.  I desire for them to understand clearly how things work musically and why they are that way. Tailoring individual lessons to meet the needs of each student is something I strive to do everyday. Part of helping my students become passionate and excited about piano playing is incorporating educational music activities designed to meet them at their skill level and get some extra (fun) practice reading notes, working on tempo, learning about intervals, etc. I also enjoy involving the parents in what their students are working on by bringing them in at the end of lessons so that the students can show them what we worked on as well as taking notes for the parents about which songs we are working on and what we are focusing on in each song.

In addition to several years of piano teaching in the private sector, I have three months of field experience in music therapy and two years in early childhood education, and have completed one year towards a degree in Music Therapy.  I am working towards continuing my music education by becoming a Nationally Certified Music Teacher and pursuing teaching certification from the Royal Conservatory.


Nichole Luchs

Piano, Harp Instructor


Nichole Luchs, native of Freeport IL, started music lessons at the age of ten through the harp program at her public school. She received a Bachelors degree (in Harp Performance) from Northern Illinois University and a Masters degree from Northwestern University. During her studies, she was the recipient of the prestigious Eckstein Scholarship and the Keefer award. In 2002, she performed two duets with world-renowned Steel-pan artist, Liam Teague, on his Christmas recording A Christmas Gift produced by Sack records. She also performed on the debut recording of modern composer Dexter Morrill entitled Dexter Morrill: Three Concertos produced by Centaur Records, Inc. Recently, she was a featured performer in the Paidiea Project, a documentary on the music of ancient Greece.

Nichole is currently an active free-lance musician and performs throughout Illinois and Iowa. She is the principal harpist for the Peoria Symphony, DuPage Symphony, and Illinois Valley Symphony, and she has performed with many orchestras in the area including the Rockford Symphony, Evanston Symphony, Skokie Valley Symphony, Fox Valley Symphony, Quad City Symphony, and Dubuque Symphony. She is a member of the Naperville Chamber Musicians and performs numerous chamber recitals with the group throughout the year. Nichole is also an active teacher and is a piano and harp instructor at Fox River Academy of Music and Art in Oswego , IL and also at North Central College in Naperville, IL.


Barbara Wirz-Ellsworth

Piano Instructor


Barbara Wirz Ellsworth is a German/American trained pianist with over 35 years of teaching experience in the United States and Germany. In 1974-1980 she earned a Bachelor and Masters of Music at the State College of Music in Cologne/Germany in piano performance and Dalcroze Eurhythmics, and in 2003 a Masters of Music in piano performance and music education at Northern Illinois University.

She studied piano under Prof. Donald Walker, Dr. Theodore Edel at Northern Illinois University, and Professor Karin Merle at the State College of Music in Cologne/Germany and others.

Barbara is a Certified Teacher for the Royal Conservatory Music Development Program. In recent years some of her students have accomplished Certificates of Excellence as best of Illinois in their level.

Barbara is also a Dalcroze Eurhythmics Specialist (a methodology that teaches music through movement). Her teachings have been highly valued at Northern Illinois University, DePaul University in Chicago, the Music Teacher National Association and the Illinois State Music Teacher Association conferences, the Kodaly Association Chapter in St. Louis, the Chicago Area Music Teacher Association, and other major educational institutions in Germany.

She is author of the book and CD, Das goldene Karussell, The Golden Carousel, an Introduction to Classical Piano Music for Young Children, published in German in 2001.