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.


Jakub Rojek

Piano Instructor


Pianist and composer Jakub Rojek hails from Poland and currently resides in Plainfield, IL (suburb of Chicago.) His professional career spans many diverse compositional and performance related projects including, among others, chamber compositions for piano duo, voice and piano, and most recently improvising duo with multi-­‐reedman Aron Kruziki, to performances alongside jazz greats Dave Holland, Dave Douglas, Cecil McBee, John Hollenbeck to name a few.

Jakub has performed and premiered his pieces in many venues throughout the US including, most notably, Boston’s Jordan Hall, New York’s Venderbilt Hall, Chicago’s Chopin Theatre, Katerina’s, Lily Pad, Scholes Studios, Shrine, and Silvana in NYC, and recent premiers in concert halls in his native Poland. He is a recent prize winner at the International Composition Competition in Darmstadt, Germany, 2013.

Rojek holds a Masters Degree in jazz studies from the prestigious New England Conservatory, where he has studied with the likes of Danilo Perez, Frank Carlberg, Michael Gandolfi, and John Heiss.

He has released two albums to date: Cudawianki (2011), and Impish Brevity (2013), a trio project featuring bassist Dominic Drwal, and drummer Nicholas Anderson. He continues his musical quest throughout variety of compositional/performance related projects among which are Transcending Piano (compositions for two pianos), Sounds From The Self-­‐imposed Exile (chamber music project.) Finally, he continues his quest as a musician while engaging actively in many educational endeavors and takes pride in every chance he gets to instill the passion for learning in the next generation of musicians.

Genre(s): Classical, Jazz, Pop, Rock, Other Education: New England Conservatory, MM, North Central College, BA, Krakow Academy of Music, MM

Awards: prize at Kathleen Phillips Jazz Piano Competition, FL, 2006, prizes at International Composition Competition, Darmstadt, Germany, 2013


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.


Nicole Signa

Piano Instructor


Nicole studied classical piano in Washington State for over 12 years; during her study she participated in Master Classes with Peter Mack (Cornish College of the Arts) and Peng- Peng Gong. She was also a regular member in Washington State Music Teacher’s Adjudications and yearly MTNA Student Performance Competitions. She studied privately with Peter Mack and Laurel Gonzalo (Seattle Pacific University).

Nicole has formerly held positions as the principal accompanist for the South Puget Sound Community College Choir, and as a band participant at The Church of Living Water. In addition, Nicole has taught piano at her private music studio for over 6 years, as well as teaching on staff at her church and community music schools.


Victoria Turner

Piano Instructor


My name is Victoria Turner. I was born in beautiful New England, but currently live in Northwest Indiana. I began taking piano lessons at the age of six, and it soon became an obsession. I can remember as a child attempting to write “songs” with the two positions I could play in.  I gave my first piano lesson at the age of 16. By the end of the school year, I had gained seven students. This began my obsession with teaching. It was also at the age of 16 that I became the church pianist. This included congregationals, special music, offertories, and choir arrangements. The position took my playing to the next level. I was quite proud of my sight-reading abilities at the time, and my lead sheet playing really improved! 

I began attending Hyles-Anderson College in the fall of 2011, and began traveling the country with a promotional group as a pianist during the summer. A couple hundred students audition every year for positions in the group; only four pianists are chosen, and I was blessed to be one of them for two years. This, again, was an incredible experience! I wrote lead sheets, organized services, created arrangements, accompanied, and performed piano solos every night of the week. It was exhausting, but well worth it!  During the school year, I worked through and completed my Masters in Music Education. The final thesis included creating and transcribing a choral piece with 8-instrument accompaniment. This past year, I was able to publish two of my own intermediate pieces, and am currently working on a sacred hymn piano solo book.

I have a deep-rooted passion for music, and those who perform it. I love working with people, and helping them reach their musical potential. I believe that every person I meet through my teaching also has something to teach me.


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.