Private lessons in Violin (Suzuki/Traditional), Viola, Cello,
and String Bass

At Fox River Academy, we currently offer instructions in violin, cello, viola, and string bass.  Traditional classical training is offered as well as a Suzuki violin program for parents who prefer the Suzuki approach. Our string program is designed to help advance the student in technique, musicality, theory, sight-reading, and repertoire. The material used in our sessions is specifically based on age and current advancement of the student.

The Suzuki Violin Program at Fox River Academy offers a nurturing environment in which student, parent, and teacher work together in developing the musical and technical development of the child. In our Suzuki program, there is a required weekly group class in addition to the regular weekly private lesson, which aids in the development of ensemble skills and nurtures a mutual respect for each other as musicians and individuals. Fox River Academy is a member of the Suzuki Association of the America; to read more on the Suzuki method please click here.

Recommended session duration for Violin, Viola, and cello lessons: (Traditional/Suzuki): Youth – 30/45 minutes; Teenage and Adult – 45/60 minutes.

String Bass lessons cover classical, jazz and other styles. Students will learn and expand on basic concepts of bass techniques, improvisation, ear-training, and explore various types of repertoire. Many of our students bring in excerpts and band music that prepare them for their orchestra and band auditions.

Recommended session duration for bass lessons:
Youth – 30 minutes; Teenage and Adult – 45/60 minutes

Age to begin string lessons:
We at Fox River Academy welcome students ofall ages and all levels into our string program. Ages 3-6 are common ages for Suzuki violin beginners; no previous musical experience is necessary.

In addition to preschool and grade-school age children, we also have many young adults, adults, and seniors in our string program. We offer a supportive learning environment for all students at all levels. Students enjoy participating in our adult recitals, academy recitals, local performance events, and chamber/ensemble classes to enhance their musical experience.

Starting Supplies:
Due to the nature of the instrument, Youth students may need a special size violin/viola/bass appropriate for their age and size. Please contact your instructor before obtaining an instrument for your class. For the very beginners, of all ages, renting is probably the most affordable solution. Many violin shops offer decent rental programs; please feel free to contact our office for recommendations on local shops.

Sapp Violin Shop (Montgomery)
Austin Violin Shop (Sugar Grove)

Winter Art Classes
and Workshops

Our Strings Faculty

Fox River Academy has a professional, committed, and diverse string faculty. We have instructors who are trained in the Suzuki violin approach, traditional classical instruction, jazz, and other styles. Members are also performing artists who inspire their pupils by their musical experience and commitment to music and their instruments.

Sarah Smith

Strings Instructor (Suzuki/Traditional)


Sarah began her studies at age five with her father, Stan Smith, and continued her studies with Rebecca Sandrok, Debra Wood, and the internationally renowned Almita Vamos at Western Illinois University. In 1986, she studied with Dr. Suzuki at his school, the Talent Education Institute in Matsumoto, Japan. Sarah began teaching in 1984 with Aurora Suzuki Violins combining efforts with Stan Smith until May 2009 when Stan Smith and Aurora Suzuki retired. Sarah’s goal is to carry out the Suzuki philosophy with her students and enjoys being an important part of her student’s lives.

Sarah is a sought-after clinician at workshops and Institutes throughout the United States teaching in Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, Utah, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, and throughout Illinois.

Sarah teaches violin, viola and cello with Fox River Academy of Music and Art. Her students have taken advanced positions in local orchestras as well as winning spots in local Concerto Competitions. Many of her students continue with their music education as both performance majors and music education majors studying at the most prestigious music schools in the country with some of them going on to perform internationally. Those who have not majored in music have continued playing their instruments in some capacity by joining their local community orchestras or just playing for their own pleasure. It has been very gratifying for Sarah to see her students continue to enjoy fine music.

Jan Geiger

Strings Instructor (Suzuki/Traditional)


Along with completing pedagogy training for Suzuki Violin from Units 1A/1B through 4, Jan also has a Bachelors of Science through Wheaton College and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Aurora University. Ms. Geiger has been a regular member of the Suzuki Association of the Americas since 1995, and has performed with her students throughout the regional area in fundraisers, concerts, and other events. From 1994 through 2003, Ms. Geiger was a founding member and educator at Green Leaf Cooperative School, a weekly multi-age, thematic, interdisciplinary, project-based cooperative school with several homeschool families, grades preschool through eighth. She has her Illinois State Teacher Certification in initial elementary teaching and her ASCI (Association of Christian Schools International) Educators Certificate.

In addition to her private teaching, Jan also is currently on staff as an instructor for Fox Valley El Sistema, a program that provides free instruments and music instruction for children (currently the program is available at selected Aurora public schools). She also works as a science teacher for 5th through 8th graders at The Greenhouse in Wheaton, IL.

FVO El Sistema Information

Sallie Leverenz

Strings Instructor (Suzuki/Traditional)


Sallie is very excited to be a part of the Fox River Academy of Music and Art as a violin and viola instructor. She feels music enriches the lives of performers and listeners alike and through teaching she can best help others discover the joy of music. While embracing the mission statement of the FRA to encourage music appreciation throughout the community, Sallie also contends that the study of music can make vast improvements in the lives of people of all needs and abilities.

Sallie attended Roosevelt University, Chicago Musical College for Violin Performance and did post grad work at Yale University studying with the acclaimed Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Silverstein. She has a diverse background both performing and teaching having been a member of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and playing ballet, theatre, and opera for over 30 years.

Her teaching credits include many years of private, group and orchestral conducting at the Francis W Parker School in Chicago. She teaches both Suzuki and Traditional String Methods. Sallie has taught music classes in the Plano Elementary and Middle schools and currently teaches stringed instruments in Fox Valley El Sistema, a program that provides free instruments and music instruction for children (currently the program is available at selected Aurora public schools). She is member of the violin section of the Fox Valley Orchestra.

Bob Ferraris

Bass Instructor


With over 40 years of experience on acoustic and electric bass, Bob Ferraris consistently demonstrates uncommon versatility and musical energy. A native of Joliet, IL., Bob began his musical journey initially on alto saxophone before switching to bass. Since then he has studied with Ted Sparks (Stan Kenton Orchestra), Harold Siegal (Chicago Symphony Orchestra and NBC radio and television), Warren Benfield (Chicago Symphony Orchestra), Brad Opland (Chicago Symphony Orchestra), and Joe Guastafeste, Principle of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Beginning in 1985, Bob was selected to co-principle the bass section in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and held the position for four years. Previously, he worked as a staff musician for Disneyland and performed with Clark Terry and other notable jazz artists.

Bob studied music at Northern University, University of Illinois, and Lewis University, and is presently on staff at Lewis University as an instructor for string and electric bass, directing their Bass Ensemble and working with pep band, jazz combo, and as lower string coach. Bob is also a busy freelance musician and performs and records frequently with a vast array of ensembles including the Rockford Symphony, Northwest Indiana Symphony and the New Philharmonic, ensemble in residence at McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage.

Carla Schanstra

Strings, Piano 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.


Carolyn Wright

Cello Instructor (Suzuki/Traditional)


Carolyn Wright began studying the cello at the age of five in the Suzuki Program at the Community School of the Arts at Wheaton College. She studied with Richard Hirschl before going to DePaul University where she received her Bachelor of Music in Cello Performance under the tutelage of Steve Balderston.

She received her Master of Music in Cello Performance at Northern Illinois University under the guidance of Cheng-Hou Lee. She now teaches traditional and Suzuki cello and is certified in the Suzuki Method through Book 2. She has performed as a member of several local orchestras including the Fox Valley Philharmonic, Sinfonietta Bel Canto (Downers Grove), Elmhurst Symphony, Wheaton Symphony, Illinois Valley Symphony and Bensenville Chamber Orchestra.

She has had students participate in IHSA Solo and Ensemble Contest. She also enjoys playing in quartets and other chamber ensembles with colleagues and friends.