Members of the Year

Each local association is invited to name a Member of the Year for their group. These individuals are recognized at the annual state conference for their outstanding contribution and service to their local association.

2022 Members of the Year:

Renee Chernick
Bloomington-Normal MTA (BNMTA)

Renee Chernick is the Group Piano Coordinator at Illinois State University, where she teaches group piano and piano pedagogy classes, including supervising and mentoring six piano graduate teaching assistants. Renee earned her degrees from Bradley University, Northwestern University, and the University of Iowa. Mrs. Chernick has taught piano privately for 30 years and is the past-president of the Bloomington-Normal Music Teachers Association. Renee has given presentations titled “Moving on to intermediate piano repertoire after method books” and “The business of teaching piano privately.”

Susan Crawford
Champaign-Urbana MTA (CUMTA)

Susan Crawford has been an independent piano instructor for over 50 years and an MTNA member for as long. She has taught class piano at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and Parkland College and at the Illinois Summer Youth Music camps at the University of Illinois (Urbana). She belongs to the Tuesday Morning Musical Club where she is a performing member. She has served as the General Manager of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra for 8 years. Over the years her students have won several competitions. “The one-on-one teaching has brought me great joy.”

Regina Syrkin
Chicago Area MTA (CAMTA)

Regina Syrkin received her degrees in Music at Belarusian State Conservatory, Minsk (former USSR). In 1990, she immigrated to the US and has been working as a piano teacher since 1992. Regina was a faculty member of Music Institute of Chicago, and for the last 30 years, she has been a member of DePaul Community Music School. She also maintains a home studio. And for all these 30 years, she has been a CAMTA member. That’s where she met a lot of great colleagues and learned a lot about different methods of piano teaching and shared different ideas. For the last few years, Regina Syrkin has been a R. Savler Piano Contest coordinator. She uses this opportunity to promote new music. She thinks that to pick the right repertoire is one of the important tools to motivate students to study music and to broaden their horizons.

Dr. Chung-Ha Kim
Decatur Area MTA (DAMTA)

Chung-Ha Kim was born in Telgte, Germany and attended the Robert-Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf as a pre-college student. She completed a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance at the Manhattan School of Music before moving on to the University of Cincinnati where she received a Master of Music in Piano Performance and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy. Dr. Kim currently teaches at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. She has released three recordings, which are available on Apple Music and Amazon: Maurice Ravel: Miroirs, A Palace of Strangers, and Carnival of Animals. She joined MTNA in 2004 and served as the 1st Vice President of ISMTA from 2008-2011. She was president of the Decatur Area Music Teachers Association (DAMTA) from 2009-2016 and currently serves as DAMTA’s Achievement in Music-Performance Chair. In 2010, Dr. Kim launched a Halloween Duet Festival that has become DAMTA’s primary fundraiser: every October, piano students in grades K-12 gather at Millikin University for an afternoon of piano duets.

Dr. Pei-I Wang
Decatur Area MTA (DAMTA)

Pei-I Wang is Coordinator of Keyboard Studies at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. She has performed as a featured soloist with the Illinois Symphony Chamber Orchestra, Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra, Sangamon Valley Civic Orchestra, Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra, and the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra. Wang has performed new music at the Midwest Composers Symposium, the Electronic Music Festival at the University of Louisville, and the Illinois Symphony Orchestra “Around the Town Concert Series.” Most recently, her recording of Carl Czerny’s four-handed piano fantasies with Dr. Sam Gingher was released in September 2020 under the Naxos label. Wang is a frequent adjudicator, performer, clinician, and presenter. Currently, she serves as Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois State Music Teachers Association, President of the Decatur Area Music Teachers Association, and the Coordinator of ISMTA Competition South.

Cheryl Saathoff
Fox Hills MTA (FHMTA)

Cheryl Saathoff is the founder of Something Noteworthy Piano Studio in McHenry, Illinois. She enjoys working with students to draw out the beauty of music that is within them. She is adept at teaching both private and group piano for all ages and has created many community programs. Even though she fell into teaching later in life, Cheryl is committed to continuing her education. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Music Education with honors through McHenry County College and Judson University. She continues to serve FHMTA as past president and AIM committee chairperson, as well as many other volunteer roles.

Reiko Takasawa Schoen
Egyptian Chapter MTA (ECMTA)

Reiko Schoen, an ISMTA member since 1993, served as program chair for the Egyptian Chapter. She has been an active music educator and musical events planner. These include serving as a pianist for conducting classes, organizing festivals, the Music Olympics, ensemble events such as Five Pianos with Orchestra, summer music camps, and disaster relief concerts. Her piano students continue to earn prizes at competitions in and outside the state and have completed AIM Level 12. She holds an associate degree in music education from the Musashino Academia Musicae in Tokyo and plays cello at the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra.

unnamed (2).jpg
Deborah Meier
Gateway Arch East MTA (GAEMTA)

Deborah Meier has been an independent piano teacher for more than 40 years. She has a B.S. in Elementary Education from Concordia University Nebraska (1974) and an M.S. in Elementary Education from S.I.U.-Edwardsville (1981). After teaching in Lutheran schools for nine years, she pursued an interest in piano teaching. In addition to teaching in her home studio, she also taught in the piano program at Holy Cross Lutheran School in Collinsville, IL. A member of the Gateway Arch East MTA since 1985, Deborah has served as Southern District Auditions Chair, Treasurer, Newsletter Editor, Membership Chair, A.I.M. Co-Chair, Vice-President, President, and currently holds the position of Treasurer and Yearbook Editor. She also serves as Illinois MusicLink State Coordinator. Serving as church organist for nearly 50 years, she was introduced to the organ while in junior high.

Sonja Mihelcic
Naperville MTA (NMTA)

Sonja Mihelcic has been a member of Naperville Music Teacher Association for 13 years now. She is the current president of NMTA and is also ISMTA coordinator for AIM Voice exams. Sonja has been teaching voice and piano for 33 years now and loves being an educator. Sonja has a MM degree from Southern Methodist University, and DMA from University of North Texas. In addition to teaching, Sonja has performed as principal soloist with opera companies, symphonies, and choral societies in the US, Mexico, Japan, and Europe. Sonja is honored to serve NMTA and to be a member of the ISMTA music community.

Jia-Yee Tang
North Shore MTA (NSMTA)

Jia-Yee Tang holds a M.M. from Northwestern University and a B.A. from UC San Diego in Music (Piano) and Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts (ICAM). She is a member of the piano faculty at Northwestern Music Academy and Music Institute of Chicago. She has long served as NSMTA AIM co-coordinator and is the creator and voice of the audio files for the aural skills exam. Recently, as the NSMTA Website Chair, she’s been working with her husband, Jason Craft, to build a brand-new NSMTA website and advanced Member Portal. She is on the ISMTA AIM Revisions committee and an editor of the annual AIM Theory exam.

Donna Fortney
North Shore MTA (NSMTA)

Donna Fortney has been a member of NSMTA for 45 years. During that time, she has been president, vice president, secretary, Score editor, AIM judge, sonata/sonatina chairman, and a devoted member of the association. Donna earned her B.A. with a double major of music and English from Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, where she studied piano, accompanied soloists and Nordic Choir. It was not until she married and had two daughters that she got back to music after teaching English and German in public schools. She joined NSMTA and put her students into the programs it offers. AIM has been especially helpful, as students who are music majors write back to say they are glad they know their theory. Nathan Laube played an organ recital last November at Donna’s church in Lake Forest for her retirement.

Michelle Ryder-Smith
Northwest Suburban MTA (NWSMTA)

Michelle has been an active member of MTNA since 1995. She graduated from the Chicago Musical College where she studied with Felix Ganz (nephew of Rudolph Ganz). Michelle has taught in her private studio in Libertyville for over three decades. She loves preparing high school students to pursue music careers and to play for scholarships. Michelle has held the position of Chairman of the Sonata/Sonatina Festival for the NWSMTA since 2009 and currently still holds that position.

Grace Trang
Peoria Area MTA (PAMTA)

Grace Trang was born in Macau where she was trained musically in the traditions of the Royal Schools of Music. She holds a Licentiate of Music from the RSM, a Bachelor of Music from Concordia University Chicago, and a Master’s degree from Western Illinois University where she studied with Dr. Michael Campbell and Ann Collins. She is on the faculty of Illinois Central College teaching Applied Piano, Class Piano & Music Appreciation. As a member of PAMTA, Grace has served on Monster Concert and Sonata/Sonatina Festival committees. She is currently Senior Competitions Coordinator for ISMTA.

Janel Greaves
West Suburban (WSISMTA)

Janel Greaves began her piano studies at a Yamaha Music School in Japan when she was four. She studied in Japan until returning to the United States to study at Wheaton College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree. She began teaching private lessons out of her home in 2006 and also served as the Treble Chorus Accompanist for Anima – Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus from 2007-2011. Janel loves discovering what motivates students. She is an active member of the West Suburban chapter where she has held numerous board positions including Treasurer, VP of Membership, and President.

Emi Murata
Salt Creek MTA (SCMTA)

Emi Murata debuted as a soloist with the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra at age sixteen, earned her BS in Mathematics and CS at UIC (distinction in Music) and MM in Piano Performance at UIUC. A founding member of Piano à la Quartette, and Murata Piano Trio, Emi’s presentation roster includes ISMTA/MTNA Conferences. She teaches at College of DuPage, in Oak Park, and co-organizes Glorious Grands: A Piano Extravaganza! During Murata’s presidency, SCMTA received MTNA’s 2011 Local Association of the Year Award. Emi was honored to be MOY 1999 (CAMTA), 2008 (SCMTA) and a 2014 MTNA Foundation Fellow.

Nancy Nagy Sen
Waubonsee Valley (WVMTA)

Nancy Nagy Sen hails from an area just northeast of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She earned a B.A. in applied music from Concordia College in Bronxville, New York, studying with Dr. Thomas Schmidt and an M.M. from the Manhattan School of Music studying with Dora Zaslavsky and chamber music with Joseph Seiger and Fritz Kramer. She is active as a teacher, accompanist, and church musician. She has been a member of MTNA for the past twenty-two years and is active in the Waubonsee Valley chapter of the ISMTA where she has held many positions, including President, Vice-President of Programming, Recital and Masterclass chairperson, and Joint Chapters Representative. She is currently once again the WVMTA Vice-President of Programming.

Evan Rea
South Suburban (SSMTA)

Evan (V.P. of SSMTA) was chosen as Member of the Year for dedicating four years of diligent work in procuring excellent educational programs for the chapter. He successfully obtained outstanding programs for members, even amidst the challenges that COVID-19 presented during his terms.