At St. Francis, it’s cool to be creative. It’s also common to find a member of the football team creating artwork for a gallery show, a budding scientist holding a leading role in the school play, or a member of Student Council performing in one of our orchestras.
Our school’s well-developed art, music, and drama programs stimulate creative thinking, nurture self-confidence, and enhance leadership skills and academic performance. All that right-brained activity also helps students develop discipline, perseverance, and commitment—as does preparing for gallery shows and for the variety of musical and theatrical productions that take place in our state-of-the-art Fine Arts Center.
Along their path to art literacy, students develop an appreciation for art and its history through St. Francis’s signature Art à la Carte program. With trained parent-volunteer docents as their guides, students explore the lives and legacies of famous artists, plus painting, sculpture, and architecture, often in a historical context. They also learn to ask informed, art-related questions and to approach art as educated critics—all the while building confidence and becoming inspired to develop their own creativity.
St. Francis students benefit from a strong group music program that helps them develop a basic musical foundation. Those who want to delve into music more deeply can take their education one step further with the St. Francis School of Music. Led by some of the finest musical talent in Houston, this instrumental and vocal program allows students to explore individual musical interests at their own pace and on their own developmental level.
Lessons occur throughout the school day at times approved by divisions. For more information about the St. Francis School of Music or to inquire about lesson availability, please contact the Explore and Extend Office at 713.458.6467.
St. Francis School of Music Faculty
Versatile vocalist Callie Denbigh has captivated audiences across the United States and Europe. Her master of music in vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music in New York City and bachelor of music in vocal performance from Southern Methodist University set the literal stage for her successful career.
A Da Camera Young Artist Program participant, Ms. Denbigh was a 2014–15 Opera Works Artist at English National Opera in London and intern with Houston Grand Opera’s education and outreach department. Among her long list of accomplishments, she has performed in world-renowned productions with OPERA DANUBE in London, the Amalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival in Italy, and the American Institute of Musical Studies in Austria.
Luckily, Ms. Denbigh has brought her passion for music education to the St. Francis School of Music, and our students are blessed to learn from one of the best.
Every once in a while you are fortunate enough to come across an expert in his craft that just so happens to share an equal love for teaching. We found this in Carnegie-Mellon alum and accomplished guitarist, Marc Garvin. Mr. Garvin runs a successful private music studio, teaches two guitar ensembles, previously instructed with Bellaire High School’s Summer Guitar Conservatory program, and has been a frequent faculty member at the “Classical Minds” International Guitar Festival & Competition.
As a performer, Mr. Garvin has performed regularly with Houston’s classical music triad: the Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, and Houston Ballet. He has also accompanied Italian soprano Cecilia Bartoli; singer/songwriter Hayley Westenra of New Zealand; and legendary Italian tenor, the late Luciano Pavarotti. He also made waves—airwaves that is— co-hosting Pulling Strings, which was “a weekly show for music lovers with an ear for instruments that are picked, plucked, and strummed.”
Mr. Garvin will continue to share his love of music, and undeniable talent, with some of Houston’s youngest musicians in his work with the St. Francis School of Music.
Clarinet / Piano
California native and natural-born leader James Johnson doesn’t miss an opportunity to improve his skills for both himself and his students. After completing his undergraduate studies at The Boston Conservatory, Mr. Johnson went on to obtain a master of music from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. Realizing his interests went beyond the orchestra, he then spent two summers as a conducting fellow at the Pierre Monteux School for conductors and orchestra musicians in Maine.
When he is not taking his career to the next level, Mr. Johnson, a strong advocate for music education, maintains an active performing and teaching schedule in Houston. He frequently performs with the Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera as well as the Boston Civic Symphony. He often teaches master classes in the Houston area and maintains a private piano and clarinet studio as well.
If you want to become great, you learn from the best. Russian cellist Sonya Matoussova was awarded First Prize at the Schlern International Music Festival in Italy; a two-time, first-place winner at the Canadian Music Competition; and a finalist in the Festival de Musique Classique du Bas-Richelieu Competition in Canada.
Ms. Matoussova holds a bachelor of music in cello performance from the University of Montreal and a master of music and Certifi cate in Music Performance from the University of Houston.
When not gathering top honors in her craft, Ms. Matoussova performs as the assistant principal cellist of the Symphony of Southeast Texas; serves on the faculty of the International Music Academy of Houston; and teaches for the Coda Music Program—a Houston Youth Symphony after-school initiative that targets children from low-income families in Houston’s Near Northside neighborhood.
Piano / Percussion
Dr. Andrew Nishikawa doesn’t just teach and play music—he composes it. With a catalog that includes an eclectic variety of orchestral, chamber, solo, vocal, and electronic music, Dr. Nishikawa’s music has been performed throughout the United States and abroad.
Some of his most notable commissioned composition work includes projects with the Texas Music Teachers Association; a piece for the Music Teachers National Association (where he received the 2017 Commissioned Composer of the Year award); a book of piano designed to inspire imagination in music for children; an orchestral overture for the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute’s grand opening; and a string orchestra piece for the Hemenway Strings at the Boston String Academy.
He holds a doctorate degree from Rice University, a master’s degree from The Boston Conservatory, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas. He has also taught various courses at Rice University, the University of St. Thomas, and The Art Institute of Houston.
In the same way he discovered a love for music at an early age, Dr. Nishikawa will be imparting some of his knowledge of and love for music into our St. Francis musicians.
Violin / Viola
Before joining the faculty of the Michael P. Hammond Preparatory Program at Rice University, Sylvia Ouellette had maintained a large private studio for 15 years as well as taught at both Archbishop Prendergast High School in Philadelphia and Holton-Arms School in Washington, D.C.
Ms. Ouellette’s accomplished career has taken her many places, including soloist performances at the Ferrara Estate in Italy and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C.; performances with the Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet; and teaching positions with AFA (formerly “American Festival for the Arts”) in the Summer Conservatory Program and at the Center for Hearing and Speech.
A graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music, she has since been certifi ed in Suzuki Volume 1 and Volume 2 Instruction and by the Merit School of Music’s Alegre Strings Program in Chicago.
Dr. Cameron Smith
Born into a family of accomplished musicians, Dr. Cameron Smith began his formal piano studies at the age of fi ve. Extraordinary talent and hard work paid off when Dr. Smith made his debut appearance with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at just 19-years-old. Dr. Smith has also performed chamber music locally and abroad with celebrated acts such as the Enso String Quartet and world-renowned violinist Arnold Steinhardt at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Other notable performances include his 2013 debut at Carnegie Hall and a solo recital at The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.
Dr. Smith’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and a doctor of musical arts degree from Rice University.
Accomplished Bulgarian pianist Vessela Smith won her first national piano competition before she even finished high school at the National School of Arts “Dobri Hristov” in her native country. Ms. Smith came to the United States on a full-ride scholarship to the University of Kansas to study piano with renowned Portuguese pianist Sequeira Costa. During this time, she received numerous recognitions and awards, including winning sixth prize at the Vianna da Motta International Music Competition. During the final stage of the competition, she soloed with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, performing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1—one of her most beloved pieces.
After receiving her bachelor of music degree from the University of Kansas, Ms. Smith moved to Houston in order to pursue a master’s degree in piano performance at Rice University (from which she received yet another full-ride scholarship). While at Rice, she received the prestigious Presser Music Award, which led to performances in France, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria.
Not one to keep her talents hidden, Ms. Smith has been teaching piano for more than 15 years and is thrilled to work with St. Francis’s up-and-comers.
Through our Explore and Extend programs, St. Francis is proud to introduce our new School of Dance. Working with dancers of both performance and instruction backgrounds, we offer a growing selection of classes that begin with the foundational skills of ballet and jazz and progress to higher levels of dance and a broader study of styles. Utilizing our new dance room, students will learn technique, improve body awareness and movement, and develop an appreciation for the expressive form of art that is dance.