Music Faculty Bios

    Gretchen Paxson-Abbergersmiling woman holding violin

    Director, MNjcc Suzuki Program and Music Department

    Gretchen lives in Toronto where she is the Artistic Director as well as a violin teacher at the Miles Nadal JCC Suzuki Program, now in its 25th year, and Chair of the MNjcc Music Department. Gretchen also teaches at the North York Suzuki School of Music. Gretchen holds a Bachelor of Arts from Bennington College where she studied painting with Pat Adams, violin with Jacob Glick, and composition with Henry Brant. She received her undergraduate degree in performance from the Manhattan School of Music, and completed her Masters degree in Baroque Violin in the Mannes College of Music’s Historical Performance Department.

    As a Suzuki teacher she completed Louise Behrend’s intensive training course at the School for Strings in New York where she was also on the faculty, and served on the faculty as well at the Manhattan School of Music prep dept. before moving to Canada. She has been a guest ESM workshop teacher in past years, as well in Ottawa, and has taught at the Southwestern Suzuki Summer Institute for the past five summers. Gretchen serves as treasurer on the board of the Suzuki Association of Ontario, and founded and directs Thanks to Dr. Suzuki Concert Performances, a charitable community organization currently in its 15th season. She has performed with Tafelmusik, Aradia Ensemble, Mendelssohn Choir Orchestra, TOST string quartet, and Opera Atelier in Toronto, as well as with Artek, Aulos Ensemble, and Rebel Baroque Orchestra in New York City. Gretchen, and her husband, oboist John Abberger are parents of two children who are both violinists, and who studied at the MNjcc Suzuki Program.


    smiling man hiding behind a guitarEric Stein

    Director, MNjcc Klezmer Ensemble

    Eric Stein has led the MNjcc's Klezmer Ensemble since 2007. He is founder and leader of the well-known ensemble, Beyond the Pale. Eric’s fiery mandolin style and sharp musical vision have guided Beyond the Pale throughout its history. Eric’s deep knowledge of klezmer music has earned him stature not only as a performing artist with numerous groups (BTP, Hu
    Tsa Tsa, Socalled, Toronto Mandolin Orchestra), but as a leading lecturer, educator, and artistic curator in the contemporary Jewish music world. A longtime faculty member at the KlezKanada Festival, he has joined the faculty of KlezKamp, and serves as the Artistic Director of Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival. Eric was educated at McGill University (B.A., M.A).


    smiling woman headshotGillian Stecyk

    A professional vocalist, conductor and teacher, Gillian is a graduate from York University with a BA Music, Hons. She currently conducts the MNjcc Daytime Choir and Specialty Choirs (Broadway, Jazz & Motown). Gillian has also been privileged to work on staff at CAMMAC teaching Choir For All, Jazz Choir and Vocal Technique. Having toured across Canada, the United States and Dubai, she is an accomplished singer in a variety of styles, including pop, jazz, musical theatre and classical. Gillian is a former member of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale. She is also an accomplished choral conductor and songwriter, and her original song Sunshine is featured on the Juno-nominated CD Twenty For One by internationally renowned a cappella group Cadence. Gillian was hand-picked by renowned vocal coach Elaine Overholt to coach private lessons at her Big Voice Studios in Toronto.


    headshot of man smilingAsher Farber - piano

    Asher is a freelance pianist, collaborator and teacher. Asher began working with the MNjcc in the fall of 2014, accompanying the Daytime Choir with Gillian Stecyk. He is also the accompanist and Assistant Conductor for the MNjcc Community Choir with Harriet Wichin. Originally from Ottawa, he is now primarily located in Toronto. Asher continues to pursue his interests in opera, song, choral work, vocal piano and musical education. He has worked in masterclass settings and received instruction from many great singers and coaches including Stephanie Blythe, Adrianne Pieczonka, Wendy Nielsen, and Daniel Taylor.


    Asher completed his Masters of Music in Collaborative Piano Performance at the University of Toronto in April 2014 with Steven Philcox. He also has a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from the University of Ottawa, where he graduated in 2011 Magna Cum Laude. There, he studied with pianists Stéphane Lemelin, Andrew Tunis, and Frédéric Lacroix. In 2010, Asher was the recipient of the Nora Hickson Kelly Scholarship in Music, which is awarded to undergraduate piano students who exemplify great potential as future performers. Asher also plays piano for Eurhythmy classes at Waldorf Academy for grades two to eight, inspiring young minds to respond to music with coordinated expressive movement. In the summer of 2015, Asher worked with the Halifax Summer Opera Festival as a rehearsal pianist, vocal coach, and as a performer in the production of Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. In the spring of 2015, Asher was the musical director and pianist for ‘Toronto Opera Initiative’, performing Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. In the summer of 2013, Asher joined in the production of Die Zauberflöte with 'Opera on the Avalon' in St. John's, Newfoundland as an assistant coach and pianist/répétiteur.


    Asher's musical abilities, tastes, and experience are quite broad and eclectic. He works regularly with a wide range of musicians for a variety of venues, concerts, competitions and recitals. Although he is classically trained, educated, and inspired, he regularly collaborates alongside many different soloists, singers, instrumentalists, ensembles, and bands in many different styles, which include (but are not limited to): opera, chamber music, jazz, musical theater, hip hop, rock, folk, klezmer, cantorial, blues, funk, pop, power metal, and even gospel. Since as early as high school, Asher has developed and expanded his knowledge, love, and appreciation of klezmer and Jewish music. His participation and attendance at 'KlezKanada' in the Quebec Laurentians for numerous summers, under scholarship, has awarded him the opportunity to learn and perform alongside some of the greatest klezmer musicians in the world today. In addition to performing and collaborating, Asher is also a dynamic coach, educator and teacher.

    Ramsay Headshot 2Mark Ramsay

    Mark is the conductor of the MNjcc Community Choir and Chamber Choir.  He is also the director of the University of Toronto Men’s Chorus, the assistant conductor and pianist for the Exultate Chamber Singers, and recently joined the Choirs Ontario Board of Directors as the editor of its publication, Dynamic.  He has been a student conductor with the Elmer Iseler Singers, conducting fellow with the Canadian Chamber Choir, apprentice conductor with the Ontario Youth Choir, and tour manager for the National Youth Choir of Canada. Before moving to Toronto, Mark worked for ten years as a high school music teacher and curriculum specialist in Summerside, PEI where he was also the conductor of the Summerside Community Choir. He holds a Master of Music (Choral Conducting) from U of T as well as a Bachelor of Music Education (Piano) from the University of Prince Edward Island.  Currently, Mark is enrolled in the Doctor of Musical Arts (Choral Conducting) program at U of T under the guidance of Dr. Hilary Apfelstadt and teaches an undergraduate course in choral music education.  He is a recipient of an Elmer Iseler National Graduate Fellowship in Choral Conducting as well as a University of Toronto Fellowship. (


    briony webBriony Glassco

    Briony has come recently to conducting singers after a career as an actress, singer and dancer that took her from London’s West End to many roles in film, television and radio drama with the BBC. Briony joins the MNjcc Music Faculty this year as Apprentice Conductor for the MNjcc Community Choir.

    Briony grew up in Toronto singing in local choirs and musicals. Studying with Jean Macphail through her teens she was determined to follow her passion and study opera and further the development of her classical voice. She was hoodwinked though by the Musical Theatre Program at The Banff School of Fine Arts and finally the Courtney School of Music where Nicky Goldschmidt teaching in the opera program convinced her that her lieder singing sounded more Sondheim than Schumann.


    After graduating from the acclaimed Musical Theatre program at Syracuse University she left to study theatre in London, England and over the next 20 years she played leading parts in musicals both in rep and on the West End (Camelot, High Society, babes in Arms, By Jupiter, South pacific, You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow, among others) as well as being a regular on BBC radio’s Songs From The Shows singing with the award winning BBC light orchestra on Sunday afternoons. She continued singing with The Lost Musical series at the Barbican Theater when her career turned more towards theatre, comedy, television and film and after moving to Toronto with her family joined the MNjcc community choir where she rediscovered her love of choral singing. Briony recently completed the International Choral Conducting Symposium at the University of Toronto and continues with private conducting studies.

    A woman smiles and looks off camera, a cello rests on her shoulderKerri McGonigle


    I am a cellist and the Artistic Director of the Academy Concert Series, a concert series that brings chamber music to life on period on instruments, with three concerts at Eastminster United Church each season. Playing on instruments and using interpretations of the time period that the chamber music was written (ranging from Baroque to early 20th century repertoire) and performing unknown or infrequently performed music makes this series interesting and unique. Performing incredible music with amazing colleagues in front of warm, loyal audiences gives a sense of putting something good out into the world, and making a difference (to even one person), often unknowingly, is what it is all about.

    I also teach cello and coach chamber music and am continually awed with how amazing music is able to connect people (to themselves and others) and how much students can accomplish and thrive with a little guidance. Coaching chamber music groups at the MNjcc Suzuki program is always inspiring, as the students learn to play together, make music and challenge themselves, sometimes with the difficulty of the actual music, but more often with the challenges of creating something together as a group. The transformation from the first class of the year to the final concert is always exciting to witness, but evening more inspirational is the transformation in the students themselves; they are more confident, engaged and passionate about their instrument and abilities.

    As a busy mom of two energetic, wonderful, inspiring, young children and having been on the performing and teaching side of the equations for many years, I am now fascinated by being the parent part of the equation as I help my kids navigate the rollercoaster ride of learning an instrument as creatively as possible. There are high moments when I see my son so proud of his accomplishments, hard work, and his delight in performing and there are low times, when I see him struggling with new skills, frustrated, and wanting to give up. I am (continually) learning to listen and to support him through both these times lovingly and empathically and know that the life skills he is learning will help him throughout his life. Seeing him express himself through music is truly a joy!

    Music is such a gift on so many levels in my life and I am so grateful to be constantly learning and growing through music as a mother, performer, teacher and person.

    "Music can change the world because it can change people" - Bono



    Lisa Olafson – ukulele

    Originally from Alberta, actor/musician, Lisa Olafson, came from a musical family who helped her realize her passion for music, at a very young age. In grade school she enjoyed learning recorder, ukulele, and flute as well as being part of the bell choir. In junior high and high school, she continued with the flute and sang in every choir that she could find. Post-secondary, she switched her focus to acting and studied at Red Deer College and then professional training at Studio 58 in Vancouver before starting her career in Toronto. She worked as an actor for many years, including touring internationally with the renowned mask and mime theatre company, Theatre Beyond Words. She’s written and toured her own one woman clown show and is now performing with the female rootsy bluegrass trio, Dirty Dishes. She loves teaching music for babies and toddlers with Lovenotes School of Music and is thrilled to now share her love of music teaching the happiest instrument, the ukulele!


    Erika Nielsen – cello

    Cellist Erika Nielsen is a multi-genre collaborative artist, chamber musician, orchestral musician and educator. She was recently on faculty at the ArtsAhimsa Chamber Music Festival in MA, USA, and is a featured artist with Westwood Concerts, a chamber music series at Gallery 345, Toronto. Erika was principal cellist of the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra from 2011-2013, and in 2015, and completed a 1000 kilometre bicycle tour (with her cello in tow) of contemporary opera performances throughout Nova Scotia and Ontario with The Bicycle Opera Project. In new music, Erika has performed with The Thin Edge New Music Collective, and is a member of Arkana, an improvising quartet of cello, piano, sax and drums. She performs regularly with Canadian singer-songwriter Jeffery Straker, and has performed with Grammy-winning artist Kanye West, Juno-winning artist Johnny Reid, and performs with Classic Albums Live, and ELO tribute Strange Magic. Born in West Germany, Erika holds an Artist Diploma from the Glenn Gould School, a B.Mus from Queen’s University, and maintains a busy freelance career and teaching studio in Toronto.


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