Member Spotlight

October 2019

Ben Heller, trumpet

Ben has been making music almost his entire life, starting on piano and then moving to trumpet in grade school in homage to his grandfather who ran a dance band back in the 50s (trumpet was also louder, thus better). He continued his studies in youth programs at several Boston area institutions like the New England Conservatory, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, and the Atlantic Brass Quintet seminars. While a student at Phillips Academy Andover he had the opportunity to perform the Arutunian concerto as a featured soloist and jam with Wynton Marsalis. He spent his undergraduate years at Columbia University in the incredibly lucrative field of Anglo-Saxon linguistics, and began studying Jazz music in earnest while working as a DJ at WKCR 89.9FM NY and learning how to poorly improvise over the changes to Giant Steps. Ben then set his trumpet aside for about a decade while discovering his love for other musical idioms. He went to work in a recording studio in Manhattan where he found out that non-brass instruments also exist, and started learning guitar and bass.

After moving to New Haven in pursuit of his future wife, he joined up with a bluegrass band on banjo and a progressive rock duo on drums. He then withdrew from the company of others, opting instead to make bizarre avant-noise music in his basement with contact mics and tin cans. Some years later he developed a sense of nostalgia for melody and returned to the trumpet. He now plays with the Civic Orchestra of New Haven, the Colchester Civic Orchestra, and the George Manstan Big Band. Ben also works in music as a software developer at Plex, helping build music metadata and streaming services. He lives in Madison, CT with his infinitely patient wife Kaylea and two pets who keep him honest when he plays out of tune. This summer he started learning how to play the violin, so that he can some day understand why everyone at the front of the orchestra keeps waving their arms around.

May 2019

Ciara Picard Cohen, violin

Ciara Picard Cohen began her teaching career in Hartford as a PreK-8 Music and Orchestra Director. Currently, Ciara works at Francis T. Maloney High School in Meriden, CT where she has been an Orchestra Director and Music teacher for the past six years. There, she also acts as a choreographer for the theater program and plays violin alongside fellow students in the pit orchestra for performances.

She received a Bachelor of Music in Music Education and Violin/Voice Performance at The Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, NY. She will be continuing her education in the summer of 2019 where she will be attending The Teacher’s College at Columbia University in New York to receive her Masters in Music and Music Education. She has been the recipient of many professional experiences including a fellowship from the Dalio Foundation to study Aesthetic Immersion and Arts Education at Lincoln Center. Dedicated to growing her orchestra program district wide, she has also been directing the City Wide Orchestra in Meriden, which consists of 4th -8th grade students, since 2013.

She and her husband Alex reside in Killingworth, CT where they have two sons Jackson (age 6) and Charlie (age 1).

April 2019

Jessica Shaver, horn

Jessica Shaver is a native of Cleveland, Ohio where she began her teaching career as a junior high band director and an assistant conductor of Cleveland's All-City High School Orchestra.  She received a Bachelor of Music Education, Master of Music in Performance, and Sixth Year in Music Education from Kent State University where she also served as a graduate teaching assistant.  Prior to moving to Connecticut Jessica taught horn and instrumental music education for two years at McNeese State University in Louisiana and for nine years at the University of Central Arkansas.  Concurrent with her teaching she performed regularly with a number of professional orchestras including the Arkansas Symphony, South Arkansas Symphony, Erie Philharmonic, and the Lake Charles and Rapides Symphonies of Louisiana.  She was a featured soloist with the Hamden Symphony, Kent Sinfonia, MSU Wind Ensemble, UCA Wind Ensemble and Concert Band, and the Piqua Civic Band.  She also participated in two intensive summers at Kent Blossom Music Festival performing chamber music coached by members of the Cleveland Orchestra. 

In Connecticut, Jessica taught music in the Wallingford Public Schools and directed FMI (Future Musicians, Inc.) band programs in four Greater New Haven parochial schools.  This year marks her 23rd year with the Madison Public Schools.  She is an active freelance musician, currently serves as principal horn of the Civic Orchestra of New Haven, and also performs regularly with the New Haven Chamber Orchestra.  In addition to the horn, Jessica also enjoys playing the Celtic harp, a hobby she has pursued for over 50 years.  She and her husband, David, live in North Branford and have one son, Michael, who is an awesome electric bassist.

February 2019

Anthony Marra, oboe

Anthony Marra has Masters Degrees in both Applied Mathematics from Purdue University and Computer Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Hartford Graduate Center. His first career was in the field of information technology.   He is recently retired from his second and 28 year career as a Certified Financial Planner® practitioner with Ameriprise Financial Services. 

His interest in music, and what has become his lifelong avocation and passion, began in third grade. He initially played the clarinet in the grammar school band and later in the high school band. He added the saxophone to his repertoire in high school so he could play in the high school jazz band.  He took on the oboe in college when the college orchestra needed an oboist. Since that time playing the oboe has been his primary instrument focus.  He has played as Principal Oboe in the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra, and currently in the New Haven Civic Orchestra, the American Chamber Orchestra, and the Connecticut Symphonic Winds.  He has also performed with various local musical groups and participated in the pit orchestra for several community theater musicals. 

He resides in Shelton, CT with his wife Susan with whom they enjoy family activities with their three adult children, Ariana, Alfred, and Gabriella and grandchild Kathryn.

P.O. Box 2909
New Haven, CT 06515
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