American Dreamer is a folk ensemble from Austin, TX. They play original folk music with rich string accompaniment. Their music is an original and lush sound they call ‘orchestral folk’.
American Dreamer is comprised of Sasha Klare-Ayvazian (vocals/guitar), Audrey Lee (violin), Courtney Castaneda (cello), Dana Wygmans (vocals, bass), and Rick Palese (drums).
“The Texas-based quintet cultivates a sense of warmth and wonder with their incredible blend of folk, orchestral, and popular stylings.” –Atwood Magazine
The seed for American Dreamer was born in 2006 while Sasha was attending Oberlin College. Sasha’s freshman roommate was cellist Danny McCormick. Sasha came from a rock background and Danny from a classical upbringing, but over the year the two played and performed together and worked to find the commonalities between the two styles for which they were each known. After Sasha graduated from Oberlin College, this folk-classical fusion concept lay dormant for several years until he moved to Austin to pursue his Master of Music in Music Education from the University of Texas at Austin. At UT, Sasha connected with peers Audrey, Dana, Courtney, and Rick–all former or current UT graduate students–and together breathed new life into this sound. Expanding beyond just cello and guitar, American Dreamer is now a quintet with three classically trained musicians.
American Dreamer strives to create a sound, that while steeped in both folk and classical music, is not precisely either, with the hope of exploring the space in between. Their music is fundamentally simple, but unfolds into a multi-layered soundscape through their string arrangements. Their beautifully blended strings coupled with honest lyrics and rich vocal harmonies provide their listeners with a lot to sink their ears into.
“Gorgeous strings and wistful vocals.” –myspace.com
Sasha Klare-Ayvazian (vocals, guitar, composer)
Sasha Klare-Ayvazian is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, teacher, and founder of American Dreamer. He is a Massachusetts native who has lived in Austin since 2014 and completed his Master of Music degree in Music and Human Learning at the University of Texas at Austin. Sasha also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Theory from Oberlin College. He is a professionally licensed K-12 teacher and spent two years teaching K-6 general music, band, and chorus at the New Hingham Elementary School in Chesterfield, MA. Currently, he directs the Jazz Ensemble at the Texas School for the Blind and Visual Impaired, and teaches private piano lessons. Along with his busy life managing and writing music for American Dreamer, Sasha performs locally with Justin Black and the Big Heart and Kyloe Blue.
Audrey Lee (violin)
Audrey’s musical interests outside of orchestral folk run the gamut from Historical Performance to New Music, and have produced a diverse performance history, ranging from productions with the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, to performances with faculty researchers and composers at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Her love of the collaborative process has rendered premieres of solo, orchestral, and chamber works of composers at Vanderbilt University, Dartmouth College, the Aspen Music Festival, and Brevard Music Center to name a few. Audrey works as a Violin Instructor for the Hispanic Alliance and performs with the Austin Symphony and the Austin Opera. Audrey grew up in Houston, and began violin lessons at age 5. In high school she was accepted into Kenneth Goldsmith’s studio in the Michael P. Hammond Preparatory School at Rice University on an Olshan Foundation Scholarship. She studied with Cornelia Heard at Vanderbilt University, receiving a Bachelor of Music in violin performance and psychology. Audrey completed her Master of Music degree with Fiddle-Champion and Miro Quartet-member William Fedkenheuer at University of Texas at Austin.
Courtney Castaneda (cello)
Courtney Castañeda is the Orchestra Director at the University of Texas Elementary School ( Little Longhorn Orchestra), and also works for the UT Austin String Project and the Center for Music Learning. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in both cello performance and psychology from the University of California, Davis and a Master of Music degree in cello performance from Sacramento State University where she was a teacher in the Sacramento State String Project. Most recently, she completed her Master of Music degree in Music and Human Learning from the University of Texas, Austin, and also earned her k-12 teaching certification. A native Texan, Courtney began playing violin and cello thanks to her public elementary school in Houston, and is a strong supporter of public school music education. She taught privately for seven years in northern California, coached chamber music for the Sacramento Youth Symphony’s Summer Chamber Music Workshop, and played in music festivals in Paris and Eisenstadt. Before moving to Austin, Courtney was the Operations Manager for the Sacramento School of Music, and served as the Business Administrator for the Suzuki Music Institute of Dallas for two years. She has received Suzuki Cello Teacher Training from Carey Cheney (Book 1) and Tanya Carey (Books 2 - 6), and Suzuki in the Schools training from Dr. Laurie Scott.
Dana Wygmans (bass, vocals)
Dana Wygmans, originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, holds a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Alma College in Michigan and a Master’s in Bass Performance from University of Texas at Austin, where she studied with DaXun Zhang. She has played with a variety of orchestras in both Michigan and Texas, including the Alma Symphony, Grand Valley Symphony, Round Rock Symphony, UT Symphony Orchestra, UT New Music Ensemble, and UT Wind Ensemble. Dana currently performs in a wide array of settings, including classical, jazz, bluegrass, rock, and folk groups. Dana is truly passionate about teaching and music education. She is the Head Orchestra Director at Murchison Middle School and is also the Bass Teaching Artist for Austin Soundwaves, part of the Hispanic Alliance for the Performing Arts. During her time at UT, she also worked as a teacher with the renowned UT String Project where she studied with Laurie Scott. She has been teaching classical double bass privately for 10 years and her students have ranged from beginners of all ages to advanced college-bound young adults. Dana is also involved in community outreach projects that seek to maintain the importance of music performance and education for both young people and adults. During the summer, she teaches at the American String Teacher’s Association camp in Howell, Michigan.
Rick Palese (drums, percussion)
Originally from Chicago, IL, Rick Palese has been drumming and teaching for over 15 years. A recent addition to the musical community in Austin, Rick is a PhD candidate in Music and Human Learning at the University of Texas at Austin, serving as an Academic Assistant in the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music. Prior to his arrival in Texas, Rick earned both his B.M.Ed and M.M.Ed degrees in Music Education at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago and has taught learners ranging from elementary age musicians to in-service school music teachers. As a performer, he has played drums and percussion in a variety of popular, classical, and theatre groups in the Chicago area and midwest region. As an active performer and educator, Rick is passionate about sharing his love of music and drumming.
We are nothing without our roots, and would like to share enormous credit with past & current contributors and dear friends:
Andrew Oedel: producer, engineer, vocals, guitar
Kush Mody: producer, vocals, piano, bass, drums
Devan Bell: original member
Jacob Schnitzer: arranger, french horn
Carly Walker: vocalist
Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo: violin
Camille Schiess: violin
Dave Skelly: producer, vocals, guitar, bass, brass
Danny McCormick: cello
Nate Mondshein: drums