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 finding commonalities between the two styles. 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. While their music is fundamentally simple, it unfolds into a multi-layered soundscape. Beautifully blended strings coupled with honest lyrics and rich vocal harmonies provide listeners with a lot to sink their ears into.

“Gorgeous strings and wistful vocals.” –

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. Sasha writes and arranges for American Dreamer, and is signed to a publishing deal with the national label Victory Records. For more about Sasha visit

Dana Wygmans (bass, vocals)

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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.

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.

  Camille Schiess (violin, vocals)

Originally from Santa Barbara, California, Camille Schiess has given a wide variety of performances in solo, chamber, and orchestral concerts. She received her Master’s Degree at the University of Texas studying under the direction of Brian Lewis. Camille previously got her Bachelor’s degree at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She is a three time winner of the Granada Music and Arts Soloist Competition, soloing with members of the Santa Barbara Symphony. Other solo performances recently include the ACO Texas Rising Star competition in 2017. Aside from her performance career, Camille is a violin instructor at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Elementary School, holds her own private teaching studio, and occasionally subs as a section violinist for the Santa Barbara Symphony in California. Her greatest love in her career, beyond her love for performing, is teaching children and inspiring their creativity in music.

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:

Audrey Lee: violin, vocals

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