meet the team
meet the team
ariel horowitz
Founder & Artistic Director
Hailed by The Washington Post as “Sweetly Lyrical,” violinist Ariel Horowitz has performed as a soloist with orchestras around the world and premiered her original pieces for violin and voice at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall and the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. An avid teacher, she serves on the Mount Holyoke College faculty and is the Founder and Artistic Director of The Heartbeat Music Project, a tuition-free program for K-12 children living in the Navajo Nation. She is the recipient of numerous prizes and in 2020 was honored with the Concert Artists Guild Ambassador Prize, joining the CAG roster.
Sharon Nelson
Executive director
Hello! I am Sharon Nelson, and I serve as Executive Director for the Heartbeat Music Project. Prior to this position, I also served as a Recruiter and Assistant in 2016 and as Project Director from 2017-2018. In the current capacity as Executive Director, I oversee the program at the Navajo Technical University (NTU) campus in Crownpoint, New Mexico. This involves synchronizing NTU Departments so that Heartbeat functions effectively. Most importantly, I ensure NTU provides a safe and culturally relevant space for Teacher Artists and students to make intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and musical connections. Heartbeat has given underprivileged and underserved Diné children the musical opportunity to convert their own vibrations of thought, heart, and soul using western instruments, allowing them to become centered and explore endless possibilities. In addition to my work with Heartbeat, I am Diné and teach at the Navajo Technical University as Assistant Professor of Diné Culture, Language, and Leadership. Tódích’íí’nii nishłį̨́, Ta’neeszahnii baa shishchiin, Tótsohii da shicheii dóó Tł’ááshchí’í éídah shinalí (I am Bitter Water clan, born for Tangle Water clan, Big Water are my maternal grandfathers, and Painted Cheeks are my paternal grandfathers).
gregory lewis
Assistant Director
Canadian violinist Gregory Lewis has established a reputation as an artist possessing “brilliant technique and control” (Chronicle Journal) and “wonderful musical personality” (Winnipeg Free Press). Lewis has appeared as soloist with orchestras including the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, Consortium Aurora Borealis, and others. Lewis is a prizewinner of the National Music Festival of Canada, Concours de musique du Canada, WMC McLellan Competition, American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition, Yale Chamber Music Competition, and the Virtuoso e Belcanto Violin Competition. Lewis received his education at the Colburn School, Yale University, and the University of Manitoba, studying with Martin Beaver, Ani Kavafian, Oleg Pokhanovski, and Olga Medvedeva. He is currently in the residency stage of his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Yale University, where he also teaches for the Yale College Chamber Music Seminar, Yale Secondary Lessons, and graduate music history classes. Lewis joined HMP as a Teaching Artist in 2018 and is thrilled to be involved as the program’s Assistant Director since 2021.
natalie Desiderio
Administrative Assistant
Natalie R. Desiderio is a recent graduate of Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint, New Mexico, a small community on the Eastern side of the Navajo Reservation. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Diné Culture, Language, and Leadership. She currently serves as an Office Assistant in the Graduate and Undergraduate Diné Culture, Language, and Leadership program at Navajo Technical University. Since 2018, Desiderio has been a researcher for a Navajo Language Program under the National Science Foundation (NSF) that is building an Online Lexicon for Navajo Language learners. The program works to preserve the Navajo language and helps non-Navajo speakers learn the language. Recently, she became part of the Heartbeat Music Project as its Administrative Assistant.

Desiderio helps to advertise the program, accommodate the participants’ and their parents’ needs, and inform them of upcoming events. An Indigenous individual that helps many programs, Desiderio is family orientated. Her beliefs and values are strongly rooted in her Navajo (Diné) culture. She is a modern Navajo who likes to applyNavajo culture and language to today’s society. Ms. Desiderio feels like her knowledge in the Diné philosophy can help shape and provide guidance to the younger Diné generation. With outside sources and opportunities available to Diné children, we can spark young minds to look within themselves and evolve to become greater individuals. 
Lehuanani DeFranco
Development Director
Lehuanani DeFranco is a mixed Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) protector for Indigenous rights and a Brooklyn-based dancer. She organizes with Uprooted& Rising to end higher education’s support for Big Food and white supremacy in the food system. She is currently campaigning for the University of California to divest from the Thirty-Meter Telescope in order to protect Mauna Kea from desecration.  DeFranco is also the Interim Coordinator with Roadwork Center, an organization formed in 1978 to build multi-racial coalitions through women’s culture by focusing on the intersection of arts and BIPOC- and LGBTQIA-led social justice movements.  Recently, she became the Director ofCharitable Giving for The Heartbeat Music Project. 

DeFranco is also an artist with Te Ao Mana, a performance group expanding the presence of Polynesian culture worldwide through creative projects, dance classes, workshops, and community gathering. While learning her ancestral language, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, DeFranco explores how the study of language lends itself to the creation of movement scores in her own performance work.Her work investigates how our brains and bodies recognize and form coalitions with others through this intersection of movement and language.  DeFranco graduated Cum Laude from Skidmore College with a B.A. double major in History and Dance. In 2015, she graduated with an M.F.A. in Dance from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. DeFranco is a guest on Lenape and Canarsie lands. 
brian bibb
Teaching Artist
Brian Bibb is a multi-instrumentalist from Miami, Florida. He began playing the piano at 6 years old, and moved onto the saxophone at age 9. From there, Brian has been interested in music of all sorts, including classical, jazz, folk, rock, and RnB. Brian graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Saxophone Performance from the University of Miami. He currently works and lives in New York City as a music educator and performer, giving lessons to students of all ages on various instruments, including saxophone, clarinet, flute, guitar, and piano.
Delbert Anderson
Teaching Artist
Delbert Anderson is a Navajo/Diné trumpet performer, composer and educator. Anderson attended Eastern New Mexico University studying Music Education and Performance. In 2013, Anderson started the Delbert Anderson Trio and began to create educational courses for the San Juan Community. Delbert has created music programs for the Boys & Girls Club Farmington and Dream Diné Charter School in Shiprock, NM. Anderson has been known for his creative and experimental education courses. Anderson is the Jazz Director at San Juan College and now performs with his group D’DAT. Anderson is recognized nationally as an educator, leader and ambassador of Native American Music. Anderson has been featured on NPR, TedX, Sirius XM, Yahoo, and received the Western Arts Alliance Native Launchpad Award in 2019 and the Doris Duke Access Award in 2020. Anderson continues his mission of creating opportunities within the arts, educate Native American youth and share messages of hope, life and positivity.
Arjun Ganguly
Teaching Artist
Violist Arjun Ganguly is currently studying at the Yale School of Music with Ettore Causa. Arjun completed his undergraduate studies with a degree in Statistics from the University of Minnesota while studying viola with Korey Konkol and Sabina Thatcher. He has attended programs and masterclasses at the Aspen Music Festival and School, Music Academy of the West, and Accademia Isola Maggiore. Arjun also enjoys teaching and has worked with The Heartbeat Music Project in New Mexico and Morse Academy in New Haven, Connecticut. He has received first prize in young artist competitions from organizations including the American String Teachers Association, Schubert Club, Thursday Musical, and the Minnesota Sinfonia.
Zoie Hightower
Teaching Artist
Zoie Hightower joined the IU Jacobs School of Music String Academy as a student of Dr. Brenda Brenner and Mimi Zweig, and was a member of the IU Virtuosi for six years. Zoie has been a featured soloist and ensemble performer in America, Europe, Canada, and South America. She has soloed with the New World Youth Symphony Orchestra, Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, South Shore Orchestra, and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. In 2013 , she performed with the IU Virtuosi at Carnegie Hall in New York City on both violin and viola. Zoie recently graduated with a major in violin (with Danielle Belen) and viola (with Caroline Coade) performance at the University of Michigan, with academic honors, and was selected principal viola (2016-2017) and concertmaster (2018-2019). She is now working in Applied Behavior Analysis therapy with special needs children.
zola hiGHtower
Teaching Artist
Zola Hightower studied at University of Michigan with Danielle Belen & Caroline Coade and Indiana University with Simin Ganatra & Atar Arad. A member of the Jacobs Virtuosi, she studied with Mimi Zweig and Brenda Brenner, and has been a featured soloist and chamber musician on stages and in concert halls in America, Europe, Canada and South America including Carnegie Hall. She has soloed with the South Shore Orchestra, New World Youth Symphony Orchestra, Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, Indiana University Chamber Symphony, and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. At UofM, she was Principal Viola and Concertmaster. She won IU’s 2022 Concerto Competition and the Kuttner Chamber Competition. Zoie has taught for the Aspen Music Youth Summer Workshop, Blue Hill Youth Summer Program, Fairview Project, The Heartbeat Project, and Center Stage Strings. An IU String Academy faculty member, Zoie has a thriving violin/viola studio. Her students have been accepted to and received awards from prestigious musical institutions.
Renata Yazzie
Founder and Director of the American Indian Musicians' Scholarship
Renata Yazzie, Tó'aheedlíinii born for Kinyaa'áanii, is a Diné classical pianist presently residing in Albuquerque, NM. Renata has been playing piano since she was 3, and currently studies with Prof. Falko Steinbach at the Univ. of New Mexico where she is pursuing a Master of Music degree with dual concentrations in Piano Performance and Musicology. She also holds an undergraduate degree in Chemistry from UNM. Renata seeks to Indigenize classical music, reclaim pieces from the Indianist Era where European composers heavily appropriated Indigenous music, and hopes to improve music education for Indigenous students. While Renata began strictly as a performer, she has composed for a variety of projects including film and theater and enjoys arranging various songs for piano. A scholar of Indigenous music, Renata has presented original research at various academic conferences. She remains an advocate for Indigenous women in STEM, music as medicine, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
jameel martin
Teaching Artist
Violist Jameel Martin, from Indianapolis, Indiana, is a graduate of the Juilliard School, where he completed his pre-college and undergraduate studies with Heidi Castleman and Steven Tenenbom. He has performed as a soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of Indianapolis and has performed in China, Canada, Germany, Israel, and across the United States. Jameel has studied at such programs as the Heifetz International Music Institute, Pinchas Zukerman’s Young Artists Program, and the Perlman Music Program since 2011, where he was a student at the Summer Music School, Chamber Music Workshop and residencies in both Sarasota and Tel Aviv.
Breana McCullough
Teaching Artist
Breana McCullough is a Karuk violist from Bozeman, Montana. She has been performing professionally since the age of 14 with various orchestras, ensembles, and artists including the Bozeman Symphony, Concordia Orchestra, Campanile StringQuartet, I-90 Collective, Leon Joseph Littlebird, Patrick Leonard and more. Breana holds degrees in Music Performance and Women and Gender Studies from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She started a Masters Degree at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Historical Performance Practice. Since then, she has begun a graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles in Ethnomusicology as a fully funded Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship recipient.
Britton-Rene Collins
Teaching Artist
Hailed as an “Astounding Virtuoso,” percussionist Britton-René Collins is a winner of the 2020 Concert
Artists Guild competition, receiving the Ambassador Prize for her exceptional musicianship and passion
for creating social change through her art.  A Grand-Prize winner of the Yamaha Performing Artists Competition and the Chicago International
Music Competition, Britton-René has performed in North America and Europe. She has made several
concerto appearances, including the Grammy Award-winning Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. In addition
to her active solo career, Britton-René performs in ensembles Excelsis Percussion Quartet and Vision
Duo. Britton-René is a proud artist/endorser for Vic Firth/Zildjian, Marimba One, and Remo.
sage bond
Teaching Artist
Hailing from the Four Corners region within the Navajo Nation, Sage Bond writes with the influences of personal life, culture, and heavy metal. These aspects can be found in her singer-songwriter career as well as her compositions during her time with the Native American Composers Apprentice Project. Since the age of 13, Bond has joined and collaborated with bands of several genres. Throughout her career she has released two albums, auditioned for The
Voice and American Idol, and has been a Native American Music Award (NAMMYs) nominee.
advisory board members
Natasha Brofsky,
Cello Faculty at the Juilliard School
Dr. Wesley K Thomas,
Retired Graduate Dean of Navajo Technical University
Jennifer Kaskalla,
Assistant to the Dean of the Navajo Preparatory School
natasha brofsky
Cello Faculty at the Juilliard School
dr. wesley k thomas
Retired Graduate Dean of Navajo Technical University
jennifer kaskalla
Assistant to the Dean of the Navajo Preparatory School
Alyssa Picchini Schaffer, PhD
Senior Scientist and Admin Director, Neuroscience Collaborations, Simons Foundation

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