Our Team & Board
of Directors

Our Team

Dr. Erin Parkes

Dr. Erin Parkes

Founder, Director of Research and Professional Development, Piano

Erin passionately believes that all children have the capacity to learn and enjoy music as long as they are in an environment that meets their needs and uses their strengths to allow them to grow. She founded the Lotus Centre in 2012 based on three things: her experiences teaching children with special needs, the diagnosis of her son with autism spectrum disorder, and her research indicating a lack of options for students with special needs seeking music education. All three indicated a pressing need for a specialized centre that could provide music lessons, conduct research to determine best practice in special music education, and provide teacher training to allow more music educators work with children with special needs. Her mission is to improve access to music education for learners of all abilities.

Erin received her Bachelor of Music, Master of Arts in Musicology, and Graduate Certificate in Piano Pedagogy Research from the University of Ottawa. She completed a PhD in Music Education from McGill University in 2015, where she researched how to effectively train studio music teachers to work with students with autism. Erin has been teaching music since 1996 and has worked with students of all ages in a variety of settings. She presents at conference and guest lectures throughout North America and internationally on teaching music to students with special needs and other issues in music education.

Dr. Erin MacAfee

Dr. Erin MacAfee

Executive Director, Piano

Music has been part of Erin’s life from a young age. Beginning piano lessons at the age of 6, Erin continued to play through her undergraduate degree at Brock University, where she focused on piano performance. In addition to being involved in piano, Erin has participated in various choirs, and has training in voice, clarinet, and organ. Erin has completed her RCM practical grade ten piano and grade nine voice examinations, as well as the accompanying theory qualifications. After completing her Bachelor of Music (Honours) degree at Brock University, Erin came to Ottawa pursure further education. She has completed her PhD in Human Kinetics and a Master’s Degree in Piano Pedagogy at the University of Ottawa, where her research focused on music performance anxiety and self-efficacy in young musicians.

After taking a break from teaching to pursue her academic studies, Erin eagerly returned to teaching in 2016 at the Lotus Centre. The knowledge she has gained in academic and professional pursuits allows her to create a personalized teaching approach for each unique student. Erin is very passionate about helping students explore their musical potential and experience the same joys that music has brought her throughout the years.

 Julia Lauton

Julia Lauton

Office Administrator

Julia has always had a love for music and believes that every child should have the opportunity to discover a passion for music as well! As part of Julia’s musical background, she is a classically trained vocalist who also has experience playing piano, guitar, and saxophone. She also enjoys musical theatre, 

choral singing, and music theory. Julia is very excited to be working with the Lotus Centre administrative team! She graduated from Algonquin College’s Bookkeeping and Accounting Practices program in 2016 and is currently a Nipissing University distance learning student. Julia is working towards her Bachelor of Business Administration, Accounting major.

Nisreen Jardaneh

Nisreen Jardaneh

Education Coordinator, Piano, Ukulele

Nisreen Jardaneh is a music educator and Apple Professional Learning Specialist (APLS) who believes that every child should have access to music education. She holds a Piano Diploma from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM). She continued her higher education in Canada with a Graduate Research Certificates in Piano Pedagogy Research, a Master’s of Arts in with a thesis in Piano Pedagogy from the University of Ottawa, and a Masters in Music Education with Université Laval. Nisreen has recently enrolled in special music education pedagogy program at the University of Ottawa to enrich her personal teaching experience.

Nisreen has been teaching for many years in different educational settings, and was featured as Teacher of the Week in Education Journal of the Middle East. She was a team member for developing Music Arts Curriculum in United Arab Emirates, and a contributor to the first Research and Information Guide in Piano Pedagogy published by Routledge.

Nisreen is always eager to find innovative and creative ways into teaching music to all abilities, and embraces the effective use of technology in music learning. She conducts workshops and presentations to promote early and inclusive music education. Nisreen plays piano, accordion, ukulele and enjoys exploring any instrument she can put her hands on!

Chris Uba

Chris Uba

Guitar, Drums, Piano

Receiving his Bachelor of Music degree with Honors, along with a Minor in Business from Carleton University; Chris practiced in classical, jazz and many popular styles of guitar at university. While at university, he taught himself how to play the ukulele, pass guitar and piano as well. He believes that anyone in the right environment with the right lessons can learn and accomplish their musical aspirations. Chris is interested in teaching students with special needs to discover new and creative ways to teach and assist students while they learn music. His material consists of lessons being as simple as they can be by breaking down the essentials of learning music in its simplest form in order for his students to fully understand and grasp the material while building their skills and confidence in their playing. Every student learns and progresses differently and like his lessons they are all tailored specifically to the student’s goals.

Jeff Sabo

Jeff Sabo

Professional Development Coordinator, Piano

Jeff has been a music lover for his whole life, and he began playing piano at age 5. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition and Theory from Ithaca College. In addition to music, Jeff is also passionate about helping people with their mental and physical wellness. He received Post-Baccalareate Degree in Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University and then worked for over a year as a community mental health counselor. He has also trained in the Taubman Approach to healthy piano technique. For his graduate studies, Jeff came to the University of Ottawa to purse his love of both music and science and to improve his skills as a teacher. He received a Graduate Diploma in Piano Pedagogy Research, and is starting a Master’s Degree in the same field. Since coming to Ottawa, Jeff has worked as part of a team developing the new University of Ottawa Musicians’ Wellness Centre, and he is currently working on research related to healthy piano technique and injury prevention for musicians. Jeff began teaching piano during his undergraduate degree and has worked with students ranging from young beginners to adults at the conservatory level. He loves playing and teaching many different styles of music, such as classical, rock, and pop. His goal as a teacher is to combine his passion for music and wellness and to adapt his approach to each individual student, so that anyone can enjoy making music in their own way.

Tracy Smith

Tracy Smith

Piano

I started formal music studies late in life, at the age of 28. I have always wanted to play piano. Both parents were very musical, between the two they played piano, guitar, alto sax, organ, banjo and accordion. Both played for enjoyment, my mom even brought her piano to senior’s apartment. As I juggled family, work, and volunteering, music lessons always came last. I still take lessons from Erin (of Lotus Centre). We are currently in RCM program, working on ARCT Intermediate Pedagogy. It has been a long musical journey, and I’m still moving forward.

There are so many benefits when learning to play music: to call upon a few, growth of imagination and creativity, development of small muscles, and a confidence booster when playing for a teacher or at a recital. With the skills we learn, I believe when we teach music, we teach for life. Just like my parents, I aim to enjoy playing the piano for years to come.

Marianne Keuleman

Marianne Keuleman

Voice, Piano, Ukulele

Marianne began playing piano at the age of six and has been singing for most of her life. After studying piano for ten years with a focus on jazz and popular music, she began her studies in the Bachelor of Music program at Carleton University in 2017. Her performance experience is quite varied, including playing solo jazz piano, accompanying choirs, singing in many different vocal groups, and writing and playing her own music in her band. Additionally, she has a strong knowledge of music theory from private study and university courses. She is excited to share this diverse skill set with her students. Above all, she has a strong love for all kinds of music, and believes that music has an enriching part to play in the life of every person.

Samar Abi Nasr

Samar Abi Nasr

Piano

Samar began her music education early in life, learning the recorder at age 10 and starting piano lessons at age 12. After taking a break for several years, Samar resumed her music learning at university, taking music courses as well as private piano lessons. After earning a Bachelor in Music Education from the faculty of pedagogy, Samar began teaching music at a Francophone-Lebanese school. She taught kindergarten, grades 1 to 3, and in the special education department. During this time, Samar also managed a music school in Lebanon where she taught piano, monitored the music curriculum of other piano teachers, and coordinated with other teachers to monitor student progress.

In 2016, Samar moved to Canada and has taught both group and private piano lessons. She also earned a Graduate diploma in Piano Pedagogy research from the University of Ottawa in 2017 and plans to continue her education in the future. Some of Samar’s additional training includes: How to teach Levantine music in schools, Teaching music to autistic children and those with challenges processing sensory information, Teaching children with ADHD, and an introduction to Dalcroze Eurhythmics. Samar teachers in French, English, and Arabic, and her extensive teaching experience allows her to adapt her teaching approach to suit each individual student’s needs. In her spare time, Samar volunteers in her community by preparing an annual multicultural dinner, supervising at the ice rink, and helping with soccer camp registration.

Alyssa English

Alyssa English

Clarinet, Saxophone, Piano

Having taught privately since 2014, Alyssa is qualified as a clarinet, saxophone, and piano teacher. Her philosophy is to create a learning environment where students can engage with music in a fun, dynamic, and engaging way. Under the tutelage of Dr. Cathy Wood, Alyssa completed her Bachelor of Music degree in Clarinet Performance at Brandon University in 2018. Alyssa’s time at Brandon University is what really ignited her love for teaching and has since had many teaching opportunities through workshops, clinics, tutoring programs, camps, and classrooms. In 2018, Alyssa moved to Ottawa to pursue her Master of Arts degree in Music at the University of Ottawa. Under the guidance of Professor Lori Burns, her research focused on Canadian music identity. Now recently graduated, Alyssa is excited to continue working with and for the Ottawa music community to create equitable, diverse, and inclusive music making environments.

Aparna Darbha

Aparna Darbha

Voice, After School Program Lead staff

Aparna’s love for music first sparked at the age of 5 when she started Indian classical vocal music lessons (Carnatic music). Having been learning and practicing the art for the last 14 years, and with some experience with the western classical flute, she has been able to appreciate the similarities between both worlds of music. She is extremely excited to be sharing these perspectives with students to give back to her community in the way that music has given her motivation and joy throughout the years. Aparna is currently a student at the University of Ottawa pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences. She joined the Lotus Centre as a volunteer for the After School Program, and was soon conducting music circles and leading other musical activities for the students. Now, in addition to being a After School Program Lead, she works as a vocal teacher at the Lotus Centre. Aparna hopes to pursue a career in the field of medicine while continuing to share her passion for music with others

Sarah Allen

Sarah Allen

After School Program Lead staff

Music has always played a significant role in Sarah’s life. She has a background in music through 5 years of concert band, and has 15 years of classical ballet training. She also has a passion for musical theatre and performance. Sarah grew up in Montreal, moved to Ottawa in 2020, and is now a University of Ottawa student studying Human Kinetics. Sarah loves working with children, and has cherished each opportunity she’s had to teach and guide them, and learn from their outlook on the world as well. Dance, music and movement have been integral parts of Sarah’s life, and she loves bringing this joy to the students at Lotus Centre. Sarah is an excited new member of the Lotus Centre community, having joined the staff in June of 2021, and is looking forward to each student making music in their own way.

Natalie Harrison

Natalie Harrison

After School Program Lead staff

Born and raised in the city of Ottawa, Natalie Harrison has been playing the violin since the age of three. Her first violin teacher was Rosemarie Klimasko, co-founder of Ottawa Suzuki Strings, an Ottawa based Suzuki music institute whose goal is to teach young children through the Suzuki method.  Other violin teachers include Sarah Williams and Karoly Sziladi. Natalie recently completed a music degree at the University of Ottawa. Her conducting teachers included David Currie and Laurence Ewashko.  She has also finished Suzuki training books one to three. Natalie has played in various local youth orchestras when she was young, including the Ottawa Youth Orchestra where she was principal second violinist. In her youth, Natalie successfully competed in many music competitions and festivals such as the Kiwanis Music Festival and Pembroke Fiddle & Stepdance contest. She has performed and recorded professionally with Acadian singer Jeanette Arsenault.

Natalie has several years of experience working as a special needs music teacher at the Lotus Centre for Special Music Education. Her passion lies in teaching music to all types of students, in the belief that “every child can,” which is the fundamental principle behind the Suzuki pedagogical philosophy. Her formal education in this field includes a minor in psychology, specializing in early childhood education and development.

Natalie is fluently bilingual and can teach in English or French.

Allanna Turner

Allanna Turner

After School Program Support staff

I am glad to have been part of the Lotus Centre Family for almost 2 years now. I am a mother of three grown children and a grandmother to three wonderful grandchildren. My formal education includes a diploma in Early Childhood Education. I have worked directly with children of all abilities for 30 + years in several different positions.

My interests include music, nature, crafts and dancing. I look forward to seeing Lotus Centre students every week and sharing experiences with them and their families.

Robyn Motion

Robyn Motion

After School Program Support staff

While in elementary and high school, Robyn had educational assistants in her classes due to her being deaf. As she can still hear music as a deaf person, Robyn enjoys listening to a variety of music in her personal life. Because of her own disability, she knew she wanted a career that would help people in her community who had disabilities. Robyn came to Ottawa in 2016 to pursue her dreams. She went to Carleton University for one year, majored in Child Studies while also taking American Sign Language. Robyn took a gap year and found the Developmental Services Worker Program through Algonquin College. She attended Algonquin College from 2018 to 2020 which gave her the knowledge and experience to assist children and/or adults with different needs. Being a recent graduate, she passionately believes that as long as you take a person-centred approach to assisting someone, that person will thrive!

Board of Directors

Brandon Bignell

Brandon Bignell

President

Brandon Bignell is the Vice President of Risk Advisory Services for BDO Canada LLP. He has over 15 years of professional experience supporting public, private and not-for profit organizations in a variety of roles. Prior to joining BDO, Brandon worked in the Public Sector and for the Assembly of First Nations as part of the Joint Task Force on Economic Development.

He is a Ottawa 40 under Forty award recipient, and has won multiple sector awards, including the Deputy Minister for Innovation. He is a Certified Internal Auditor, and holds degrees in Law, Political Science and Criminology.

Brandon is the founder and president of Adam Marc Bignell Fundraising, which has for the past 12 years been working to provide bursaries to students who have demonstrated a commitment to improving the world around them.

Jordan Miller

Jordan Miller

Director

Jordan has worked in the public sector in policy and government, and has worked in the private sector in consulting. He is passionate about the cooperation of the public sector, private sector, academia, and the voluntary sector to bring about social good, and seeking those opportunities for the future Lotus Centre. Jordan currently works in consulting in the private sector focusing on public safety and emergency management.

Erin Fobert

Erin Fobert

Parental Advisory Member/Director

Erin graduated from Queen’s University with a degrees in both Honours English and Education. An educator and administrator by employment, her life path took a sharp turn with the birth of her son, Nolan. Erin is currently a full time caregiver to Nolan, who was born with complex special needs. Although non-verbal, Nolan expresses his life long love of music through singing, dancing and smiles. Erin is incredibly grateful to the Lotus Centre for their contribution and commitment to enriching Nolan’s life. He is involved in many of the programs at the Lotus Centre and his parents feel blessed to have a safe, inclusive and accessible place where Nolan can participate in his love of music with his peers. Erin is honoured to sit as parent advisor to the Lotus Centre’s board. “Lotus is a special place, full of special people, who love music and work hard to make sure that every person, regardless of his/her diagnosis or exceptionalities, is able to participate in music education in a meaningful way.”

Elizabeth Simpson

Elizabeth Simpson

Director

Having lived in Ottawa most of her life, Elizabeth is thrilled to be part of an Orchestra she has admired for many years. Elizabeth has been the Second horn player since 2011, and has performed regularly in the horn section since 1986.

Elizabeth attained a Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Ottawa and a Masters in Music Performance from Indiana University. She studied with many renowned players including Daniel Gress, Philip Farkas, Meir Rimon, Michael Hatfield, and Arnold Jacobs. While studying, Elizabeth received the Ottawa Music Festival Senior Scholarship in 1983, and the NACO Bursary in 1984.

Elizabeth was a founding member of the Bel Canto Wind Quintet, which ran a successful concert series in Ottawa for eleven years. This chamber ensemble also toured in Ontario and Quebec, and was often heard on CBC Radio, Radio Canada and in the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. Elizabeth is also a member of the Capital Brass Works. This entertaining thirteen member brass and percussion ensemble performed on its own self run concert series in Ottawa, toured in Ontario and has recorded three CD’s to date.

Elizabeth has enjoyed teaching for many institutions in Ottawa including the University of Ottawa, Ottawa Youth Orchestra Academy, and Canterbury School of the Arts.

In 2013, Elizabeth Simpson co-created the NAC’s Music Circle, a music program for children, teens and adults with special needs. This program introduces orchestral instruments and the joy of live music, through workshops and a sensory friendly concert. Elizabeth has worked with students at the OCDSB, CHEO, and the Lotus Centre, and with adults in the LIFE programs.

Dr. James McGowan

Dr. James McGowan

Director

James McGowan (PhD, Eastman School of Music) is a pianist (ARCT), composer, choral conductor, award-winning educator, and published music theorist at home in classical, jazz, and improvised styles. He performs with a number of Ottawa-based musicians, including the jazz-fusion quartet Modasaurus that features his own compositions and the 2020 release of its critically acclaimed sophomore album 4K. James has performed in music festivals, including the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Stewart Park Festival, Skylight Festival and Merrickville’s Jazz Festival. He has received commissions for compositions and arrangements and has written extensively in a variety of jazz forms as well as choral, chamber and orchestral music.

Dr. McGowan is an Associate Professor at Carleton University where he teaches music theory, musicianship, composition, and community music. He also serves administratively as Carleton Chair in Teaching Innovation where he promotes music and the arts at Carleton and in the community, and Assistant Director of the Carleton Jazz Camp. He recently served as the Supervisor of Performance Studies. He has been a clinician and adjudicator for different arts organizations (Junos, Kiwanis, Lions, Canadian Music Showcase, City of Ottawa Arts Grants, etc.), and given workshops on topics including improvisation, choral singing, jazz piano approaches, and managing performance anxiety. He has published several articles and given presentations on topics ranging from jazz theory, to choral music, to music theory pedagogy and inclusive curricula. James seeks to support innovative programming in music and music education, arts leadership and mentorship, and research/creation in the activities in which he is engaged; he is glad he can contribute to the vitality of the Lotus Centre and its outreach.

Stephen Twiss

Stephen Twiss

Treasurer

Stephen is a retired public servant with many years of experience leading government organizations; ensuring that the strategic objectives, planning, and finances are coordinated and managed to accomplish the goals of the organization.
Overseeing the business interests of the Centre offers an opportunity to use his skills to participate in this important community initiative, supporting the families and students of the Lotus Centre as well as the research and education objectives of the Centre.  Working with Lotus Centre also gives Stephen the opportunity to share a little bit in those fabulous smiles.