Illinois String Academy

Coordinator – Dr. Aaron Jacobs
Faculty Liaison – Megan Freivogel, Jupiter Quartet

Now accepting violin, viola and cello students at all levels. Beginners may enroll as young as age 4 or 5. Inquiries welcomed from all!

New this year – cello lessons and group classes! The Illinois String Academy welcomes cellist Leah Sweeney, a graduate of the University of Illinois, as our new cello instructor. Leah has maintained a studio of 40 cello and piano students for more than a decade. She is professionally training in the Suzuki Method and has experience teaching students of all ages and levels.

Registration Form - New students: please contact Aaron Jacobs, program Coordinator at before submitting a registration.
Payment Form
Calendar (2017-18)
In the Illinois String Academy, students, parents and teachers work together to create a fun and rewarding environment for children and young adults learning to play the violin and viola. Students engage in a weekly lesson with a private instructor, attend weekly group classes, and perform together regularly. Special attention is given to the beginning stages of instruction; it is during this time students receive their foundation for future development. Note reading, rhythm and ear training are developed starting from the first lessons. 

Group classes are currently available for Beginners through Suzuki book 5 level violin students. More advanced students may enroll in private lessons with optional chamber music opportunities and/or music theory courses. Private instruction is currently available for the violin and viola.

Group classes cultivate peer learning and enhance motivation. They are an excellent opportunity for students to receive additional feedback from teachers in a unique setting, gain experience playing in an ensemble, work on a weekly basis with a professional accompanist, and have consistent practice in solo performance for their friends and family in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere.

Interested parents should contact the program’s director, Aaron Jacobs. An introductory consultation and/or trial lesson may be scheduled free of charge.

Aaron Jacobs


Rebin Ali, violin, was born in the city of Suleimanya in the mountainous northern region of Kurdistan, Iraq.  He studied at the College of Fine Arts of Salahaddin University in Erbil. He also studied at the Iraqi YES Academy with American Voices in 2009 and 2010.  In the fall of 2010 Rebin was invited as a full-scholarship student to study Music and English at Saint Louis University.  During the 2010-12 season he played in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Ward Stare, and studied violin with Marc Thayer.  In 2011 Rebin was one of three featured soloists in a concert of Middle Eastern music sponsored by New England Conservatory in Boston.  He has also been a guest artist in various concerts with the St. Louis Symphony’s Community Partnership Program. Rebin has participated in music festivals such as Eastern Music festival, Bowdoin Music festival, Brevard Music Festival, and the Pheniox phest in Michigan. His teachers include, Meghan Frievogel, Stefan Milenkovich, Carolyn Hubel, and Marc Thayer. Rebin holds BM degree in violin performance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Dr. Aaron Jacobs’ teaching blends influences from professional training in the Suzuki method and educational philosophy, the work of Paul Rolland, Mimi Zweig, Ivan Galamian, and traditional methods. With sixteen years of teaching experience among all age and ability levels, he has taught at universities, academies, music schools, and summer camps throughout Ohio, Maine, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Currently, he mentors a full studio of violinists and violists age 4-18 through the School of Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and founded the Illinois String Academy as part of the School of Music’s community education offerings. Aaron also created a violin program for Danville, IL school district 118. Beginning in January of 2015, this program offers violin instruction to nearly 150 second and third grade students at two elementary schools in Danville, IL.

As a performer, Aaron is in high demand as a soloist and chamber and orchestra musician throughout Illinois. During the past six years he has performed as concertmaster or principal second violin for nine different orchestras in Central Illinois. As an active chamber and solo recitalist, Aaron has performed throughout the United States and Europe, and has been the featured soloist for orchestras in Ohio and Illinois. He has also been the recipient of several honors and awards, and a prizewinner at international competitions. In duo with his wife and pianist, Tatiana Shustova, performances of recent years have ranged from concert halls in the Midwest and East Coast to Italy and Russia.

Aaron holds a Bachelor of Music degree in music education and an Artist’s Certificate in violin performance from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, a Master of Music degree in violin performance and string pedagogy from Northwestern University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in violin performance and literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Gaeun Kim holds a Bachelor of Music degree in violin performance from the University of Kansas as a Capps-Rogers Scholarship recipient, and a Master of Music degree in violin performance from Northwestern University where she studied with Almita and Roland Vamos. As a passionate solo violin player, she was the winner of KU concerto competition and performed with the KU Symphony Orchestra at Lied Center. She received scholarship recognition from the Kansas Music Club and Sigma Alpha Iota, and was awarded the first prize in Nafzger Young Artists Audition. She has also played in many prestigious music festivals such as the Aspen Music Festival as a full-scholarship recipient, Summit Music Festival in New York, Great Mountain Music Festival in Korea, and Chautauqua Music Festival where she served a concertmaster for the orchestra. As an active chamber and orchestral musician, she was broadcasted on NPR classical radio as a member of the Crimson String Quartet, and served as a regular member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, working with renowned conductors such as Cliff Colnot, Semyon Bychkov, Sir Andrew Davis, and Nicholas Kraemer. As an educator, she is devoted to teaching students of all ages and levels. Her past teaching experience includes students from the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Northwestern String Academy as well as private studios in Evanston, Chicago, and Glenview. Now in her first year of doctoral studies at the University of Illinois, Ms. Kim studies with Nelson Lee of the Jupiter String Quartet.


A native of South Korea, violinist Seul Lee is a multifaceted musician performing solo, chamber, and orchestral music. Lee's artistic passion has taken her to various venues in Korea, France, and the US. In 2007, Lee was invited as the concertmaster of Asia Philharmonic Orchestra Academy under maestro Myung Whun Chung. Lee's extensive orchestral experience in the US includes playing with Korean Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. As an active string quartet player, Lee has performed at Krannert Art Museum and participated in DOCHA Music Festival performing Mendelssohn's Octet with the members of Jupiter Quartet and faculty members of UIUC. In April of 2014, Lee won the UIUC symphony concerto competition and she performed Mendelssohn Violin Concerto as a soloist with UIUC Symphony Orchestra in February of 2015. Lee received her BM in violin performance from Seoul National University and MM from Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music with Mauricio Fuks. She is currently pursuing her doctorate degree at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign under the tutelage of Stefan Milenkovich.

Leah SweeneyLeah Sweeney holds a Bachelor of Music in cello performance from the University of Illinois where she studied with Brandon Vamos.  Her principal chamber music teachers include Ani Aznavoorian, Sibbi Bernhardsson and Simin Ganatra.  While at the Univeristy of Illinois, Leah was awarded the Thomas J. Smith Scholarship.  

Leah is an active chamber and orchestral musician and has performed concerts in the United States and Europe.  Her orchestral experience includes performing with local orchestras including the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia da Camera, Champaign-Urbana Symphony, Prairie Ensemble and Danville Symphony.  

For more than a decade, Leah has maintained a studio of 40 cello and piano students.  She is professionally trained in the Suzuki Method and has experience teaching students of all ages and levels.

An avid orchestral and chamber musician, violinist Trevor Thompson has performed a wide range of repertoire in concert halls throughout the midwest. Trevor has performed regularly with the Ohio Valley Symphony, Heartland Festival Orchestra, Sinfonia da Camera, and has premiered several new compositions as a member of the Illinois Modern Ensemble. A passionate chamber musician, Trevor has studied at the Montecito International Chamber Music Festival, the Bowdoin International Chamber Music Festival, as a Fellow at the Madeline Island Chamber Music Festival, and has performed in concert alongside Berlin Philharmonic violist Matthew Hunter in a performance of Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in Eflat major. Throughout his studies, Trevor has had the opportunity to perform in masterclasses with Laurie Smukler, Yuan-Qing Yu, Soovin Kim, Mariciuo Fuks, and Robert DeMaine. As an educator, Trevor has a passion and experience working with a wide variety of students and levels. Trevor has served as a violin instructor with the Athens Community Music School in Athens, Ohio, as a guest instructor with Danville area middle and high school orchestras, and is currently a Teaching Assistant at the University of Illinois. Trevor received his Bachelors degree from Vanderbilt University and is currently pursuing a Masters degree at the University of Illinois as a graduate Teaching Assistant. Trevor’s primary teachers have included Stephen Miahky, Stefan Milenkovich, Meg Frievogel, and members of the Jupiter String Quartet.

Violist Elizabeth Trower holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Missouri State University, as well as a Master of Music degree and a Graduate Artist Certificate from the University of North Texas. There, she studied with Dr. Susan Dubois and was the viola teaching fellow for two years. Now in her third year of doctoral studies at the University of Illinois, Ms. Trower held the viola teaching assistantship for two years and studies with Elizabeth Freivogel of the Jupiter String Quartet. Ms. Trower’s eleven years of string teaching experience also include children’s group classes, lessons and sectionals within the public school system, and a private studio of violin and viola students.

As a soloist and chamber musician, Ms. Trower has performed in masterclasses for Donald McInnes, Karen Dreyfus, Carol Rodland, Jeffrey Irvine, Karen Ritscher, Miles Hoffman, Augustin Hadelich, Amit Peled, and the Shanghai, Ying, Chiara, and Danish string quartets. Additionally, she has participated in the Karen Tuttle Coordination Workshop, Boston Early Music Festival, Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival, Bowdoin International Music Festival, and UNL Chamber Music Institute, as well as the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute in Toronto, Canada. She has also worked with students at Missouri State String Fling, Missouri State Theory Camp, and Illinois Summer Youth Music. Ms. Trower currently serves as the principal viola of the Eastern Symphony Orchestra, associate principal viola of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, and section player and Music Librarian of Sinfonia da Camera.

Erika Zelada began her musical training at the National Conservatory of Music of Paraguay. In 2004 she joined the National Symphony Orchestra of Paraguay as a founding member. Thanks to an award granted by the FONDEC (Paraguay’s National Fund for the Arts) Ms. Zelada recorded her album “Experimento,” becoming the first female violinist to release an album in Paraguay.

She earned her Bachelor of Music at the Louisiana State University, where she studied with Dr. Lin He (violin) and Dr. Elias Goldstein (viola). She has recently finished her Master of Music in Violin Performance and Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying with Prof. Nelson Lee (violin) and Liz Freivogel (viola).

Her orchestral experience includes the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, Acadiana Symphony Orchestra, Lake Charles Symphony Orchestra, Louisiana Sinfonietta, Sinfonia da Camera, Champaign Urbana Symphony Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Paraguay. She has taught at the National Conservatory of Music of Paraguay and at the University of Illinois as a teaching assistant.

Ms. Zelada is currently pursuing an Artist Diploma at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.