Higher Voice Instructors

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Hilerie Klein Rensi

Hilerie Klein Rensi started taking private voice and piano lessons at six years old.  She began singing in the Colburn Children’s Choir (formerly The California Children’s Choir) at 10, and at 12 directed her own madrigal group that toured Los Angeles area schools.

She attended Interlochen Center for the Arts, the world’s premiere summer arts program, for nine summers and graduated high school from Interlochen Arts Academy.  She continues to be the only woman in the history of Interlochen Center for the Arts to perform four consecutive lead operetta roles and was also honored with the “Best Female Principle Over 25 Years of Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas” Award.

Driven to help other singers achieve the same success she had enjoyed, Hilerie began teaching private lessons to friends and beginning students in high school.  Hilerie then went on to earn a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance in three years from Cleveland Institute of Music and a Master of Music degree from Binghamton University together with Tri-Cities Opera– the oldest operatic training company in the country.

During the summers, she continued nurturing her private studio as well as teaching undergraduate students full time during the academic year at Binghamton University .  She was an Artist in Residence at Tri-Cities Opera and is proud to say that she has performed over 20 roles on their stage.   At the same time, she was the only classical voice instructor in the area who was also a lead singer in a professional rock band and performing musical theater.  She quickly became the teacher to turn to for musicians of all styles.

Since then, Hilerie has performed over 50 operatic roles and oratorio works all over the country with appearances including: Spoleto Festival USA, Orchestra of the Southern Fingerlakes, Tri-Cities Opera, Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra, Basically Bach Ensemble, Pittsburgh’s Opera Theatre Summerfest, Binghamton Downtown Singers, Lake George OperaNatchez Festival of Music, Orchestra of the Southern Fingerlakes, Resonance Works, Hamilton College and Community Oratorio Society, Undercroft Opera, and Traverse Symphony Orchestra, among others.

She has won numerous awards, continues to perform opera, oratorio, recitals, musical theater, operetta, children’s opera, four part a cappella music, new compositions, and she also tours her cabaret “Alto on the Loose.”  She directs and coaches a cappella groups, choral ensembles, church praise groups, and glee clubs, she gives master classes and she judges vocal competitions.  While enjoying a full time teaching schedule, she is also a guest lecturer at private and public schools across the country.

Most recently seen on Dance Moms and heard on NPR, Hilerie’s current and former students have been featured in Opera News Magazine, performed on NPR’s radio program “From the Top,” showcased on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, shone for Grammy Award Week Salute to Placid Domingo with Los Angeles Opera, sang On and Off-Broadway. Her students have been seen on Oprah, at The Kennedy Center, at The Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, on national tours in Europe, on cruise ships, with symphonies and in regional and community theaters nationwide.  They have performed with Mötley CrüeGavin DeGrawWynton Marsalis, Collective Soul, Thomas HampsonJason Mraz, Jo Dee Messina, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Breaking Benjamin, Brett Eldredge, Rob Zombie, King’s X, Skid Row, Fishbone, Hootie and the Blowfish, Seether, Journey, The Swon Brothers and in clubs, schools, coffee shops, bars, fairs and campuses across the country.

Her students have been accepted to classical, musical theater and contemporary music schools including: Curtis Institute of Music, Eastman School of Music, State University of New York at Fredonia, Manhattan School of Music,  University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Juilliard, State University of New York at Cortland, Penn State University, Ohio Northern University, The Crane School of Music, Ithaca College, University of Southern California, Oklahoma City University, UCLA, Temple University, University of the ArtsBelmont University, Houghton College, Cleveland Institute of Music, Seton Hill University, Berklee College of Music, Mannes School of Music, and summer programs including Interlochen Center for the Arts, Aspen Opera Theater, Aspen Music Festival, Southeastern Summer Theatre InstituteThe Glimmerglass Festival, Binghamton University Summer Youth Musical Theater Workshop, ArtsBridge Summer Musical Theater Program, and Boston University Tanglewood Institute, among others.

Hilerie’s students have won Presidential Scholar of the Arts Awards from the US Department of Education, National First Place prize in the Classical Singer Magazine Competition, First Place in Talent in the National American Miss New York Pageant, First Prize at the Gerda Lissner Liederkranz Competition, earned First Place Grand Prize Finalist at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards, and participated in the Chapter, Regional and National level of The National Association of Teachers of Singing Competition.

Devan Balaguer

Devan Balaguer is a professional singer, performer, and voice teacher at Higher Voice Studio.  She has recently performed in productions in Pittsburgh, New York City, and Sulmona, Italy.  Devan believes in creating a fun and inspiring atmosphere for singers to feel comfortable to grow and experiment without fear or judgement.  She has a thirst for knowledge and loves to learn about new techniques and styles. Devan’s passion lies in finding the stories in all music; there is always a reason behind the madness!

Devan started taking private voice lessons going into middle school and fell in love with singing all kinds of music.  She took part in every school musical and worked with her local community theater to feed her desire to perform.  Devan soon started to specialize in operatic and classical style singing and pursued a collegiate career in vocal performance.

Devan has earned her Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance from Manhattan School of Music in 2018 and Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Performance from West Virginia University in 2015. While in school, she performed roles such as Miss Jessel in Turn of the Screw, La Badessa in Suor Angelica, The Witch in Hänsel und Gretel and The Third Lady in Die Zauberflöte.  Scene work includes Rigoletto (Maddalena), Old Maid and the Thief (Miss Todd), Cosi fan tutte (Dorabella), Cendrillon (Madame de la Haltière), Cenerentola (Cenerentola), Falstaff (Miss Quickly), and Vanessa (Erika).

After receiving her degree, Devan performed in Sulmona with “The Center for Opera Studies in Italy” portraying the role of Endimione in La Calisto.  She then received an invite to perform with the Pittsburgh Festival Opera where she participated in the Bernstein Cabaret which again sparked her love for musical theater, jazz, and modern singing.  

Devan truly believes you can never stop learning.  There will always be something new and exciting to bring out and is ecstatic to be a part of a singer’s journey in finding how music makes them happy.  Devan is honored and thrilled to be a part of the Higher Voice team and looks forward to sharing all her knowledge to help her students gain confidence and grow a deeper passion for music. 

“Patient, kind, focused and knowledgable, Devan teaches with grace and understanding.” – Valerie Klein 

Matty Thornton

Matty Thornton is a Pittsburgh based voice teacher, actor, and singer who has been studying and performing regionally for the last 6 years. Matty believes that everyone should sing. “It’s true that the world doesn’t share the same spoken language, but everyone speaks the language of music.  It’s our common ground.  Music is how we connect and relate to each other and everyone should have a part in sharing that connection.” 

A student of Hilerie Klein Rensi, Matty has studied the Higher Voice Method for 6 years learning everything from rock to classical and musical theater.  Active locally, he has performed The Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Claude in Hair, Mr. Andrews in Titanic, Professor Callahan in Legally Blonde the Musical, Javert in Les Miserable, and the title role of Pippin in Pippin at Pittsburgh Musical Theater (PMT) and in the Pittsburgh regional area.

During his undergrad at Penn State’s musical theater program, Matty studied voice under Raymond Sage, Dr. Beverly Ann Patton and Gwen Walker, acting with Steve Snyder, Wendell Franklin, and Stori Ayer and dance under Austin Eyer and Michelle Dunleavy.  

Matty knows that if a student focuses on how singing feels, then the sound will take care of itself. “Whether that’s in your car, in the shower, or singing your favorite song with your loved one, it should be what you look forward to doing.  I love when a student comes to their lesson wanting to work on something new, or made a discovery about their voice. Learning to sing follows the passion of the student and the awakening of the instrument.  Everyone can do this.  And everyone should!”

Matty is thrilled to be a part of the voice faculty at Higher Voice Studio and looks forward to the challenges, growth, and rewards that lie ahead!

“As his voice teacher, I have watched Matty dissect every note he sang, every technique, song, character, and show.  He listens to music constantly, studying his favorite performers as a scientist studies a petri dish.  I have seen him perform in the chorus and as the lead, in competition and video recording, with peers and masters in the field. This is a smart, eager, big hearted and incredibly talented performer who brings great energy and insight wherever he goes. And when he sings… Matty is extraordinary.” -Hilerie Klein Rensi, Owner & Founder, Higher Voice Studio


Carolyn Smith

Carolyn is a versatile performer that has been active for over 15 years with repertoire that ranges from The Queen of the Night to Reno Sweeney. She holds a B.A. in vocal performance from St. Vincent College.  She brings new life to every performance she gives and takes her audience on an unforgettable journey with every song she sings. Over the course of her career, she has sung internationally as a soloist and opera lead, given masterclasses for several studios, has been a vocal educator for several different studios including Carpelz, J&K Musicians Workshop, Sandra Mesler Dance and Performing Arts, and Mon River Arts. She has also worked as a Music Director for several companies including a Children’s Theatre production for Mon River Arts, and Immaculate Conception’s summer camps.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of the incredible faculty at Higher Voice Studio and so excited for what the future holds.”

Caitlin Carlisle

Caitlin Carlisle is a singer, vocal educator, conductor, director and instructor at Higher Voice Studio.  She holds a B.S. in Music Education from Duquesne University.​

At a young age, Caitlin became involved with her school’s chorus and sacred music groups. Under the direction of her friend and mentor at the church, Caitlin developed a love of all music genres, experimenting with unusual musical elements.

She went on to attend Woodland Hills High School, where her vocal teacher fostered her love of singing.  Active in her school chorus, Caitlin was awarded the National School Choral Award for her dedication and commitment to the choral department and for excellence in choral participation and leadership.

​Continuing her music education at Duquesne University, Caitlin spent a semester student teaching in Dublin, Ireland as an elementary Choral Director and musical theater Vocal Director.  Her education at Duquesne revealed a new love of traditional solfege (using syllables to teach pitch and music reading) and folk music.  Her travels, combined with the richness of her teaching experiences abroad, provided her with opportunities to explore the combination of these traditional aspects with more contemporary knowledge.

Back in the states, Caitlin taught concert band at Canon McMillan Middle School and, upon graduation, began her professional work with the Woodland Hills School District marching band as well as served as both Vocal Director & Producer for the Junior High musical. She also went to Jacksonville, North Carolina, where she was the Middle School Chorus Teacher, General Music Teacher and School Musical Director at Northwoods Park Middle School.

Caitlin is truly passionate about working with all students (any age group) and about developing their love of music and their passion for performance. She believes that performance is a main outlet in advocating confidence.

Caitlin is also a firm believer in vocalists being independent musicians and fostering their musical education through solfege and sight reading. She attributes her success in sight reading to her experience in both sacred and secular music.

Sight singing and solfege are the main reasons I have had the opportunities I’ve had. Without being able to read my music, a lot of doors would have been closed to me.”

Caitlin is so proud to be a part of this wonderful institution and gathering of educators, all while following the passion of teaching.

“Caitlin is by far one of the best mentors I’ve had the pleasure of working with on my vocal adventure. She is always making sure that you are given the correct technique, the perfect song for your voice, and she opens your mind to going outside of your comfort zone. Being a student of Caitlin’s for over a year now, I’ve noticed so much growth and strength in my performance and I can’t thank her enough for everything she has done for me. She is also a great person to go to when it isn’t vocal related. I couldn’t be happier to have Caitlin in my life.” – Kaylee Skumburdes

Liz Ambrose

Elizabeth Ambrose (Liz) is from the greater Pittsburgh area and a graduate of Slippery Rock University’s Music Therapy Program. Liz has been studying classical piano for over 15 years and began teaching privately in college, where she served as the official piano tutor at Slippery Rock University.  She has studied piano under Brenda Brubaker, Dr. Henry Wong Doe, Dr. Sun Min Kim, and Dr. Glenn Utsch. At Slippery Rock, Liz also minored in guitar and studied with Pittsburgh’s great Ken Karsh.

An active performer, Liz has accompanied instrumentalists, vocalists, and theaters schools, including the IUP Wind Ensemble, during their tour to Yale University.  She has served as an accompanist in over twenty different musicals and cabarets at surrounding high schools and community theaters, SRU Theatre’s Rock Review, and multiple piano recitals. As music director, Liz produced The Little Mermaid and a Broadway Review at Ambridge High School, Slippery Rock University’s All Shook Up, Pittsburgh Proud at The Strand Theatre, and seven SRU’s Musical Theatre Society’s shows. During her senior year, she collaborated with Chase Uram and Andy Hasenpfleg as the accompanist for the Slippery Rock University dance department.

Liz is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Music Therapy at Slippery Rock University with a concentration in counseling. She is currently a graduate assistant for the college of liberal arts, where she is in charge of student engagement and public relations. Additionally, she continues to music direct, performing around the Pittsburgh area, and working for local theatre companies while growing her piano studio at Higher Voice.

“I love teaching and playing at Higher Voice Studio. I’m humbled that I can inspire future musicians and foster a love for the arts in each student, alongside such a talented and passionate staff. AND I can’t wait to meet you!”

Zach Smith

Zach Smith is a pianist and music director new to Pittsburgh and has earned his bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance from Millersville University studying under Dr. Xun Pan. He has musical directed 18 shows, mostly at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center including Ragtime, West Side Story, and Sweeney Todd. He was the music counselor for EPAC Summer Theater camps for three years. He also accompanied piano for Locust Grove United Church of Christ in York for several years. He received his MS and BA in Clinical Psychology from Millersville University and has an interest in studying the link between Mental Health and Music as well as Piano Pedagogical Techniques for students with Mental Health Disorders, especially ADHD, Autism, Depression, and Anxiety. He believes in an eclectic approach to teaching piano and a focus on developing not just pianistic skills by nurturing musicianship through theory, ear training, and music history. In his free time, Zach loves spending time with his Goldendoodle Max, watching movies, and writing music.