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Our Team!

Benwar Shepard

Founder & Executive Director

Benwar Shepard was raised in South Sacramento receiving his education in the Elk Grove Unified School District K through 12 schools. Shepard received his Bachelor’s and Master's degrees in Music Education from the Conservatory of Music at the University of the Pacific. He has taught music in public schools in Stockton Unified and Elk Grove Unified School Districts. Shepard has taught music in churches, homeless shelters, parks, community centers, apartments, and various school settings. Shepard has spent the last 6 years teaching music at Valley High School and Jackman Middle School in Elk Grove Unified School District and is now teaching full time at Jackman Middle School. His passion for actively taking arts education to the heart of the community-led him to establish 501(c)3 non-profit Bigger Than Us Arts.  


Mr. Shepard is the Director of Education at the Department of Sound, is the former Co-director for the Sacramento youth bands jazz ensemble and combos, is an active member of Element Brass Band, and performs with several New Orleans Style Brass Band throughout California. It is also part of his life purpose to unify the community through arts and has used Instrument and Art Petting Zoos, leading adult and youth brass bands, and teaching and providing instruction in both public and private settings to accomplish this. He is very excited about the launching of the Sacramento Brass Band Collective which will combine the efforts of several Sacramento Brass Bands to promote arts throughout the streets in our city.

 Teaching Artist

Byron Colborn

Saxophonist Byron Colborn is a Program Manager and Teaching Artist for Bigger Than Us Arts. Byron grew up in Davis, CA and is a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. Byron currently teaches our Woodwind Ensemble on Thursdays from 3:00 - 5:00 pm, as well as private lessons that are tailored to your schedule. Byron has been a prominent performer, bandleader, and teacher in Sacramento for more than a decade. He is the leader of many groups including the Element Brass Band, his own 18-piece Big Band, and a variety of small groups. Byron also performs often as a sideman with vocalist Peter Petty. Sign up to study with Byron at

 Teaching Artist/ Program Manager

Dominic Garcia

Dominic Garcia began playing drums at the age of seven. By 1991, after being percussion section leader in Marching, Jazz and Concert Band, as well as a founding member of the Sacramento band, Deftones, Garcia began a lifelong journey of study in world beat percussion. By 1996, he became a member of the Afro Cuban drum and dance group, Ebo Okokan. Under the apprenticeship of Harold and Beatrice Muñiz-Godinez. he learned the standard repertoire of Afro-Cuban drum song and dance. Dominic continues to perform with Ebo Okokan. By 2000, Dominic was involved variety of music projects, recording and arranging. In 2005, he became a student at California State University, Sacramento under the instruction of Stephen Blumberg and Dr. Daniel Kennedy. Dominic also has performed and recorded with the Sacramento State Latin Jazz ensemble for which the group had received a Downbeat award for their performance and 2008 recording entitled, “Havana”. In 2006, Dominic co-founded Latin American folk group, Paloma Negra in Sacramento in response to a Craiglist ad by co-founder Araceli Collazo. In 2007, Paloma Negra released a full length CD entitled, “En Otros Ojos”. In 2008, Paloma Negra was invited to perform in Monterrey, Mexico, presenting a repertoire of music in celebration of  Dia de Muertos. In 2010, Paloma Negra was commissioned to record a second release entitled, “Altar”.  Dominic is also a touring musician. Having traveled to Australia and England as an acompaist for Def Jam poet and Emmy award nominated, Liza Garza. In addition, Garcia also produced and recorded Garza’s second CD, “Swallow the Sun”. Garcia has also toured as a percussionist with world beat box champion and “America’s Got Talent” finalist, Butterscotch performing in Taiwan and the 2014 Java Jazz festival in Indonesia. Garcia is currently a freelance artist and instructor in Sacramento.

Jose Ortiz

 Teaching Artist

 I was born in Mexico and brought to the United states at the age of 8. I have lived in south Sacramento for as long as I've been here. I received my education in the Elk Grove Unified School District from 3rd grade to 12th grade. Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents bought me my first guitar when I was three and from there my love for music began. I began properly playing music at the age of 12. I started playing guitar then later switched to bass guitar because I wanted to join my high school marching band then later on I transitioned to tuba. I’ve been very fortunate in the sense that I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to play several instruments, some of those include piano, bass, guitar, all the brass instruments, woodwinds, drums and others. I’m now a performing musician, and an educator. I’m currently working on my BM in music education at the California State University of Sacramento. My goal is to one day be a music teacher and give back to the communities who are less fortunate. I want to provide kids with the same outlet that was one day bestowed upon me. Looking forward to working with you and/ or your little one! 

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 Teaching Artist/ Program Manager

Samuel Phelps

Samuel Phelps is a multi-instrumentalist and producer born and raised in Sacramento, California.  He has been playing bass and piano professionally for 20 years now and has toured the country extensively with multiple projects.  He has been involved in the release of many albums as a performer, engineer, and producer.  He has been working with BTU for almost ten years providing much needed musical education to the schools in his community.  Samuel brings his passion for songwriting and making beats to his o\ole as administrator for BTU's beats/podcasts classes, a curriculum that is being taught all over Sacramento and beyond.  

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Justin Au

 Teaching Artist/ Program Manager


Justin is an alumnus of the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society’s jazz education programs and one of the finest high-school jazz programs in the nation. Playing a variety of jazz styles, he has toured New York, Japan, Puerto Rico, China, and Brazil.  He has also played at jazz festivals all over the nation. While living in San Luis Obispo, he served as co-director of the official youth band of the Basin Street Regulars Jazz Society in Pismo Beach, and has worked as a clinician with student musicians at the Teagarden Jazz Festival. As a passionate music educator, he has taught after-school jazz programs in San Juan and Sac City for 4 years, substitute taught in music for 2 years, and became a fully credentialed teacher in 2019. He currently serves as the Director of Jazz Ensembles for the Sacramento Youth Band (since 2018), and instrumental music teacher for Vacaville Unified School District (since 2019). Justin can be heard regularly with various groups such as The Crescent Katz, Peter Petty, Harley White Jr. Orchestra, Jessica Malone, The West End Stompers, Element Brass Band, City of Trees Brass Band, and the Cunha Big Band. He is thrilled to be a part of the BTU Arts team to help provide the incredible outlet of music to our area’s next generation.

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