Partnership for After School Education


Maria Claudia Peña is a tireless champion for children, using the universality of music to provide high-quality education and artistry to children of different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.

Maria’s career was defined by her early childhood experiences. A native of Colombia, Maria participated in an afterschool children’s chorus, instilling in her a deep love for music. At the age of 16, Maria immigrated to the United States, starting 11th grade in the middle of the year without knowing how to communicate in English. Despite the obstacles that this presented, Maria persevered to pursue a degree in voice performance and went on to share her passion with the children of the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus in Jacksonville, Florida.

Today, Maria serves as the Assistant Conductor at the award-winning Young People’s Chorus of New York City (YPC), where she is the principal conductor of YPC’s Intermezzo Chorus, made up of 130 choristers ages 10-14. Approaching her work with joy, creativity, and dedication, Maria teaches vocal technique, sight-reading, music theory, and performance skills, leading the Intermezzo division in performances of diverse repertoire on some of the most prestigious stages in New York City including Carnegie Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the Apollo Theater.

In addition, Maria oversees YPC’s two after-school Community Choruses in Washington Heights and at the Goddard Riverside Community Center and serves as a conductor in YPC’s School Choruses program, bringing YPC’s unique music curriculum into New York City schools. Through these programs, YPC is able to reach young people from low-income backgrounds, many of whom are also immigrants and speak English as a second-language, and who would otherwise have little access to music education. Maria also ensures that YPC’s Community Choruses forge connections to the neighborhood, performing free concerts at community centers, schools and churches throughout the year. Maria takes the time to get to know each of the 500 children in the afterschool programs and spends the hours after rehearsals on the phone getting to know her students’ parents and guardians. By teaching her students the universal language of music, Maria unifies the group, helping her students to see that although they all may come from different backgrounds, when they sing together, each and every voice is just as important to the whole.

Maria holds a Bachelor of Music summa cum laude in Voice Performance from the University of North Florida and completed a year of post-graduate studies in choral conducting with Dr. Cara Tasher.