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Performers and Presenters

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Jim Berry

Jim is a Financial Advisor and Insurance Agent at Horace Mann. He is proud to be associated with a company Founded by Educators for Educators. His agency shares Horace Mann's commitment to providing quality service and lifelong financial well-being to educators and their families through a full range of tailored insurance and financial services products. Jim graduated from the University of Iowa in 1992 with his degree in Music Education. He has been involved with music in the state of Iowa for over 30 years. Jim has had the honor of directing the University of Iowa’s Hawkeye Marching Band & Old Gold Singers, teaching at Cedar Rapids Prairie, Iowa City West High School, Bettendorf High School, and Iowa City High.

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Jim Berry
Alexander Lloyd Blake

Alexander Lloyd Blake

Dr. Alexander Lloyd Blake works as a conductor, composer/arranger, vocal contractor, singer, and music activist. Blake is the Founding Artistic Director of Tonality, an award-winning choral ensemble focused on spreading a message of unity, peace, and social justice through a culturally diverse choral setting. He also serves as the Choir Director at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) and as a Principal Associate Conductor of the National Children’s Chorus.

 

As an arranger, Blake’s “Wade in the Water” was a featured arrangement at the 2013 North Carolina Music Educators Association convention and is published with Santa Barbara Music Publishing. His choral arrangements are published by Alliance Music Publishing and Walton Music Publishing. Other musical activities include an opera conducting premiere at the 2019 Prototype Festival in New York City, preparing choirs for live performances with UCLA Center for the Art of Performance, and vocally arranging for a nationally televised performance during the 2022 MLB All-Star Game.

 

Recent film and TV credits include singing on the soundtrack of Jordan Peele’s “Us,” Disney’s “Lion King,” and Pixar’s “Spies in Disguise,” and leading sessions for Warner Bros “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and Netflix film “Escape from Spiderhead.” Blake also worked as the choral contractor and vocal arranger for Andy Grammer’s performance at the 2019 ARDYs (Radio Disney Awards). Blake recently prepared singers for the 2020 Grammy Awards and performed at the 92nd Academy Awards.

 

Blake completed the Doctorate in Musical Arts degree at the University of Southern California in 2019, the Master of Music degree at the University of California Los Angeles in 2014, and the Bachelor of Arts degree (cum laude) in Vocal Performance at Wake Forest University in 2010.

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Timothy Brown

Timothy Brown

Tim was a chorister at Westminster Abbey, and later an alto choral scholar at King's College, Cambridge, under the direction of Sir David Willcocks. Following his time in college, Tim went on to become a lay clerk at New College, Oxford, and later worked as a schoolteacher for a number of years.

 

In 1979 he succeeded John Rutter as Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge and Director of the college choir. In his time at Clare he released several acclaimed recordings with the choir (largely on the Naxos label) by composers including Rutter, Vaughan Williams and Stainer.


In 1986 he re-founded the Cambridge University Chamber Choir, directing annual performances of all the major Bach and Handel oratorios. He later founded the London-based professional chamber choir, English Voices. He has edited a number of choral volumes for Faber Music and is a contributing editor to the complete edition of music by William Walton, published by Oxford University Press. In 2010, after 30 years in the role, he retired as Director of Music at Clare College, and became Visiting Director of the choir of Robinson College, Cambridge.

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Karen Brunssen

Karen serves as Co-chair of the Department of Music Performance at Northwestern University. Brunssen is currently the Immediate Past-President of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) and served as President and President-Elect from 2016-2020. She was Program Chair for the 2016 54th NATS National Conference in Chicago, was a NATS Intern Master Teacher in 2013, was governor of NATS Central Region from 2013 to 2016 where she expanded activities to include an annual conference along with student auditions. She has been a member of the esteemed American Academy of Teachers of Singing since 2013, was president of the Chicago Singing Teachers Guild, and vice president and president of Chicago Chapter NATS where she started the annual vocal competition. She is author of The Evolving Singing Voice: Changes Across the Lifespan published in 2018 by Plural Publishing. It chronicles changes in respiration, vibration and resonance, and the impact on realistic, age appropriate expectations for vocal development throughout a lifetime of singing.

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Karen Brunssen

Maria Ellis

Maria A. Ellis is a passionate music educator and conductor. She is the owner of Girl Conductor LLC, which specializes in diverse music education resources and serves as the Artistic Director of The Sheldon’s All-Star Chorus and the University of Missouri-St. Louis Voices of Jubilation Ensemble. 

Maria is a highly sought after clinician, adjudicator and presenter throughout the United States and abroad. She holds a B.M. in Music Education emphasis on Voice (K-12 Certified) Degree from the University of Missouri- St. Louis, Level 3 Certification from the CME Institute for Choral Teacher Education and is currently pursuing her Masters of Arts Degree with emphasis on Choral Conducting from Webster University. Maria is the host of the Award-Winning Radio Show "Bach and Beyoncé'' and “American Gospel with Maria A. Ellis” on Classic 107.3, The Voice for the Arts in St. Louis. 

This past June Maria made her Carnegie Hall Debut as a conductor and was awarded The St. Louis Arts and Education 2023 Arts Innovator Award as well as the St. Louis Suburban Music Educators Association 2023 Merit Award Winner. Maria is an active member of the American Choral Directors Association, National Association of Music Educators where she is the Chair Elect for Choral Music Education Council, Missouri Alliance for Arts Education, where she is chair of the RIDE (Race, Inclusion, Diversity & Equity) Committee and a member of the Chorus America Board. Maria is the wife of Marion Ellis and the mother of Aria, Kendal and Noah Ellis.

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Maria Ellis

Sarah Fairfield

Sarah M. Fairfield is an accomplished music educator with over 20 years of teaching experience.  In 2010, she earned a Ph.D. in Music Education from The University of Iowa, while researching the development of musical creativity in children.  

As a dedicated educator, she studied the art of teaching music to children by completing Level I, II, and III, as well as two Master Classes, in the Orff-Schulwerk approach.  She has taken courses in Dalcroze, Kodály, and World Music Drumming.                                                                                                    

Sarah currently works as a Leadership Development and Support Strategist for the Iowa City Schools. She regularly presents at state MEA conferences and is a guest lecturer at the University of Iowa.  Sarah recently co-authored the book Strum, Strike, Sing & Play – Artfully Adding Ukulele in the General Music Classroom and is an active member of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association.

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Marques L.A. Garrett

A Virginia native, Marques L. A. Garrett (he/him) is Associate Professor of Choral Studies at the University of North Texas. His responsibilities include conducting the University Singers and teaching graduate and undergraduate choral conducting. His previous appointments were at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and Cheyney University. Additionally, he holds a PhD in Music Education (Choral Conducting) from Florida State University, an MM from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and a BA from Hampton University.

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Robyn Hilger

Robyn is the Executive Director of National ACDA and is an expert in nonprofit leadership, fundraising, and strategic innovation and development. The overarching theme of her work is meeting the identified needs of historically marginalized and under-resourced communities. A seasoned nonprofit executive, Robyn brings a wealth of experience in education, administration, fundraising, grant writing, and strategic innovation. A native Oklahoman, Robyn is a classically trained clarinetist. She graduated with high honors in 1999 from Oklahoma City University with a bachelor’s degree in instrumental music education. In 2010, Robyn completed her master’s degree in school administration from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is currently pursuing her doctorate of education in administration and leadership at Southern Nazarene University. She is a National Board-Certified Teacher in early adolescence/young adult music with specialization in band.

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Ann Howard Jones

Ann Howard Jones is professor emerita at Boston University. She conducted the Symphonic and Chamber Choruses, supervised conducting students in the Concert Chorus and the Women's Chorale, taught graduate choral conducting, and administered the MM and DMA programs in choral conducting. She was also the conductor of the BU Tanglewood Institute Young Artists' Vocal Program Chorus, an auditioned ensemble of high school singers which rehearsed and performed at Tanglewood in the summer.

 

Recognized as a distinguished clinician, adjudicator, teacher, and conductor, she has led many all state and regional choruses, workshops, and master classes in the U.S., Europe, South America, Canada, and Asia. From 1984-1998, Jones was the assistant conductor to the late Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony choruses, where she was assistant conductor for choruses, sang in the alto section, assisted with the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers, and helped to organize the Robert Shaw Institute. She sang and recorded with the Festival Singers both in France and in the U.S. After Shaw's death in 1999, Jones was invited to conduct the Robert Shaw Tribute Singers for the American Choral Directors Association conferences in San Antonio and Orlando.

Among the honors which Jones has received are the coveted Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching from Boston University, a Fulbright professorship to Brazil, and a lectureship for the Lily Foundation. She was named the recipient of the Robert Shaw Choral Award for distinguished service to the profession by the American Choral Directors Association and received Chorus America’s Distinguished Service Award in 2014.

Fred Kiser

Fred is Director of Vocal Activities at Kirkwood Community College based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Previously, Fred was a Director of Music at First Presbyterian Church and also held positions at Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale and Coe College. Fred received a Master of Arts degree from University Of Missouri and a Doctor of Choral Conducting from University Of Iowa. 

 

Dr. Fred Kiser is Director of Vocal Activities at Kirkwood Community College, where he conducts the Concert Choir, Chambers Singers and Jazz Transit, co-directs musical productions, and teaches courses in music theory and history. Dr. Kiser is the former director of the Cedar

Rapids Concert Chorale and has directed choirs at Coe College, Cornell College and the University of Northern Iowa. Dr. Kiser received his DMA from The University of Iowa in 2010 in Choral Conducting, studying with Dr. Timothy Stalter. Prior to his time in Iowa, Dr. Kiser served at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri as head of the music program. He is an active clinician and adjudicator in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri.

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Madison Choral Project

From soul-searching to social justice, Madison Choral Project infuses relevant and heart-centered themes throughout their performances. “As much time and focus as music does pay to the brilliant composers that came before us,” Pinsonneault (Artistic Director) said, “it should also be reactive to our modern concerns. If we’re not responding to what people are worried about today, do we have any relevance at all? The function of art is not just to be pretty. The function of art is to engage people’s minds and spirits and hearts.” 

 

Over the last 10 years, The Madison Choral Project has presented 24 concert projects, and commissioned and premiered 13 new compositions. More than 5,300 people have experienced the Madison Choral Project’s rich and unique sounds, exposure to exhilarating repertoire, and evocative and contemplative messages; leaving with a full heart and mind.

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Sam Mulligan

Samual Mulligan is a Pop/R&B recording artist & songwriter based out of Nashville, Tennessee. He is a recent graduate of Belmont University where he studied Commercial Vocal Performance as well as Music Business. After releasing his first album at the end of 2020, Samual has spent the last year writing and recording new music as well as performing his music live at professional venues in Music City. He just released his first single of 2022 called “Faraway” on all platforms. Originally from central Illinois, Sam was a graduate of Mt. Zion High School as well as an alumni of the Swingsations. Along with being a professional songwriter and artist, Sam is also a freelance choreographer and clinician for many different show choir programs across the country.

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Tonina Saputo

Tonina, an accomplished vocalist, bassist, and songwriter based in Los Angeles, hails from St. Louis, Missouri, where her musical journey began. Raised in a family of diverse musicians, Tonina's musical roots traverse Funk, Soul, Jazz, Classical, Folk, and Rock genres. Her upbringing, blending Black and Sicilian heritage, fostered a deep connection to music from an early age, with her initiation into Upright bass at just 8 years old.

Since her graduation from Berklee College of Music, Tonina has shared the stage with Grammy-Award-winning musicians, including the likes of Lalah Hathaway. Her musical journey has taken her across the globe, from enchanting audiences at the Catania Jazz Festival in Sicily to earning recognition as one of NPR's favorite new artists of 2018. Notably, her rendition of "Historia de un Amor" found a place on former President Barack Obama's top songs list for 2018, further cementing her as an artist of remarkable distinction.

Tonina, along with her band, continues to enthrall audiences in Los Angeles and beyond, showcasing her exceptional talent and passion for music that transcends boundaries.

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Adriana Tam

A native Texan, Dr. Adrianna Tam is an Assistant Professor of Music at Luther College, where she directs Aurora and the Collegiate Chorale. Tam’s philosophy in directing Aurora and Collegiate is to build a strong community among her musicians, and work to understand her choirs before beginning to shape them. 

 

Before coming to Luther, Tam served as Assistant Director of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Randolph Macon College, where she directed two ensembles. Prior to that position, she also conducted choirs at University of Michigan, and served as assistant ​​conductor at the Weimar Bach Cantata Academy. Tam earned her DMA in choral conducting from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, MA in choral conducting from the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Graz, Austria, and an MM degree in choral conducting from Yale School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music. 

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Erik Taylor

Erik is a Mississippi native and obtained a degree in Music Education from Delta State University in Cleveland, MS. Mr. Taylor has 15 years of experience in choral music, show choir, arranging, and church music. Under his direction, Mr. Taylor’s ensembles have accumulated several championship and caption awards on the regional and national scale. Along with his position at Mt. Zion, Mr. Taylor also serves as the Music Director/Organist for Greater Northside Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur, IL. In his spare time, Mr. Taylor enjoys cooking and watching SEC college football.

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James Thompson

Since 2009, Dr. James Thompson has appeared throughout Iowa with international opera star Simon Estes, as part of the Roots and Wings tour, under the auspices of the Simon Estes Foundation. He is in demand as a performer and soloist, frequently appearing with area colleges, universities, and professional organizations. Additionally, Dr. Thompson is sought after as a guest clinician and adjudicator for many regional musical events.

 

Dr. Thompson serves as Director of the Music Department at Des Moines Area Community College. In addition to his administrative responsibilities at DMACC, he directs two choral ensembles, teaches applied voice and piano, and teaches Music Appreciation. Dr. Thompson holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Cornell College, Master of Music degree in voice performance from Boston University, and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in vocal performance and pedagogy from the University of Iowa.

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Tonality

Established in 2016, Tonality is an award-winning ensemble known for “open hearted singing” (Lauri’s List). Tonality was recently recognized as a 2024 GRAMMY® winner in New Age, Ambient, or Chant Album for Carla Patullo's "So She Howls" with the Scorchio Quartet.               

 

Tonality is led by founder and Artistic Director Alexander Lloyd Blake. Blake imagined Tonality as an ensemble that represents the diverse cultures and ethnicities within the Los Angeles area. Within a year of its forming, Tonality’s mission evolved to use their collective voices to present concerts on themes of social justice in hopes to act as a catalyst toward empathy and community activism. 

 

Tonality is the recipient of the 2020 Chorus America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, a prize given for commitment to singing and commissioning new works.

Tonality has collaborated with choral composers and film composers to create the works presented in concert, striving for diverse voices and perspectives within the composer community. Collaborators include Joe Trapanese, Roman Gianarthur, Gaayatri Kaundinya, Reena Esmail, Shawn Kirchner, Zanaida Robles, Moira Smiley, Alex Wurman and composer Michael J. Giacchino. Tonality has performed with MacArthur Fellow Taylor Mac, Pete Townsend of The Who, pianist Lara Downes, internationally acclaimed performer Björk and most recently Dutch DJ Tiësto and Kelly Clarkson in support of her album Chemistry.

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Mari Esabel Valverde

Mari Esabel Valverde has been commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association, Boston Choral Ensemble, Cantus, the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses, Los Angeles Master Chorale, One Voice Mixed Chorus, Portland’s Resonance Ensemble, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, Seattle Men’s and Women’s Choruses, and the Texas Music Educators Association. Her music appears on multiple albums: Ensemble Vocapella Limburg’s Vom Werden und Vergehen—Songs of Life and Death, Peninsula Women’s Chorus’s Women Making Waves, Cantus’s The Covid-19 Sessions, the International Orange Chorale of San Francisco’s Hope in Times of Disquiet,  SACRA/PROFANA’s A Longing for Christmas, Seattle Pro Musica’s Solstice: Music of  Light for the Holidays, Resonance Ensemble’s LISTEN, and Eric Ferring and Madeline Slettedahl’s No Choice But Love: Songs of the LGBTQ+ Community.

She has also built a reputation as a singer, educator, adjudicator, and translator. She has sung on the rosters of Dallas Chamber Choir, EXIGENCE Vocal Ensemble, and Border CrosSing. Following six years as a high school classical voice instructor, she spent two years specializing in transgender voice training. Proficient in Spanish, French, and Brazilian Portuguese, she has translated numerous vocal works and documents including phonetic guides of Ravel’s opera L’Enfant et les Sortilèges and Villa-Lobos’s Rasga o Coração.

A native of North Texas, she holds degrees from St. Olaf College, the European American Musical Alliance in Paris, France, and San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers and the American Choral Directors Association.

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