2022 Soloists

Maria Kanyova, Soloist

Maria has been compared to Teresa Stratas as an extraordinarily gifted singing actress. Critics have hailed Maria for her ability to capture the essence of a character while maintaining exquisite singing. Robert Trussell of the Kansas City star wrote simply about her portrayal of Pat Nixon, “Her voice could stop time.” Throughout Maria’s extensive and busy performing career, she has performed leading roles with Chicago Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Dallas Opera, New York City Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Boston Lyric Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, San Diego Opera, Opera Pacific, Portland Opera, New Orleans Opera, Palm Beach Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Central City Opera, Opera Colorado, Madison Opera, Tulsa Opera, Wexford Opera Festival and Canadian Opera Company along with many other prestigious opera companies.

Of the many leading roles Maria has performed, one of her signature roles has been “Pat Nixon” in Nixon in China, which has been recorded on the Naxos Label.  Of her many career highlights, one remains the PBS telecast as “Mimi” in La bohème at New York City Opera’s Live from Lincoln Center National Broadcast. Maria's favorite role to perform continues to be Madama Butterfly for the role itself and the many times she has performed it with her own children as Butterfly’s child, Sorrow.

Maria has enjoyed the opportunity of premiering new operas and reviving more recent operas. She has created the role of "Mary" in Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene for San Francisco Opera. For Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Wexford Opera, Maria reimagined the newly reworked role of "Marie Antoinette" in the restaging of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles. Maria enjoyed singing "Blanche" in Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire for Kentucky Opera. She has also recently premiered the role of “Krystyna” in Jake Heggie’s newly reworked opera Out of Darkness with The Atlanta Opera. Other recent engagements include “Nedda” in I pagliacci and “Violetta” in La traviata with Imperial Symphony Orchestra, “Pat Nixon” in Nixon in China with San Diego Opera, the title role of Suor Angelica with Intermountain Opera Company and Opera Santa Barbara, the title role of Madama Butterfly with San Antonio Opera.  Along with Maria’s extensive operatic career, she has also been a soloist with Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, Charlotte Symphony, Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, Baltimore Symphony, Ravinia Music Festival, Grant Park Music Festival, Minnesota Symphony, Elgin Symphony and Kansas City Symphony. With years of training at the beginning of Maria's career, she is a proud alumna of Lyric Opera Center for American Artists (Ryan Opera Center), The Santa Fe Opera Apprenticeship Program, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Chorus Apprenticeship, Opera Colorado Young Artist Center and Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony now known as Opera in the Ozarks at Inspiration Point. Maria received her MM/Voice and DMA/Voice from The University of Kansas and her BME/Choral degree from UMKC where she is currently an Associate Voice Professor. Additionally, she is a visiting artist teacher at Judson University’s DCWPA. She is the founder and currently the General and Artistic Director of Midwest Opera Theater. Most importantly, Maria and her husband, Robert Kania are dedicated and proud parents to four amazing children.

Katherine Menke, Soloist

Mezzo-soprano Katherine Menke has been praised as a “versatile performer” for the blend of vocal artistry and dramatic instinct she brings to a board range of repertoire. Specializing in opera and oratorio, Menke also takes great interest in choral music, musical theatre, jazz, and popular song. She recently moved to Chicago by way of Kansas City and St. Louis, where she performed with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, The Bach Society of St. Louis, The St. Louis Symphony, Union Avenue Opera, and Winter Opera of St. Louis. Before the onset of the Covid pandemic, she was an Opera Fellow with the prestigious Aspen Music Festival and School, where she sang the role of Petra (A Little Night Music), covered the role of Taller Daughter in Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up, and “dazzled” audiences with musical numbers by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter in a ‘Cabaret Evening of American Song to Broadway’.

Other stage credits include Arminda (La finta giardiniera), L’enfant (L’enfant et les sortilèges), Hänsel (Hänsel und Gretel), Shepherd (Tosca), Prince Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus), and Sorceress (Dido and Aeneas). Her concert credits include the Duruflé Requiem, Corigliano’s Fern Hill, Mozart’s Regina coeli, Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor, and Copland’s In The Beginning. Menke received her B.M. from Webster University in St. Louis and her M.M. from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory. She has studied with (in no particular order) Dr. Maria Kanyova, Dr. Martha Hart, and Vinson Cole.

Michael Wu, Soloist

Tenor Michael Wu is an emerging professional currently based in the Kansas City area. He is actively engaged as a chorister with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and has previously performed with the company during the 2020-21 season in the role of King Kaspar (Amahl and the Night Visitors) and as a featured soloist in the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s Soundscapes concert series.

Mr. Wu recently graduated with his M.M. in Voice Performance from the University of Missouri-Kansas City where he sang the roles of Albert Herring (Albert Herring, canceled due to COVID-19), Blind (Die Fledermaus), and Belfiore (La finta giardiniera). In past seasons, Mr. Wu has also attended the Aspen Music Festival and School on scholarship as a Studio Artist; performed the roles of Nemorino (L’elisir d’amore), Nelson Deadly (Too Many Sopranos), and Ferrando (Così fan tutte) with the Little Patuxent Opera Institute; and been invited as a performance artist for the interactive exhibit Sonic Blossom (Lee Mingwei) at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Ashton Denzel Jones, Soloist

Ashton D. Jones, a proud native of Tulsa, OK, is a talented pianist, organist, choral conductor, and lyric baritone. Ashton has recently appeared as a member and soloist with the Jason Max Ferdinand Singers on the "Live from London" Voces8 platform. As an opera singer, he has appeared as Monsieur Pandolf from Massenet's Cendrillon, Masetto from Mozart's Don Giovanni, and Bluff from Mozart's The Impresario, amongst other roles. Ashton has also performed with the Houston Ebony Opera Guild Chorus and Houston Symphony Grassroots Chorus and is currently serving as the Assistant Coordinator of the COGIC Chorale of the Church of God in Christ international music department. Since high school, Ashton has served as music director/organist for several church congregations and continues in this role at the New Landmark Church of Kansas City, MO. As a Music Educator, Ashton has taught private piano and voice lessons to children and adults of all ages. Mr. Jones has also served as a public school choral director for high and middle school choirs.

Mr. Jones earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music, vocal performance from Texas Southern University (TSU). His principal instructors were Dr. Jolie Rocke, voice, and Dr. Lucian Zidaru, piano. During his tenure at TSU, Ashton held positions as student conductor and student accompanist for the TSU concert choir and opera workshop. Mr. Jones earned the Master of Music degree in vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Professor Ruth Golden.

Ashton is currently studying with Dr. Maria Kanyova at the Conservatory for Music and Dance, University of Missouri Kansas City, pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts in vocal performance.

2022 Conductors

Dr. Warren Anderson, Conductor

Dr. Warren Anderson, a 1986 graduate of Judson, feels honored and privileged to direct the choir for which he served as student business manager in 1985-1986. Dr. Anderson has taught classes in communication arts, worship arts, and music at Judson since 1991 and served as the Dean of the Chapel from 1992 to 2019. In 2012, he became the Judson University Choir Director and the Director of Judson’s Center for Worship in the Performing Arts. In late 2015, the Board of Trustees of Judson University changed the name to the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts in recognition of the many contributions of Dennis and JoAnn Demoss to the ongoing ministry of Judson University.

Dr. Jeffrey Neufeld, Conductor

Jeffrey Neufeld is Director of Music & Organist at First Congregational Church and has been a church music director and nonprofit leader for over twenty-five years. He earned a Bachelor of Music in organ performance from Wheaton College Conservatory of Music where he studied organ with Ed Zimmerman, piano with William Phemister, and choral conducting with Paul Wiens; a Master of Music in organ and church music from Northwestern University where he studied with Douglas Cleveland and Richard Webster; and a Doctor of Sacred Music in liturgical studies from the Graduate Theological Foundation in conjunction with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts in organ performance and arts administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he studies with John Chappell Stowe.

Dr. Neufeld has held several leadership positions at the local and regional level with the American Guild of Organists, the ecumenical Order of St. Luke, and the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts; and he has collaborated with numerous local musicians and ensembles including DuPage Symphony, West Suburban Choral Union, Schaumburg Youth Orchestra, and Chicago Master Singers. He often performs piano/organ duo concerts with his brother, Jeremy, who is also a church music director and concert pianist in the Seattle area. Previously, Dr. Neufeld was organist and music director at Barrington United Methodist Church in Barrington where he served for fifteen years. He and his wife, Barbara, and their children reside in Elgin.

Matthew Sheppard, Conductor

Matthew Sheppard is a Chicago-based conductor and educator. For the 2022-23 season, he is the Guest Resident Conductor at the Bienen School of Music, where he conducts the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra. He is also the Artistic Director of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Hyde Park Youth Symphony, Education Conductor of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, and Music Director of the University of Chicago Chamber Orchestra and the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company of Chicago.

As the Artistic Drector of the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, Sheppard leads a team of dedicated educators in providing a comprehensive music education to nearly 400 students and families each year. Their innovative approach to music education led to EYSO being named 2021 Youth Orchestra of the Year by the Illinois Council of Orchestras (ICO) and to Sheppard being awarded ICO Conductor of the Year in 2022.

Sheppard currently serves as president of the IL Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance (IL CMP) Committee as it encourages teaching with intention, and performing with understanding. He studied with Donald Schleicher as a doctoral candidate in orchestral conducting at the University of Illinois, and before that he earned graduate and undergraduate degrees at Penn State University.

Sheppard will be conducting the combined orchestra of the ESO, EYSO and Judson Civic Orchestra.

Robert Blazek, Conductor

Robert is a 1980 graduate of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. He earned his M.M.ed. in 1988 from VanderCook College of Music. Robert was privileged to study clarinet from Clark Brody, Larry Combs, J. David Harris and Stan Davis. He studied conducting from Margaret Hillis (Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus). He has performed as an extra with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under James Levine and Seiji Ozawa. Robert retired from his 35-year public school teaching career in 2015, where he was the Director of Bands at Monroe Middle School in Wheaton. Currently, Robert is adjunct professor at Judson University. At Judson, he teaches clarinet, saxophone and directs the jazz ensemble. He is a member of the Rockford Wind Ensemble since 2015. Robert is the Director of Music at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake.

In 1998 Robert started the Youth Jazz Ensemble of DuPage. YJED is a non-for profit 501c3 organization. In 2001 YJED was selected as a finalist for the Essentially Ellington Festival in New York City. At the EE Festival they received “Honorable Mention” status. In 2003 YJED was selected to perform with Terell Stafford at the Illinois Music Educators Association Convention in Peoria. In 2005 YJED had the honor of performing with Gordon Goodwin at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago and in 2008 YJED was selected as the winner of the “Conglomerate Division” for the Essentially Ellington Festival. In January of 2019 Robert and YJED presented a clinic and performance at IMEC entitled “Put Up Your Dukes”. YJED has had the privilege of performing/recording with such jazz greats as Mark Colby, Rob Parton, Orbert Davis, Terell Stafford, Victor Goines, Wycliffe Gordon, Steve Weist, Jamey Aebersold, Tim Coffman, Antonio Garcia, Rick Haydon and Clay Jenkins.

Robert lives in Huntley with his wife Cheri.

Meghan L. Pierson, Conductor

Meghan Pierson discovered her gift of music at an early age, picking up a tenor horn at the age of five and beginning piano lessons at six. Growing up in The Salvation Army, Meghan had many opportunities to grow as a young musician. This included summers at Salvation Army music camps where she excelled in piano, horn and voice. In addition, she received super ratings in the state Solo/ Ensemble festivals, and sang in the Michigan School Music Association (MSMA) State Honors Choirs throughout her middle and high school years.

Meghan pursued a career in vocal music education with an emphasis in piano, receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in 2003 from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois under the teachings of Dr. Ramona Wis and Barbara Vanderwall. After graduation, Meghan taught choral and general music in the public schools for ten years. During this time her performing groups received top ratings at regional and state level competitions. In addition, Meghan earned a Master’s degree in Choral Music Education and Piano Performance from Kent State University.

In 2013, Meghan joined The Salvation Army Central Territory’s Music & Gospel Arts Department in the position of Music Education, Ministry and Curriculum Specialist. In this capacity she was in demand as clinician, conductor and music camp instructor. She played solo tenor horn and served as accompanist in the Chicago Staff Band, the Salvation Army’s premier brass band for the eleven Midwestern states. In this capacity, Meghan taught and performed across the United States and Western Europe.

Missing the classroom, Meghan returned to public school teaching in 2017 in Elgin U-46 School District, the 2nd largest school district in the state of Illinois. Meghan is currently the Choral Director at Larkin High School and Abbott Middle School. She also serves as the Vocal Music Director of U-46 District’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy, housed at Larkin High School.

2022 Orchestras

Details to be added

The Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra has a national reputation for providing not only an engaging musical experience for its students, but also a comprehensive learning environment that promotes curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and collaboration. With six large ensembles, three small ensembles, and a thriving Chamber Music Institute, EYSO creates musical opportunities for hundreds of students each year with its rigorous methods of inquiry and “expert noticing.”

Students in EYSO explore a comprehensive curriculum each season—one that aims not only to help these students develop artistically and technically, but also to prepare them for a future of complex ideas, creative risk-taking, and leadership as global citizens. The dynamic and engaging rehearsals foster musical and personal growth as students develop into well-rounded and thoughtful communicators, and leaders in their sections, ensembles, schools, and communities. EYSO is an in-residence ensemble at Elgin Community College.

Details to be added

2022 Choirs

Conductor: Dr. Jeffrey Neufeld

Participating Churches:
COTC Presbyterian in Hoffman Estates
First Congregational UCC Elgin
Immanuel Lutheran Crystal Lake
Westminster Presbyterian Church Elgin

The Judson University Choir has enjoyed a long and fruitful ministry since its founding by Dr. Edward Thompson (universally known and loved as “Dr. Ed”) during Judson’s first year, 1963-1964. National and international touring soon became a hallmark of the Judson Choir, with regular visits to Eastern and Western Europe, parts of Asia, and the Caribbean. When Dr. Ed retired in 1996, Dr. Dale Voelker took the reins and continued the tradition of choral excellence, expanding the Choir’s international presence even farther into South America and China. Ten years ago, the Judson University Choir shifted its focus just a bit to become a true worship-leading ensemble, whose concerts feature specific narrative arcs, opportunities for congregational participation, a diverse repertoire, and the use of a wide variety of instrumental accompaniment.

This direction has allowed the Choir to co-minister with a number of contemporary Christian worship musicians and bands, including Chris August, Bob Bennett, The Brilliance, Michael Card, Citizen Way, The Digital Age, Branson’s The Haygoods, Aaron Niequist, Remedy Drive, and Sanctus Real. The Choir tours nationally three times per year and, during non-COVID times, overseas bi-annually with Judson alumnus and DCWPA Artist-in-Residence Rev. Dr. Huntley Brown, the internationally known concert pianist who has performed with many well-known ministries, particularly the Billy Graham Association.

Dr. Warren Anderson, a 1986 graduate of Judson, feels honored and privileged to direct the choir for which he served as student business manager in 1985-1986. Dr. Anderson has taught classes in communication arts, worship arts, and music at Judson since 1991 and served as the Dean of the Chapel from 1992 to 2019. In 2012, he became the Judson University Choir Director and the Director of Judson’s Center for Worship in the Performing Arts. In late 2015, the Board of Trustees of Judson University changed the name to the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts in recognition of the many contributions of Dennis and JoAnn Demoss to the ongoing ministry of Judson University.

The Larkin High School Concert Choir is an advanced, audition-only performing ensemble that rehearses in preparation for various performances and events throughout the school year. The Larkin High School Concert Choir is composed of talented sophomores, juniors and seniors who have been brought together by their love of music, who daily strive to create and present artistic performances that add musical and educational value not only to their school, but to the community.

Larkin High School Concert Choir’s performing highlights include a 2004 performance at the Illinois Music Educators Association Conference in 2004, a European Tour of the Les Chanteuses in 2005 and numerous performances throughout the years at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

The Larkin High School Concert Choir is extremely honored to be featured in this year's performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”

Larkin High School Concert Choir