Singers

Sonja Bontrager | Conrad Erb | Amy Hochstetler
Nicandro Iannacci | Michael Johnson | Elissa Kranzler | Nathan Lofton
Cortlandt Matthews | Brian Middleton | Hank Miller | John Piccolini
Rebekah Reddi | Jordan Rock | Eddie Rubeiz | Lizzy Schwartz
Melinda Steffy | Emily Sung | Caroline Winschel | Michele Zuckman
 

Sonja Bontrager is an accomplished performer, composer, educator and administrator whose experience spans classical, chamber, folk and rock music. Her original indie-pop project, Sonja Sofya, just released its debut album, “Patterns We Know” in October 2016. She has performed in rooms like World Cafe Live, Boot & Saddle, The Tin Angel, and The North Star Bar (Philly), Caffe Vivaldi and Pete’s Candy Store (NYC), Club Passim (Boston), Radio Bean (Burlington, VT), The Midtown Scholar (Harrisburg), and The Black Fox (Washington, DC). Sonja is active as a songwriter, artistic collaborator, and vocalist, and has shared the stage with artists including Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady, Chris Kasper, Birdie Busch, Aaron Parnell Brown, and Joe D’Amico of Mason Porter. Sonja recently won Best Female Solo Artist at 93.7 WSTW’s 11th annual Hometown Heroes Homey Awards!

As if that’s not enough, Sonja maintains an active schedule of classical vocal performances with various choruses, chamber groups and churches around Philly. An in-demand instructor and coach, Sonja taught voice at National Guitar Workshop and Day Jams, and keys at School of Rock. She continues to maintain a successful classical piano studio in Philadelphia. She has worked as Development Associate for The Crossing (Philadelphia, PA) Education Director at the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra (Harrisburg, PA), Vice President of Operations at the Susquehanna Chorale (Hershey, PA) and in various capacities for the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. Sonja received her B.A. of Music from Messiah College (PA), where she studied composition, piano and voice. She has also studied composition with Harold Boatrite and Vocal Behavior Training with Dr. Ray Smolover. [image credit: Elizabeth Thorpe Photography]

 

Conrad Erb’s foray into music started with piano lessons at the tender age of five, which lasted for all of a few weeks. Decades later, having gained a work ethic and wisdom, Conrad is delighted to join CSS for their seventh season.

Born and raised in the wintry hinterland of Ontario, Canada, Conrad arrived in West Philly after stints in Virginia and Washington, DC. He has enjoyed singing with a variety of chamber ensembles in college, high school, and most recently with fellow Philadelphia choir PhilHarmonia.

Conrad earned a degree in Conflict Studies and Economics at Eastern Mennonite University, and prior to becoming a photographer, worked in immigration law and with Ralph Nader’s policy research group.

In his spare time, Conrad enjoys reading, the outdoors, time with family in Canada, coaxing his fixer-upper house in West Philly into better shape, and tinkering with old motorcycles.

 

Amy Hochstetler has a BA in Music from Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. Her music study began at age five with the piano and she discovered her love of choral singing in high school. A Philadelphia transplant for the last sixteen years, Amy claims no particular hometown but spent eight formative years living in Bangkok, Thailand before returning to the U.S. to attend college. She is a part-time administrative assistant and a full-time domestic goddess. She formerly sang with the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia and is regularly involved in the musical life of West Philadelphia Mennonite Church both as a pianist and a song leader. Aside from singing, she enjoys knitting, working out, hiking, and costuming for Halloween. She lives in West Philly with her husband (whom she first laid eyes on in . . . college choir) and their three energetic children.

 

Nicandro Iannacci was introduced to vocal music at age eight as one of the few boys in the children’s choir at St. Dorothy Parish in Drexel Hill. With the exception of a brief and misguided affair with the clarinet, he never strayed. He studied government at Harvard University, where he sang with the Glee Club, the University Choir, and the Krokodiloes. Since graduating, he has performed in our nation’s capital with the Choral Arts Society of Washington and in Philadelphia with Singing City and the Mendelssohn Club.

Nicandro spends his working days at the National Constitution Center, where he has the privilege of reading, writing, and podcasting about the most powerful vision of freedom ever expressed. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on the Cincinnati Reds.

 

Michael Johnson holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and a master of science degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught high school science in the School District of Philadelphia since 2009, currently at Central High School, where he teaches physics and robotics and coaches the RoboLancers–Central High School’s robotics team.

Michael grew up in Massachusetts, attending schools with excellent instrumental music, choral music, and musical theater programs. He journeyed to Japan, playing clarinet with his high school band; he sojourned in Switzerland, singing Brahms with the MIT Concert Choir; and he summered in Maine at New England Music Camp. He also explored every corner of the theater from backstage to centerstage to the pit (two highlights were playing Smudge in Forever Plaid, and directing the orchestra for Kiss Me, Kate!).

A co-founder of the Chestnut Street Singers, Michael served on the ensemble’s board from its inception until 2014, when he resigned that position to make more time for robots. Michael lives in Mount Airy with his husband Anthony and the red oak coffee table/piano bench/filing cabinet combination furniture masterpiece he designed and built last summer.

 

Elissa Kranzler grew up in West Hartford, CT, where she spent much of her childhood performing in musicals and choral concerts. You may not be surprised to hear that this curly-haired alto played the part of Annie (twice). You may be surprised to hear that she played the part of a boy (twice). At New York University, Elissa directed and sang with the NYU Cleftomaniacs, an all-female a cappella group. After college, she performed with Riverside Choral Society and Uncommon Chord, a vocal jazz ensemble. Since moving to Philadelphia in 2008, Elissa has sung with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and is a member of Tower of Song, a women’s vocal sextet.

Elissa is a Ph.D. student studying health communication at the University of Pennsylvania. When not singing, she can be found running regressions and the streets of West Philadelphia (though typically not at the same time), cooking, listening to podcasts, and attending chamber music concerts.

 

Nathan Lofton enjoys an active career as a conductor, composer, and singer. Nathan has served on the musical staffs of the Boston New Music Initiative, the New England Conservatory Contemporary Ensemble, the Tanglewood Music Center, and the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. Nathan’s compositions and arrangements have been performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the United States Navy Band, and members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Utah Symphony, and the Canadian Brass. As a former member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and Philadelphia Singers, Nathan has performed with the Boston Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestras on many occasions, including appearances at Carnegie Hall, the Lucerne and BBC Proms Festivals, and on PBS’s Great Performances.

A native of San Francisco, Nathan is a graduate of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, the New England Conservatory, and Temple University. Nathan studied composition with Michael Gandolfi and Scott Wheeler, and conducting with Paul Rardin, Charles Peltz, and Hugh Wolff. Nathan has participated in conducting masterclasses sponsored by the American Choral Director’s Association and the Oregon Bach Festival with Simon Halsey, John Nelson, and Helmuth Rilling.

Nathan lives in Center City with his girlfriend, Diana. In their free time they enjoy cooking, exploring Philadelphia on foot, and plotting their next visit to New England.

 

Cortlandt Matthews is a singer, composer, and aspiring Pokémon master. He is also a recent transplant to Philadelphia.

Primarily interested in writing vocal music, his choral music has been performed internationally by ensembles including the Westminster Choir College Williamson Voices, NOTUS Ensemble of Indiana University, Queens College Vocal Ensemble, Southold Festival Singers, Auckland Youth Choir, The Cathedral of the Incarnation Chancel Choir and Phi Mu Alpha Rho Kappa Men’s Chorale.

Cortlandt is a founding member of the Same Stream Choir, and his music appears on their first record, The Same Stream: The Inaugural Recordings. He recently earned an M.A. in Classical Composition from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, where he had the pleasure of studying with Jeff Nichols, Bruce Saylor, and James John. As an undergraduate, he studied sacred music at Westminster Choir College, working with Christian Carey, Thomas Faracco, and James Jordan.

He is very excited to be in Philadelphia, and is looking forward to his first season singing with the Chestnut Street Singers.

 

Brian Middleton began playing piano at age five and started organ lessons at age 10. By the age of 12 he was playing regularly in church in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. After earning a degree in German language and literature, he transferred to Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, where he earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in church music, organ, and choral conducting.

Brian has served churches in Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, and has concertized in those locations as well as in Switzerland and Germany. For the three summers preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall, he led music workshops and gave concerts in what was then East Germany, and was part of the team from the Lutheran Church in America that introduced handbells to the Eastern Bloc and donated two four-octave sets of handbells to churches in the German states of Thuringia and Mecklenburg. His friends there playfully refer to him as the “Father of Handbells in East Germany.”

After settling in the Philadelphia region in 1992, Brian became artistic director of the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus for seven years. He has also been artistic director of One Voice, the Twin Cities’ gay and lesbian chorus and associate conductor of The Choristers (Montgomery County). He has been on the music staff of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church since 1993, serving as bass section leader, fill-in conductor and organist, and carilloneur. When he is not making music, Brian works as a linguist, translating technical documentation from German to English and teaching German and ESL.

 

Hank Miller demonstrated little to no music ability until the age of three. At that point, to his mother’s great relief, he (finally!) showed some signs of being able to sing in tune. Debuting in his church’s cherub choir at the tender age of five, Hank hasn’t gone more than a year without singing in a choral ensemble since. Hank studied music and psychology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, but probably put more time and effort into founding and directing Interchorus, his school’s first mixed a cappella group.

Hank proceeded to use his degrees to great effect as a swim coach, where his occasional operatic outbursts received mixed reviews from children; notable descriptors included “kinda cool,” “annoying,” and “hard to hear underwater.” Away from the chlorine, Hank sang at the Kennedy Center, Folger Theatre, embassies of Italy and Luxembourg, and various churches across the DC metropolitan area. Feeling directionless as he reached the twilight years of his twenties, inspiration struck and Hank left his life-long home of Maryland for the fecund fields of Philadelphia. He is currently in his third year of a Master’s program for music therapy at Temple University and absolutely loves the city’s history, culture, murals, and sterling beer scene.

 

John Piccolini is 52 this year, which boggles his imagination. He has sung since he was 9 in choirs numerous and looks forward to this first season singing with the Chestnuts, because he was so impressed with their innovative programming, musical knowledge, and fine sound. John has been lucky to sing for many organizations across the region and elsewhere, including the Princeton Singers, the Choir at St. Clement’s Church, Musica Humana, and the Santa Fe Desert Chorale. He enjoys singing Medieval music when possible — and when he is not making music, he is spending time being a muscle therapist, a gardener, and a Cat-Dad to three fine felines.

 

Rebekah Reddi’s musical calling started with the piano at age six but transitioned into vocal performance shortly thereafter. She began singing in front of her church congregation in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, and continued performing throughout middle school and high school in choirs and musicals.

Rebekah took an unintended break from vocal performance while studying at the University of New Hampshire and early in her career as a medical writer and editor, but she soon realized that not singing was not an option.

Since then, Rebekah has sung with the Greater South Jersey Chorus, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, and as a cantor at Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church in Old City. She has been performing with the Chestnut Street Singers since 2012.

Rebekah works as an executive editor at a medical communications company. She enjoys acrylic painting, hot yoga, and spending time with her husband Sunil, their new son Cole, and their cat Ruby.

 

Jordan Rock discovered classical music with a violin in his hands, playing in orchestras, string quartets, and even a rock band. After determining that singing came more naturally to him, he tucked his violin under his bed and went off to study vocal performance and musicology at Boston University. Since graduating, he has performed in Boston with the Cantata Singers and Musica Sacra, and in Philadelphia with the Mendelssohn Club and as a core singer in the Bucks County Choral Society and the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral Singers.

After having worked with specialty foods for 10 years, Jordan is now a candidate for Master of Social Service at Bryn Mawr College. He loves living in West Philly, buying irresponsible amounts of vegetables at farmer’s markets, and making pottery. He is happiest at the dinner table with his friends and his wife, Caroline.

 

Eddie Rubeiz grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, and now lives in Point Breeze, South Philadelphia. Before moving here in 2013, he spent most of his adult life in New York City, where he sang in, conducted, and wrote for a number of choirs, most recently Elision, Cerddorion, and the choir of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. By day, he works as a software developer for Drexel University Libraries. He spends his free time exploring Philly on his bike, brewing ale, and playing the parlor organ.

 

Lizzy Schwartz has always loved to sing. She began studying music at the piano at age four in San Francisco and fell in love with choir as a sixth grader in Orlando, Florida. Something of a wanderer, she has also lived in south Jersey, Atlanta, and Oakland, and she has worked as a horseback riding instructor, camp counselor, theme park retail minion, barista, and dog handler. But in twenty years, she has never gone more than a few months without singing in a choir, and she is happy to be feeling quite settled in Philly.

Lizzy has a BA in vocal performance from Agnes Scott College, where she founded and led the college’s only student-led a cappella group, the Luchsingers. When not singing, she can be found hanging out with pets in various capacity, mostly as an assistant at a local veterinary hospital. She lives in South Philly with her two charmingly chubby cats.

 

Melinda Steffy is a visual artist and musician with a day job in nonprofit arts administration. She received an MFA in painting from the University of the Arts and has been in numerous art shows across the region. Her current paintings reinterpret music as color patterns. As a singer, Melinda studied voice with Joan Boytim and Anne Gross and has performed and recorded with numerous choirs, including Tower of Song, Shekinah, the Eastern Mennonite University Chamber Singers, the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival, and a chamber ensemble recording new hymnal music. Melinda serves as executive director of LiveConnections, a music nonprofit that presents innovative educational performances and adventurous, collaborative concerts.

 

A Philadelphia-based conductor and singer, Emily Sung is currently serving as the Assistant Chorus Master at Opera Philadelphia, the Director of the Singing City Children’s Choir, and a member of the conducting faculty at Temple University. Emily grew up in Lawrenceville, NJ and earned her MM in choral conducting from Westminster Choir College and her AB in history from Princeton University. She has appeared as a conducting fellow with the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, the Illinois Choral Conducting Symposium, and the Conductors Institute of Bard College. Her teachers include conductors Gabriel Crouch, James Jordan, Joe Miller, Amanda Quist, Joseph Flummerfelt, Andrew Megill, Simon Carrington, and Harold Farberman, as well as the Philadelphia-based pianist Sandrine Erdely-Sayo and the composer Benjamin C.S. Boyle. Though her musical life is full to the brim, she occasionally finds time to indulge in hobbies from a former life: backpacking, running, rock climbing, first aid, and reading anything and everything she can get her hands on.

 

Caroline Winschel started her musical career as a tiny thing with an even tinier violin, learning the Suzuki method as a toddler. In high school in Connecticut, she realized that singers–unlike instrumentalists–don’t have to carry anything; she made the switch and hasn’t looked back. As a double major in English and French literature at Smith College, Caroline spent as much time in the music building as in the library, and she continues to serve on the board of the Smith College Alumnae Chorus. In Paris while studying at the Sorbonne, Caroline sang with the Paris Choral Society and American Cathedral Choir; in Philadelphia while completing her master’s in English at Penn, she sang with both the Mendelssohn Club and Voces Novae et Antiquae before co-founding Chestnut Street Singers. An incurably compulsive chorister, she is also a co-founder of Tower of Song, an annual summertime immersion in women’s choir music.

Caroline manages development for Bartram’s Garden but maintains the grammatical fussiness she acquired during her four years as a book editor. She lives in West Philly with her husband and personal chef, Jordan (yep, they met through this ensemble); their three cats; and the renowned Winschel-Rock Kitchenware Collection. She enjoys baking elaborate desserts, prowling antique fairs, looking proudly at her garden, and biking in heels.

 

Michele Zuckman is the Middle and Upper School choral music teacher at Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood. Originally from Allentown, PA, Michele earned a BFA in voice performance and music education at Carnegie Mellon University and an MM in choral conducting and music education at Westminster Choir College of Rider University. Previous area musical experiences include Princeton Singers (soprano), Hopewell Valley Chorus (artistic director/conductor), and Lambertville Music School (voice faculty).

Michele lives in Havertown with her husband David, daughter Nell, four cats (Morris, Meg, Lucy, and Pumpkin Stripe), and a fluctuating number of fish. When not music-ing, Michele enjoys knitting, gardening, decluttering, and trying to get 10,000 daily steps on her pedometer.