Singers

Sonja Bontrager | Lucas DeJesus | Conrad Erb | Amy Hochstetler
Richard Hill | Michael Johnson | Elissa Kranzler | Nathan Lofton
Cortlandt Matthews | Hank Miller | Rebekah Reddi | Jordan Rock
Rebecca Roy | 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]

 

Lucas DeJesus, bass-baritone, is a freelance classical singer based in Philadelphia, PA. He currently performs with the Opera Philadelphia chorus, most recently appearing in Tancredi, Turandot, L’elisir d’amore, Cold Mountain, and Don Carlo. Lucas sings as a core member of Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club, performing regularly at the Kimmel Center and greater Philadelphia area. As a member of the new Philadelphia Symphonic Choir, he will be sharing the stage with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the coming season for Haydn’s The Seasons, Handel’s Messiah, and Puccini’s Tosca. This past spring, Lucas helped found and serves on the board of the Glassbrook Vocal Ensemble, a new chamber choir based in Ewing, NJ. For the past three summers, Lucas has performed and recorded with The Same Stream Choir, of which he is a founding member, and can be heard on their Inaugural Recordings. Previous engagements include performances with the Philadelphia Singers, who performed Wang Ning’s Ode to Humanity at the 69th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. Upon its founding, Lucas performed with Vox Populi, Delaware’s new and only professional chamber ensemble. He has performed with Opus One: Berks Chamber Choir (PA) as the bass soloist for Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri and Handel’s Lord Nelson Mass and will be joining them again this season as a soloist for Bach’s Jesu, meine Freude. Lucas regularly cantors and serves as bass section leader at Our Mother of Consolation in Chestnut Hill, PA and Annunciation BVM in Havertown, PA. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Voice Performance from Westminster Choir College where he performed with the Grammy® nominated Westminster Williamson Voices, Westminster Kantorei, and Westminster Symphonic Choir.

 

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.

 

Richard Hill’s earliest musical memories include sitting at the top of the basement steps of his South Philly home listening to his father’s band jam to Peaches En Regalia, listening to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin CDs with his mother, singing Ben Folds Five songs with his sister on car rides, watching the same VHS of Genesis live in 1973 every day until he could sing the keyboard solos front to back, and occasionally stealing his sister’s fourth grade flute so he could pretend to play like Peter Gabriel.

From the age of six, Rich began to teach himself guitar and piano by ear with the guidance of his father. He graduated from Hempfield High School in Lancaster County participating in choir, band, jazz band, musical theater, and music theory under the direction of Dr. Alan Mudrick and Adam Gumble. Rich then attended Temple University for music education with a vocal concentration under the direction of Dr. Paul Rardin and Dr. Mitos Andaya Hart, where he performed and recorded choral pieces commissioned by composers Eriks Ešenvalds, Donald McCullough, and Dick Oatts.

Rich currently lives in Philadelphia and is attending Temple University, studying construction engineering. He works in Rittenhouse Square as a bartender at a café that specializes in wines and cheeses. You can find him performing acoustic gigs with his father in Delaware County and ‘down the shore’ in his free time.

 

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, baritone, enjoys an active career as a conductor, composer, singer, and educator. Nathan is a former Music Director of the Boston New Music Initiative and has also served on the music staffs of the Tanglewood Music Center and the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. Nathan’s arrangements have been performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the United States Navy Band, and members of the Boston, San Francisco, and Utah Symphony Orchestras. Recent commissions have included arrangements for the Temple University Theater Department, Philadelphia Mural Arts, and the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. As a professional choral singer, 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. At present, Nathan is on the faculty of Widener University, where he directs the Widener Chorale; a board member of the Boston New Music Initiative and the Chestnut Street Singers; and on the music staff of Opera Philadelphia.

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 has 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, Chorus America, and the Oregon Bach Festival with Simon Halsey, Helmuth Rilling, and Robert Spano.

Nathan lives in Center City with his fiancée, 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.

 

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.

 

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 performance with a violin in his hands, playing in orchestras, string quartets, and even a rock band. After finding that singing came more naturally to him, he tucked his violin under his bed and studied vocal performance and musicology at Boston University, where his teachers included Anne Howard Jones, Phyllis Hoffman, and Mark Goodrich. Since graduating, Jordan has sung with Boston’s Cantata Singers and Musica Sacra and in Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club. He is currently a core singer at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral with Thomas Lloyd.

After having worked with specialty foods for ten years, Jordan is now pursuing his master’s degree in social work 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.

 

Rebecca Roy is a Philadelphia-based vocalist joining Chestnut Street Singers for her first season. Rebecca has appeared as a soloist with the Princeton Music Festival, Marion Philharmonic Orchestra, and Concert Artists of Baltimore. Her opera credits include The Princeton Festival’s Peter Grimes, Fidelio, and Opera Delaware’s Falstaff. She sang the role of Antoinette in world premiere performances of the operetta Qadar, at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage and Clarice Smith Preforming Arts Center. Written by Tony Small, Qadar was funded by a partnership between the Smithsonian Institute and His Majesty the Sultan of Oman. In the U.S. premier performances of Mansfield Park by Jonathan Dove, Rebecca preformed the role of Lady Bertram, which included a handsome pug companion named Jack. In 2016 Rebecca was awarded Third Place, Mezzo Soprano Category, at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, which was broadcast live on BBC Wales Radio and Television.
Rebecca received her undergraduate training at Indiana Wesleyan University and attained her Master of Music from the Peabody Conservatory where she studied with Denyce Graves. This season, along with Chestnut Street Singers, Rebecca will be singing with Baltimore Concert Opera, Wilmington Concert Opera, Messiah 2.0, and the Cathedral Choir of Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. She currently resides in West Philly and in her spare time is found drinking coffee, watching old movies and debating why her home state of Maine is the most beautiful state of all.

 

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 has been singing in choirs and steering small non-profits since fifth grade. As a founding Chestnut, she is delighted to have had so many opportunities in this ensemble to merge those passions.

Caroline is a graduate of Smith College and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to her five years on the Chestnut Street Singers board, her volunteer credits include two terms as the youngest-ever president of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, two terms as vice president of the Smith College Alumnae Chorus, and a current stint on the executive committee of the her local Democratic ward. She is also a co-founder of Tower of Song, an annual summertime immersion in women’s choir music.

Caroline directs fundraising for Bartram’s Garden and maintains the grammatical fussiness she acquired while working as a book editor. She lives in West Philly with her husband and personal chef, Jordan (yep, they met through this ensemble); their four cats; and the renowned Winschel-Rock Kitchenware Collection. She enjoys baking elaborate desserts, tackling complex home-improvement projects (DIY upholstery!), 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, and many pets, including cats, fish, and Sssteve the corn snake. When not music-ing, Michele enjoys knitting, gardening, decluttering, and trying to get 10,000 daily steps on her pedometer.