Artistic Staff

Michelle Bendett
Artistic Director, Conductor of Anima

Inspired by a love of people and driven by the philosophy that singing is for all, Michelle Bendett prioritizes community building and meaningful music making in each of her roles in Northfield, Minnesota. Michelle serves as Artistic Director for Northfield Youth Choirs and conducts Anima, NYC’s treble choir for grades 6-12. Additionally, Michelle is choir director at Northfield Middle School, where she leads 200+ vibrant voices in choral ensembles and provides solo and small group voice lessons.

Michelle has taught music at the elementary, middle, and high school levels since beginning her career in 2000. Michelle taught in Florida before relocating to Minnesota, and is a native of Long Island, New York. Choirs under her direction have consistently earned the highest ratings at performance assessments and have been selected to perform at state conferences on multiple occasions. High enrollment in her choirs has garnered state recognition and her students continually sing in state, regional and national honor choirs. A strong advocate for music education, Michelle is very proud to have former students and former student teachers who are now inspiring students of their own across the country.

Michelle earned her Bachelor of Choral Music Education and Master of Music Education from Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. She is indebted to Dr. Judy Bowers, Dr. Andre Thomas, Dr. Clifford Madsen, Dr. Kevin Fenton, Professor Roy Delp, E. Jason Armstrong, Carolyn Clark, Shelle Waller, Larry Wurtzel, Besty Cohen and countless other teachers for their mentorship, instruction, and care.

Michelle joyfully serves as an adjudicator, clinician and honor choir guest conductor. Active in professional organizations, she recently concluded her tenure as National Honor Choir Coordinator for the American Choral Directors Association, which culminated in the creation of the National Student Leadership Academy for the 2021 Virtual Conference. Michelle’s greatest role is raising an upcoming chorister of her own, her daughter, Aïda.

Leigh Ann Garner
Conductor of Junior Singers

Dr. Leigh Ann Garner is an Assistant Professor of Music Education at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Prior to her appointment at St. Olaf, she taught elementary classroom and choral music for 23 years in the Hastings Public School District (ISD#200). Garner also serves as the Director of the Kodály Institute at the University of St. Thomas, where she teaches pedagogy courses Levels I and II, Folksong Analysis and Materials, and Kodály Master Class.

A sought-after clinician, leader, and facilitator, Garner teaches interactive workshops throughout the United States specializing in early childhood music, Kodály-inspired pedagogy, curriculum development, standards-based assessments, and undergraduate music pedagogy. In 2016 she was honored as a Teacher of Excellence, and respectively in 2017 as an Employee of the Semester by the Hastings School District.

Over the past 20 years Garner has served in leadership roles at the state and national level for a number of music organizations. Currently, she serves on the Teacher Education Committee of the Organization of American Kodály Educators. In 2019 she and colleagues throughout the country co-authored Kodály-Inspired Benchmarks for Grades 3-5 that align with the National Core Arts Standards.

Garner is also the co-author of Music and Movement: a music curriculum for children ages one-five. Her most recent publication, Cultivating Creative Musicians is a resource designed for elementary music teachers. In addition, she is a contributing author for MacMillan McGraw/Hill music textbook series. Garner holds an EdD from the University of St. Thomas, an MA in Music Education from the University of St. Thomas, and a BA in Vocal Music Education from St. Olaf College.

Dr. Therees Hibbard
Conductor of the Chorale

Dr. Therees Hibbard Therees Tkach Hibbard serves as the director of the Manitou Singers and St. Olaf Chamber Singers. She is presently an Associate Professor of Music at St. Olaf College where she teaches choral conducting, choral literature, and voice. She holds a bachelor of music honors degree in voice and music education from Longwood University, Virginia; a master of music degree in voice and choral conducting from Colorado State University; and a doctor of musical arts degree in choral conducting and vocal music education from the University of Oregon School of Music.

She has conducted choirs ranging from young children to professional singers; and has served as adjudicator, workshop leader, and guest conductor for numerous choral organizations throughout Great Britain, Europe and North America; as well as Greece, Hong Kong and Muscat, Oman. Dr. Hibbard has worked as a choral conductor, singing tutor and senior lecturer at several United Kingdom colleges and universities in the London area including the London College of Music, the Royal College of Music Junior Department, and Roehampton University where she served as Programme Convener for the M.A. in choral music education, establishing the first BBC Singers Conducting Master Class Residency program. She has also served as a tutor for the Choral Conductors Training Course for the Association of British Choral Directors that she helped develop and implement throughout the United Kingdom. Dr. Hibbard was the artistic director of the Choir and Chamber Choir of the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London; both non-audition ensembles made up of students, faculty, staff, and alumni who presented three major choral/orchestral concerts each year. Highlight performances have included the Bach “St. John Passion” and B Minor Mass, Requiems of Brahms, Mozart, and Verdi, Elgar’s “The Dream of Gerontius,” Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, and Fanshawe’s African Sanctus, as well as premiering a variety of new compositions and chamber works during her eight years of tenure with the choirs.

Her work as a movement specialist in the training of choral singers has created unique opportunities for her to work with choirs and conductors from around the world. Her research on enhancing choral performance through movement training has led to the development of a comprehensive choral education philosophy, most clearly demonstrated through her work with a broad range of vocal ensembles including the Oregon Bach Festival’s Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy, The Animato Choir of Lesvos, Greece, and The American Boychoir. In addition to her work as a conductor, she has also performed professionally as both vocal soloist and chorus member in London and the United States. She has sung for composers and conductors such as Aaron Copland, Helmuth Rilling, Mistlav Rostropovich, and Sir David Willcocks; and has had the opportunity to premiere works by Arvo Pärt, Krystof Penderecki, and a vocal chamber piece by Shostakovich conducted by Rostropovich in Carnegie Hall. She has been a member of the Oregon Bach Festival Berwick Chorus for many years, and while under the direction of Helmuth Rilling, were recipients of the Grammy award in 2000 for their performance of CREDO by Penderecki. Prior to her appointment to the St. Olaf faculty, she served for ten years as Associate Director of Choral Activities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Reid Larsen
Conductor of Troubadours

Reid Larsen is a choir director at Apple Valley High School and Valley Middle School of STEM. He directs Apple Valley High School’s annual review show “Broadway” as well as other curricular and co-curricular ensembles. In addition to his teaching duties, Reid is a freelance arranger and adjudicator.

Previous to his current role, Reid was a Choir and Theater director at Cottage Grove Middle School and was an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas. In 2017 Reid was awarded the Outstanding Young Choir Director award from ACDA of Minnesota. An active member in ACDA, he co-chairs the annual 7th-8th Grade TTB Honor Choir and previously served as the Repertoire and Resources Chair for Middle School/Jr. High Choirs in the state of Minnesota. Previously, Reid presented at the ACDA National Conference, the North Central ACDA Regional Conference and served as guest clinician for the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Middle Level Honor Choir Festival.

Reid holds a Masters in Music Education from the University of St. Thomas where he studied with Dr. Angela Broeker and a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. While attending UW-Eau Claire, he acted as assistant director to Dr. Alan Rieck and a student conductor of The Singing Statesmen under the direction of Dr. Gary Schwartzhoff.

Reid and his wife, Laura, are the proud parents of two incredible boys, Kai and Eli.

Nicole Thietje
Conductor of the Treble Choir

Nicole Thietje is Choral Director at New Prague High School, where she directs four curricular choirs and three extra-curricular groups, including an auditioned, competitive show choir. She is also Music Director and Choreographer for the musical at NPHS. Prior to teaching at NPHS, she taught choir at New Prague Middle School and general music and choir at Raven Stream Elementary in New Prague.

She is a native of Louisiana and spent some of her youth in Florida, graduating from high school in Pensacola. After graduation, she spent three years in the performing and outreach group called The Young Americans, teaching and traveling on five national and international music outreach tours, including tours in the U.S., Germany, Luxembourg, and Japan.

Nicole is an active choral musician and member of See Change Treble Choir in St. Paul, MN. She is also an active member of MMEA and the ACDA of MN, currently serving as Repertoire and Resources Chair for Show Choir/Contemporary Commercial music and is a member of the Diversity Initiatives Committee. She has presented and conducted honor choirs for both MMEA and ACDA Conferences and her choirs have been selected for performances. Her students have also been chosen for state, regional, and national honor choirs.

She received an undergraduate degree in Music Teaching/Performance from the University of West Florida, a Masters of Arts in Music Education- Choral emphasis from the University of St. Thomas, and is currently working toward a Certificate in Teaching World Music from UST. She lives in New Prague with her husband, three children, and two dogs.

Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Conductor of the Concert Choir

With a love of music as big as his last name, Tesfa Wondemagegnehu has been sharing joy and a vision for equity and justice through song for many years. Through a triumvirate of teaching, conducting, and performing, he has found a way to transform both students and audiences and to reach those seeking resolutions of peace, equality, and respect through music.

Tesfa Wondemagegnehu serves as the conductor of the Viking Chorus and the Chapel Choir at St. Olaf College. He also served as the guest artistic director of one of North America’s Largest LGBTQ+ choirs, Minnesota’s One Voice Mixed Chorus. Tesfa maintains an active voice studio and teaches Music & Social Justice with the goal of helping bridge the gap of social injustice through music, dialogue, and inspiring participants to take action in their communities. Wondemagegnehu previously served as the Director of Choral Ministries at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Minneapolis, where he co-founded the Justice Choir movement with noted composer Abbie Betinis. In the summer of 2018, Tesfa served as guest conductor of the children’s choir at the Aspen Music Festival, leading them in a week-long journey on the Justice Choir Songbook. In 2019, Wondemagegnehu was named artist-in-residence for the Harvard University Glee Club where they co-created and executed the truth-telling W.E.B. DuBois Musical Project. And most recently, American Public Media’s Julie Amacher and Tesfa collaborated on several nationally-distributed radio programs on Black Music.

Born and raised in Memphis, with an impressive collection of opinions on barbecue, Tesfa learned early on from one of his mentors that “Excellence is never an accident.” And, consequently, he has not left much to chance. Through the love and dedication of music teachers with whom he has studied, and an abundance of grit and determination, Tesfa has risen to be one of the most sought-after conductors and educators in the country and is on the cutting edge of music-related social justice movements throughout the United States.

Tesfa has conducted and given masterclasses, workshops, and clinics both nationally and internationally. In the fall of 2019, he conducted the National Association for Music Education’s national high school honor choir in Orlando, Florida. In 2017 he co-led the American Choral Directors Association’s national high school honor choir, working collaboratively with Eric Whitacre. In June of 2017, he was named the composer-in-residence for Choirs of America at Carnegie Hall, where he had the opportunity to conduct and lift over 600 voices in singing the world premiere of his composition May the Road. Wondemagegnehu made his Severance Hall debut in 2017, co-conducting with Cleveland Orchestra Chorus Master Dr. Lisa Wong a choir comprising high school students from the Cleveland area, and in 2016 he worked with Los Angeles Master Chorale artistic director Grant Gershon, co-conducting their 1,000 student honor choir in the majestic Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Tesfa holds a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting and Vocal Performance from the Florida State University and a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performing from the University of Memphis. While teaching high school, Tesfa was named Orange County Public School Teacher of the Year and received the Macy’s National Magic of Teaching Award. This award celebrated an innovative voice program started at Freedom High School in Orlando, where the class participants, who received free voice lessons and vocal coaching, obtained over $3 million in college scholarships from some of the most prestigious music schools in the country.

Tesfa’s time in Minneapolis began as the Assistant Artistic Director of VocalEssence while concurrently serving as the Manager of the Choral Works Initiative and the Choral Streamâ„¢ at American Public Media. During his tenure at APM, he was named founding artistic director of The Radio Choir from American Public Media.

Wondemagegnehu is the curator and editor of a new choral series with Hinshaw Music Publications and is celebrated as an accomplished arranger and composer. Many of his compositions have been performed by regional choirs and all-state choirs throughout the country.

Tesfa has been inspired by all of his students throughout his career. His latest prodigy, daughter Aida Hope, born in 2017, is influencing him daily with new developments, all the while wrapping him around her tiny finger. It is still to be determined whether she will be a world-famous opera singer, a renowned conductor, or the ultimate grill master, but, nevertheless, she will be fierce.

American Public Media’s Vaughn Ormseth has this to say about Tesfa: “He believes choral music transformed his life, saved him, so his passion for it is on a cellular level. He loves the formal tradition of the art form, but plugs his own kind of electricity directly into it. He has a millennial’s impatience with systems.” And so, with music’s undeniable power and potential to save lives, and the impatience to wait for others to make change, Tesfa will continue to transform the world with his vision and determination in education, justice, and joy. (Written by Janice Teliczan, Spring 2021)

Mary Carpenter Davis
Accompanist for Junior Singers, Treble Choir, Anima, and Concert Choir

Mary Carpenter Davis, composer in residence and accompanist for Junior Singers, Treble Choir, Anima and the Concert Choir, is in her 20th season with the Northfield Youth Choirs. In addition to her work with young singers, she is the performance librarian at St. Olaf College, is active as a piano teacher, accompanist and church musician.

Compositions written for and inspired by the Northfield Youth Choirs include:

Daffodils (2003), Sicilian Lullaby (2004), Emergence (2004), I Will (2005), Froggy (2006), Cherokee Blessing (2006), Whirligig! (2007), Sussex Carol (2007), A Christmas Folk Song (2007), Sea Fever (2009), Cats According to Sark (2010), Get on Board, Little Children (2013)

Shana Hodel
Accompanist for Chorale

Shana HodelWith a background in piano pedagogy, Shana now works as a teacher at Montessori Children’s House in Northfield and is the Children’s Music Director at First United Church of Christ. She has enjoyed playing for several different NYC choirs over the years.

Jake Olson
Conducting intern for Troubadours

Jake Olson is a junior, Vocal Music Education Major at St Olaf College. A second year member of the St Olaf Choir, Olson is incredibly passionate about choral music and the amazing ability it has to bring people together. Olson is originally from Lake Elmo, Minnesota and attended Stillwater Area High School, singing in the Stillwater Choir for three years under the direction of Angela Mitchell. In addition to singing, Olson loves to play the guitar and drums and has played in multiple bands since he started playing in middle school. When he’s not doing anything music related, Olson enjoys playing video games and going on walks in the natural lands at St Olaf.

Abbey Kelley-Lanser
Conducting intern for Anima

Abbey Kelley-Lanser is a senior at St. Olaf College, working to complete her BM in organ performance with an emphasis in church music. Back home in Massachusetts, she was raised in the ELCA Lutheran church tradition and participated heavily in her home church’s music program throughout primary school. After years of piano and a high school introduction to the organ, she decided to continue in the Christian music tradition for her undergraduate education. Abbey has participated in choirs throughout her life, and a special high school experience at Massachusetts District and All State Choirs sparked her new interest in choral conducting. In her last two years at St. Olaf, Abbey has pursued this choral passion more fully. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Northfield Youth Choirs as a final-year internship at college!