Artistic Director, Conductor of Anima and Concert Choir
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
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 PÃ¤rt, 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.
Conductor of Troubadours and Concert Choir
Zach Kubasta currently directs choirs at Valley View Middle School in Edina, primarily working with the Tenor-Bass Choirs. In addition to conducting Troubadours and Concert Choir, Zach will be continuing his role as Social Media Coordinator for NYC. Zach is also the tenor section leader and a choir officer for Magnum Chorum, a choir based in the Twin Cities. Prior to his position in Edina, Zach conducted choirs at Le Sueur-Henderson Middle School/High School for three years, and taught in Red Wing for a year prior to the pandemic.
Zach graduated from St. Olaf College in 2019 with a Bachelors of Music Degree in Vocal Music Education. It was in his senior year at St. Olaf that Zach was the intern conductor with Troubadours, and he is overjoyed to return to Troubadours and continue to work with Concert Choir.
Originally from Wautoma, Wisconsin, Zach is an avid Wisconsin sports fan, and in his free time, he enjoys spending time outside and being active with his friends and family.
Poco a Poco teacher
Mollie Schwartz is an elementary music specialist at Spring Creek Elementary in Northfield, Minnesota. Mollie grew up in Austin Minnesota, where she developed a passion for music through participating in theater, dance, and playing the violin. She attended Luther College, where she sang with the Nordic Choir and earned her masters in teaching, learning, and leadership from Southwest Minnesota State University.
Mollie loves teaching music through exploration, play, and creativity. She designs engaging lessons and interactive activities that blend fundamental music concepts with playful games, songs, and movement. In Poco a Poco, Mollie helps children discover the joy of finding their own musical voice! She believes in creating a nurturing environment where students feel comfortable exploring their voices, embracing their uniqueness, and expressing themselves.
In addition to teaching music, Mollie loves to bake and be creative in the kitchen. She loves to travel, and make music with her husband, Jacob who both participate in NYC’s Chorale and are active musicians at St. Dominic’s Church. They enjoy spending time and exploring with their two dogs, Casper and Holly.
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.
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)
Accompanist for Chorale
Jane Turpin Moore
Accompanist for Troubadours
Jane Turpin Moore is a freelance writer and collaborative pianist with decades of experience writing, performing music and mentoring young musicians. After earning a B.A. in English from Carleton College and beginning her career in corporate communications at General Mills, she directed the Carleton College alumni relations program before moving to Worthington, Minn., in the mid-1990s. In the fall of 2020, she and her husband relocated to Northfield. She began accompanying for the Northfield Youth Choirs’ Troubadours ensemble in the fall of 2021.
Jane is a frequent contributor to several area news publications while also prioritizing music. Whether accompanying for church choirs, middle/high school orchestras or choirs, choral festivals, musicals, MSHSL solo/ensemble contests, instrumental or vocal soloists, youth choirs or chamber groups, Jane is at all times an enthusiastic advocate for music involvement and education.
In addition, Jane has a lengthy record of community volunteerism. Her current involvement includes board membership with the Northfield Arts Guild, Northfield Public Library and Source Song Festival.
Conducting intern for Troubadours
Jake Olson is a senior, Vocal Music Education Major at St Olaf College. A third 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.
Conducting intern for Anima
Alexys Sayegh ‘24 (she/her) is a singer, educator, and conductor who is pursuing a B.M. Vocal Music Education degree at St. Olaf College. She has sung in many ensembles at St. Olaf including The St. Olaf Choir, Chapel Choir, Manitou Singers, and Chamber Singers. Not only is Alexys trained classically, she also loves to sing in more contemporary styles, which she exercises through involvement in Agnes A Cappella, a student-led treble a cappella group on campus. She has competed in many singing competitions, encompassing the Classical Singer Convention/Competition, and Minnesota NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) Competition 2022, where Alexys advanced to the Semi-Finals in her category.
She has had and currently has on-campus jobs including Music Organizations Student Office Assistant, Halvorson Music Library Lead desk worker, and Manitou Singers Student Choral manager. This summer, Alexys spent a month in Urbino, Italy furthering her performance experience through the program Musica Nelle Marche taking voice lessons and performing in various opera houses. After her studies at St. Olaf Alexys would like to start teaching music in the public school system, uplifting and empowering students and co-workers through her positive attitude and dedication to music. When she is not in rehearsals, Alexys can be found coloring in her room, doing her makeup, or coloring with markers in her coloring books.