Meet Our Guests!


Maria Jette (Season 1 Headliner; January 10 guest)

Maria Jette, soprano, has appeared with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra: the Symphonies of Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Grand Rapids, Kansas City, Charlotte, Santa Rosa and Buffalo; Vocalessence (formerly The Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota), the Handel Choir of Baltimore, Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, and Los Angeles Master Chorale; and with original instrument ensembles Angelica Cantanti, Portland Baroque Orchestra and The Lyra Baroque Orchestra. She has been a regular guest at the Oregon Bach, Victoria Bach and San Luis Obispo Mozart Festivals, the Oregon Festival of American Music, and on Public Radio International’s A Prairie Home Companion. With conductor Helmuth Rilling, she has sung Bach, Mozart and Monteverdi in Germany, Spain, Japan, and Canada, as well as in Minneapolis, New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. In a 20+ year association with conductor Philip Brunelle, she first appeared as the coloratura dog, Fido, in Britten’s Paul Bunyan; and has gone on to sing everything from fully-staged operas by Mozart opera and Virgil Thomson through oratorios by Handel, William Bolcom and Francis Grier, and most recently, Dominick Argento’s glorious Evensong (2009).

Her 45+ operatic roles range from Monteverdi’s Poppea and Handel’s Cleopatra through Mozart’s Pamina, Countess and Fiordiligi, many of them with the late, lamented Ex Machina Antique Music Theatre in the Twin Cities. With The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, she starred as the Mrs. in the May 2002 premiere of Garrison Keillor’s operatic excursion, Mr. and Mrs. Olson. She has performed her own production of Seuss/Kapilow’s Green Eggs & Ham for more than 50,000 kids, with symphonies and music festivals around the USA.


Jearlyn Steele (Season 2 Headliner; January 10 guest)

Charismatic, smart, funny and heartfelt are just a few adjectives used to describe Jearlyn Steele. Whether she is singing, speaking or emceeing, she leaves an audience wanting more. As a member of the internationally acclaimed family, The Steeles, Jearlyn has performed from South America to Europe. For ten years, she has been an Entertainment Reporter for Twin Cities Public Television’s award winning political show Almanac interviewing local, national and international acts. As a keynote speaker, facilitator and emcee, Jearlyn has inspired audiences from Minnesota to New York to the Caribbean.  Maintaining her CBS Sunday night radio show—Steele Talkn’ on WCCO Radio 830AM, heard in thirty states and most of Canada has been a joy for more nearly two decades.  

Musically, she recorded a song with Prince entitled Race, and has performed with the Minnesota and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras.  She has been a frequent special guest on the acclaimed radio broadcast A Prairie Home Companion hosted by Garrison Keillor until 2016. On this broadcast, she performed duets with music greats Carol King and Elvis Costello. Her vocal talents also landed her a feature in the film A Prairie Home Companion starring Meryl Streep.

Her voice can be heard on various radio and television commercials including Slumberland, JunoActive, Target and more. Her corporate and non-profit clients include Wells Fargo, Lifetouch, Target, WomenVenture, Children’s Cancer Research Fund (CCRF), the Wish Foundation, the Angel Foundation, Tubman and many more. She has hosted a PBS TV show for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and, along with her sister, starred in the regional Emmy nominated documentary Honoring Choices on Twin Cities Public Television. To date, she has two solo albums; Jearlyn Steele Sings the Songs from A Prairie Home Companion and Steele Praising Hymn.

Jearlyn has served on boards for Chrysalis —a women’s resource center and the Ordway Circle of Stars, who unite children with the world of art. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership with a concentration in Leadership and Spirituality at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN. In 2016, an Honorary Doctorate degree was conferred upon her by the University of Indianapolis.  She is a mother of two and a grandmother of two.


Peter Mayer (Season 6 Headliner; January 10 guest)

Minnesota’s Peter Mayer has been singing and songwriting full-time for over 20 years, performing in venues across the United States and beyond. He writes songs for a small planet–songs about interconnectedness and the human journey–songs about life on earth and the mysterious and wondrous fact of our existence. He also writes songs about dress hats, pumpkins and pajamas, and even love and freight trains just like a good folk musician should. His music has been performed by artists like Kathy Mattea, David Wilcox, Claudia Schmidt, Anne Hills, Priscilla Herdman, Darryl Purpose, Billy Jonas, and Ronny Cox, to name a few. His work has been included in song books, church hymnals, and folk radio playlists across the country. Peter has eleven albums to his credit, and has sold over 100,000 of them. He lives in Stillwater, Minnesota with his wife and two daughters.


Gary D. Hines (Season 7 Headliner; January 10 guest)

Gary D. Hines is a Music Director and Producer of the 3-time, Grammy Award-Winning Sounds of Blackness.  

Pop, Hip-Hop, Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, Latin, Rock, Blues, Reggae, Ragtime, Classical and Gospel. Gary has recorded, performed, toured, written for and appeared with: Quincy Jones, Jimmy “Jam” Harris & Terry Lewis, Prince, Usher, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin,  Elton John,  Johnny Gill, Patti LaBelle, Sting,  Dolly Parton, Danny Glover and Jordin Sparks to name just a few. Gary has performed in every major city in the U.S. and, abroad in Africa, England, Holland, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, Jamaica, Martinique and The Bahamas – with Sounds of Blackness.

Gary has also conducted countless Music Workshops, Seminars, Lecture-Demonstrations and Master Classes across the United States and internationally about the history, impact and evolution of African-American music and culture.


Gary has been the recipient of such honors as a Grammy, International Time For Peace Award, Minnesota Music Academy Awards, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame Award, Distinguished Citizen Award, Golden Scroll For The Promise of Greatness Award and, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from his Alma Mater Macalester College, St. Paul. Sounds of Blackness latest CD, “THE SOUNDS OF BLACKNESS” won a 2012 NAACP Image Award.


Sara Thomsen (Season 8 Headliner; January 10 guest)

“Thomsen’s soulful voice, poetic lyrics and unforgettable melodies cut through to the heart and the soul of human experience,” proclaims the Minnesota Women’s Press. With a voice rich as the best mid-west soil, Sara’s songs carry you inward and outward—in, to the particulars of your own life, and out—into the shared humanity of us all. Her performance style is easygoing and full of humor and depth, capturing the audience’s engagement. Sara’s music gently enfolds and unfolds the listener.

Dubbed in her local press as “one of Northern Minnesota’s best kept secrets,” Thomsen’s home base is in the Lake Superior region near Duluth, MN. “The Twin Ports folk singer picks up the torch carried by the balladeers of decades past: Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, and Peter, Paul, and Mary” writes the Duluth Reader Weekly. “She could make Conan the Barbarian drop his sword and collapse blubbering.”

Thomsen has released six solo albums: Song Like A Seed (her latest), Somewhere to Begin, Everything Changes, By Breath, Fertile Ground, and Arise. In addition to her solo work, Sara is a weaver of song and community singing. At concerts, conferences, classrooms, workshops, retreats, jails, places of prayer, and lines of protest, to be with Sara is to want to sing. Increasing wonder and awareness, deepening spiritual connection, and widening social engagement through song is at the heart of her work. Sara’s ability to get people singing magically transforms gatherings into communities empowered with possibility.

Sara is the artistic director and member of “Three Altos,” along with Rabbi Amy Bernstein, and Thomsen’s spouse Paula Pedersen. The trio has released two CDs: Camaradas and One Voice. Thomsen and Pedersen also released a duet album, Winter Wanderings.

Sara is the founder and artistic director of the Echoes of Peace Choir, a non-audition community choir in Duluth, Minnesota, with a repertoire of world music and a membership of 70+ voices. Thomsen founded and directs the Echoes of Peace non-profit to expand and develop the work of examining critical social issues using music and the arts to build and bridge informed, engaged, and caring communities.

Sara grew up surrounded by a family and community that loved to sing.  From listening to her father sing lullabies and onward, Sara’s life has been infused with music. She is a staunch supporter of struggles for human dignity and ecological sustainability. Slowing down enough to see and hear the vibrant wonder of the commonplace is her work and play.  All this can be felt in her music. Whether it is a song welcoming a newborn, protesting a policy, depicting night falling or describing a loved one, her music is alive and pulsing.


Jamie Laurie of Flobots (Season 9 Headliner; January 10 guest)

From the beginning, Flobots’ sound defied categorization. Weaving conscious hip-hop lyrics and classical viola solos over live instrumentation, their anthems captured attention from all directions. When Flobots first catapulted onto the global scene in 2008 with their platinum single ‘Handlebars’ it was the fastest charting song debut by a new artist in 10 years. Released during the frenzy of that year’s election, the band’s call to envision “another America” resonated with a generation experiencing a sense of profound political and social awakening. In a span of months, Flobots went from playing at local clubs to selling out tours internationally, performing on late-night television, signing a major label record deal, and receiving constant rotation on alternative radio. Now, a decade later and with three critically acclaimed albums under their belt, Flobots are still dedicated to creating and performing anthems for a better world. And in 2017, amidst a nation taking to the streets, for Flobots that means delivering a unique brand of protest songs. After almost four years of light touring as they worked on their non-profit, http:// www.youthonrecord.org, they have their first album since 2012, NOENEMIES.


ALYSIA LEE (January 17 Panel Guest)

Lee’s full circle role as an artist, arts educator, teaching artist and arts advocate, gives her a broad perspective of the arts ecosystem.  Alysia receives local, regional and national recognition for advancing access, equity, representation, and power-sharing between artists, institutions, and communities.  Key to her methods are listening, collaboration, and intersectional approaches to community exchange while centering anti-racism, creativity and justice.

Alysia Lee is the education program supervisor for Fine Arts education for the Maryland State Department of Education where she shares her vision of statewide equity and excellence across five arts disciplines: music, dance, visual arts, theatre, and media arts. She is a proud member of the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE).

She is the Founder and Artistic Director of Sister Cities Girlchoir(SCG), the El Sistema-inspired, girl empowerment, choral academy in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey. SCG has performed for audiences at Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, The Smithsonian Institute, The Kimmel Center, Citizens Bank Park, The National Constitution Center, The Barnes Foundation, New Jersey Performing Arts Center and throughout their local communities. The girls cherish their recent performances with The Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Vijay Gupta, Opera Philadelphia, Westminster Choir College, and a host of community artists.

Recent recognitions include the Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellows Award, The Knight Foundation, National Association of University Women, Stockton Bartol Foundation, and Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Recent speaking/facilitation engagements include the U.S. Department of Education, The Kennedy Center, Americans for the Arts, Arts Education Partnership, Chorus America, Maryland Citizens for the Arts, Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, TEDX, and Temple University. Lee is a Board member of Chorus America.

A Baltimore native, Lee is an alumna of Maryland public schools. She earned her graduate degree from Peabody Conservatory. In 2011, Lee was selected from an international pool of applicants to the third cohort of the Sistema Fellowship at New England Conservatory in partnership with TED. Alysia also completed Executive Education programs at Harvard University and La Salle University.


Dr. Eugene Rogers (January 17 Panel Guest)

A two-time Michigan Emmy Award winner, a 2017 Sphinx Medal of Excellence recipient, and a 2015 GRAMMY® Award nominee, Eugene Rogers is recognized as a leading conductor and pedagogue throughout the United States and abroad. In addition to being the founding director of EXIGENCE, Dr. Rogers is the director of choirs and an associate professor of conducting at the University of Michigan. Recently, he was named as the fifth Artistic Director of the two-time GRAMMY® Award-Winning Ensemble, The Washington Chorus (Washington, D.C.).

At the University, Rogers leads the graduate choral conducting program, conducts the chamber choir, and administers the program of over eight choral ensembles. His choirs have toured throughout China, South Africa, the United States, and have appeared at national and regional conferences. In December 2017, Musical America named Rogers one of the top 30 “Movers and Shapers” professionals in North America. His past appointments include being the director of the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club, Macalester College (St. Paul, Minnesota), the Boys Choir of Harlem, Waubonsie Valley High School (Aurora, Illinois), and Anima Young Singers of Greater Chicago (formerly the Glen Ellyn Children’s Choir). In 2016, Rogers’ passion for issues of social justice and music was featured in the award-winning documentary Love, Life and Loss which highlights Joel Thompson’s powerful Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, and in 2013, he co-managed the production of the joint CD Ye Shall Have a Song with the Michigan, Yale, and Harvard Glee Clubs, a collaboration celebrating America’s three oldest collegiate choirs.

In 2015, Mark Foster Publishing began the Eugene Rogers Choral Series, a series featuring emerging composers who specialize in contemporary classical and folk music traditions, and the EXIGENCE Choral Series in 2018 which features folk and contemporary works by Black and Latinx composers. In 2011, Rogers traveled to and studied the choral traditions of East Africa (Tanzania).

Rogers holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in choral music education from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in choral conducting from U-M. He currently serves on the board of Chorus America and is the former national chair of the Diversity Initiatives Committee for the American Choral Directors Association.


Dr. Arianne Abela (January 17 panel guest)

Arianne Abela is Director of the Choral Program at Amherst College. Abela recently served on conducting faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI,  is founder and director of Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble, dedicated to inclusivity and inclusion in the professional music scene. Focusing her efforts on community building through song, Abela co-founded The House of Clouds, has worked closely with Musicians Take a Stand to organize over a dozen benefit concerts for charities and various causes across the country, and is founder of the Detroit Women’s Chorus and Detroit Justice Choir. 

Abela has guest conducted opera productions with various Michigan-based opera companies including Detroit’s OperaMODO as well as served as chorus master for a number of University of Michigan opera productions. In 2012, Abela was featured conducting on NBC’s Today Show and was a semi-finalist in Season 8 of America’s Got Talent as director of Connecticut-based 3 Penny Chorus and Orchestra. The ensemble later recorded for the soundtrack of Hollywood film Walk of Shame starring Elizabeth Banks. Abela holds degrees from the University of Michigan, Yale University, and Smith College. 


Dr. Emilie Amrein (January 17 panel moderator and January 24 facilitator)

Emilie Amrein is Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Studies at the University of San Diego where she conducts the USD Concert Choir and Choral Leadership Collaboratory, and teaches courses on the intersection of music and social justice movements, community music, and changemaking.


Emilie is the co-artistic director of Common Ground Voices / La Frontera, a bi-national community music project that aims to build relationships and understanding across political, demographic, and perceptual borders as an exercise of non-violence. She also co-hosts and produces The Choral Commons podcast, a virtual community where choral and community music practitioners can gather in order to envision equity-centered choral futures.Emilie is a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion within the arts and academia. She is coauthor of the forthcoming book, Empowering Song, to be published by Routledge in 2021. She contributed to Wisdom, Wit, and Will: Women Choral Conductors on Their Art, and to Teaching Music Through Performance in Choir (Vol. 2-3). She has presented her work for several distinguished professional organizations, including Chorus America, the American Choral Director’s Association, the College Music Society, and the National Youth Leadership Council.