A native of Frederick, South Dakota, Christopher Maunu is a conductor, educator, and professional singer based in the Denver-Metro area. He is the co-founder and co-artistic director of Anima Chamber Ensemble. A GRAMMY® nominated music educator, Maunu is the Director of Choral Activities at Arvada West High School. A passionate teacher, Mr. Maunu was 1 of 10 Finalists for the 2018 Music Educator Award at the 60th GRAMMY® Awards. He also won the prestigious CMA® National Music Teacher of Excellence Award in 2019. Since starting his career at Arvada West in 2006, the department has grown from 120 to 340 students and has received national acclaim. Arvada West choirs have performed at 12 National, Regional, and State conferences of ACDA and NAfME since 2009. This included one of two high school mixed concert choirs in the nation invited to perform at the 2017 National American Choral Directors Association Conference (ACDA) in Minneapolis. The ensemble won the American Prize in Choral Performance and was the 9th American high school choir in history to be invited to the Champions Competition of the World Choir Games in 2020. His treble choir, Company West, will be performing at Southwest ACDA in Little Rock, AK this coming season as well.
Christopher was voted “Best of the Best” teacher by Colorado Community Media in 2019. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Northern State University where he delivered the 2018 Commencement Address. Maunu was also a recipient of a Commendation from the House of Representatives for his work as a choral educator. Christopher has enjoyed serving as a clinician for state and regional honor choirs in numerous states, including a recent appointment to the faculty of guest artists at Manhattan Concert Productions/Carnegie Hall in New York. An active member of NAfME, CMEA, and ACDA, Christopher currently serves as the High School Chair for Colorado ACDA and is a past member of the CMEA Vocal Music Council. In addition to working with Anima Chamber Ensemble and teaching, Mr. Maunu sings professionally with various Denver-based ensembles. Such groups include St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, Evans Choir, and Colorado Bach Ensemble. He has also performed with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Central City Opera, and Opera Omaha. Christopher holds a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a Bachelor of Music Education from Northern State University in South Dakota. When not on the podium or singing in an ensemble, Christopher enjoys sharing his life with his beautiful wife Aleisha, and their pets, Paavo and Ligeti.
Nathan Payant is a passionate and dedicated conductor, educator, and professional singer living in the Denver area. He is the co-founder and co-artistic director of Anima and has over fifteen years of choral teaching and conducting experience at the middle school, high school, and college levels. Currently, Nathan is on the choral faculty at Colorado State University and University of Denver, where he conducts choirs, teaches music education courses, and supervises students teachers.
A devoted advocate for choral music education, Nathan is fervently involved in NAfME, CMEA, ACDA, and CoACDA, placing special emphasis on encouraging lifelong singing. He is frequently invited to present lectures and reading sessions at state conferences, as well as visit and clinic at local high schools. He has served on the Colorado All-State Choir Board, the Vocal Music Council of CMEA, and the Colorado ACDA Council as the Women’s Choir R&R Chair. He fully believes in promoting standards of the choral repertoire, as well as discovering and supporting newly composed works.
Nathan is a very active member of the professional choral community in Colorado. In addition to Anima, he is the General Manager of Colorado Bach Ensemble and sings professionally with St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, Colorado Bach Ensemble, and Evans Choir. Nathan also enjoys regular opportunities as an honor choir clinician and music festival adjudicator throughout Colorado and surrounding states. Most recently, he discovered a new passion for composing/arranging and was honored to have his first piece of choral music published through Hal Leonard as part of the Andrea Ramsey Choral Series.
A native of South Dakota, Nathan earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Northern State University in Aberdeen, SD. He received his Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Colorado State University and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Choral Conducting and Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder. Outside of his professional responsibilities, Nathan enjoys traveling and spending time with his beautiful wife and three daughters.
Elise Greenwood Bahr
Elise Greenwood Bahr has been active in the Denver choral music scene since moving to Colorado in 2011. She is thrilled to be singing with Anima Chamber Ensemble again this season. She also sings with the Colorado Bach Ensemble, Saint Martin’s Chamber Choir, and has performed with Singers Chamber Choir, Vittoria Ensemble, and with other local community and church choirs. Before moving to Denver, she appeared in various productions around the country, including serving as a Principal Singer with the Bach Society of St Louis, lead roles with Hartford Opera Theater, and a singer with the Alabama Symphony Chorus in Birmingham. She holds a Master’s of Music in Vocal Performance from The Hartt School at the University of Hartford and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Utah. Elise is also a fine violinist and has performed in professional, church, community, and university ensembles in 3 different states. When not involved in musical activities, she enjoys running marathons, and trying to keep up with her four wonderful children. Sometimes it feels like the same thing.
Leah Creek Biesterfeld
Described as “vibrant and full-voiced” (The Denver Post) and praised for her “tangy, nut-brown mezzo” (Opera News), Leah Creek Biesterfeld appears frequently as a soloist along the Front Range. Recent engagements included appearances as alto soloist in Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s BWV 80 Ein Feste Burg with Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and as alto soloist in Handel’s Messiah with Colorado Bach Ensemble.
Named a National Winner of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Leah has accumulated numerous performance credits in opera, performing leading roles with New York City Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Opera Colorado, Santa Fe Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Syracuse Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, and Utah Festival Opera. Solo concert appearances include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Boulder Philharmonic, Mozart’s Requiem with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, and Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Mozart’s Mass in C Minor with Philadelphia Chamber Chorus, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, selections from Bach’s Notebook of Anna Magdalena, and Monteverdi’s Beatus vir and Dixit Dominus with Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado, and Bach’s BWV 106 Actus Tragicus with Seicento Baroque Ensemble.
Leah made her Carnegie Hall debut with Mid-America Productions as a soloist in Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass and returned twice as the mezzo-soprano soloist in the Duruflé Requiem and the Mozart Requiem. Leah earned a Master of Music in Voice from Indiana University and trained at some of the country’s leading Young Artist Programs, including Santa Fe Opera and Wolf Trap Opera.
Leah and her husband co-direct Petite Musician, an early childhood music and movement program that offers Music Together classes in the greater Denver area. They are the co-executive directors of the Colorado Suzuki Institute which provides an intensive, week-long musical experience in beautiful Copper Mountain, Colorado working with some of the country’s leading Suzuki educators. Additionally, they are the co-executive directors of it’s “sister” programs, the Colorado Vocal Institute and the Colorado Chamber Music Institute, which run congruently and offer a week of intensive music study for advanced high school musicians. In addition to teaching and singing, Leah is mom to two amazing daughters. www.coloradosuzuki.org, www.coloradovocal.org, www.coloradochambermusic.org, www.petitemusician.com
alaina de bellevue
Alaina de Bellevue is a pianist residing in Boulder. She recently returned from living in Germany, where she freelanced as a vocal coach and repetiteur, and continues to work primarily with vocalists. Previously she served as a coach at Colorado State University’s Ralph Opera Center, James Madison University’s German Singer Sommer in Freiberg, Germany, and Opera Colorado. Alaina is also active as an orchestral pianist, appearing with Fort Collins Symphony, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, and Front Range Chamber Orchestra. She has enjoyed performing extensively in western Germany and Switzerland, collaborating with vocal and instrumental artists, most recently with members of the Omega Ensemble. In her free time she enjoys cycling and learning to play fiddle and accordion.
Tony Domenick is a performer, teacher, conductor, and composer from Denver, Colorado. His primary instrument was alto saxophone until his high school band director convinced him to try trombone, his Presbyterian choir director convinced him to sing, and a close friend taught him to play “Take 5” and “Für Elise” on the piano. Tony also plays ukulele, and loves the different ideas each of these instruments can inspire.
Tony performs with choirs, rock bands, improv troupes, at weddings and funerals; teaches private voice, piano, song writing, and music theory lessons; conducts choirs and orchestras; and composes choral music, songs of all genres, and chamber music. Tony embraces music as a language, and he loves to help others become fluent.
When Tony is not making music, he is making spicy burritos, reading philosophy, hiking with his partner Kelsie, over-analyzing the economic implications of board games, and meditating.
Chelsea Kendall is thrilled to be singing another season with Anima, along with other Denver-based choral ensembles, including St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, Kantorei, and The Evans Choir. She currently works as the Administrative Assistant at KMGLife, a recording studio and audio engineering academy in Boulder. Chelsea earned her Bachelor’s in Music Education from Anderson University in Indiana. She then taught secondary band and choir for three years before completing a Master of Music in Choral Conducting at Colorado State University. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephew, rock climbing, and snuggling with her dog, Shortcake.
Kate Klotz is almost a Colorado native, having lived here since the 2nd grade. She teaches elementary general music and choir in the Boulder Valley School District and specializes in teaching beginning vocal technique and music literacy. She holds a Master’s of Music with Kodály specialization from Colorado State University and received her undergraduate degree in Music Education from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Kate’s passion is working with children’s choirs, and she currently serves as the Artistic Director of the Boulder Children’s Chorale. She has been a guest instructor, clinician and choral adjudicator for the Boulder Valley, St. Vrain, Spokane and Omak School Districts, as well as the Aspen Music Festival. Kate has presented at numerous local and regional conferences and has performed with the Boulder-based Cantabile Singers, Colorado Conductor’s Chorale, and the Spokane Symphony Chorale. Kate is also the Children’s Choirs R&R Chair for the Colorado Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association. She resides in Louisville with her husband and enjoys yoga, gardening and soaking up the Colorado sunshine.
Sara Michael was born and raised in Denver, CO. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree with an emphasis in vocal performance from Goshen College in Indiana, she tried on a few different cities for size, including Philadelphia, where she sang with Singing City and fronted a funk-jam band called Cornbread. Sara came back to Colorado in the year 2000 and has since performed as a soloist and/or chorus member with various groups and ensembles, including Co lorado Bach Ensemble, Opera on Tap, SOAR, Augustana Chancel and Chamber Choirs, and Dr. Howard Skinner’s annual Choral Fest. In addition to Anima, Sara currently sings with Kantorei (where she also serves as administrative assistant, librarian, and soprano section leader) and Wellshire Presbyterian’s Sanctuary Choir and Celebration Singers. Sara has also performed with local theatre companies, including Equinox, 11 Minutes, Paper Cat, and Littleton Town Hall Arts Center. Sara enjoys sewing and crocheting things, reading, and spending time with her husband, Jeremiah, and daughter, Raven.
A musician of many hats, Blake works around the Denver metro area as a voice teacher, music director for various musical productions, and classical and musical theatre performer. He has also sung with many of Denver’s choral ensembles in venues ranging from Red Rocks to the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. He can be heard weekly and in major works concerts throughout this season as the tenor soloist and AVE quartet member at Augustana Lutheran Church. He currently studies choral conducting at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, from which he also received an undergraduate degree in vocal performance.
Juli Orlandini holds a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Westminster Choir College. She has since taught music at the primary and secondary levels and has sung with several semi-professional vocal ensembles in the area, including Ars Nova in Boulder and Kantorei in Denver. In recent years, Juli completed her master’s at Johns Hopkins University, served as the Children’s Choir Repertoire and Standards chair on the Colorado ACDA board, and worked for such organizations as the Denver Children’s Choir, the Clyfford Still Museum, and Bethany Lutheran Church. Currently, Juli is a gigging musician and artist in Austin, Texas, but she is elated to sing with her Anima family in Denver again this year!
Dean Rieger is currently a second year Graduate Student in Choral Conducting at Colorado State University. Before pursuing his masters, Dean earned his Bachelors of Music degree from Colorado State University where he studied Voice and Music Education. After graduating, he taught high school and middle school choir for three years on the Western Slope of Colorado, and co-directed a yearly musical theatre production. Dean is an active member of the National Association for Music Educators (NAfME), the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), and attends the Colorado Music Educators Association clinic and conference each year. He is very excited that he is joining Anima for his first season, and in addition to Anima, Dean sings with Colorado Bach Ensemble, St. Martins Chamber Choir, The FOCO Chorale, the NOCO Singers, CSU’s Chamber and Concert Choirs, First United Methodist Church Sanctuary Choir in Fort Collins, and St John XXIII Schola in Fort Collins. He also started his own small chamber ensemble at CSU and takes Pipe Organ lessons with Dr. Joel Bacon. Dean loves to sing and make music with friends and is thankful to have the opportunities in music that he has had so far. Dean spends his free time with his friends and family, his dog Milo, his girlfriend Blair, and eating as many Palisade peaches as humanly possible.
Westin Sorrel is currently the Director of Choral Music at Dakota Ridge High School. He earned his Bachelors of Music degree from the School of Music at Colorado State University where he studied Vocal Music Education following the Performance Enhancement Track. During h is time at CSU, Westin sang with the CSU Chamber Choir, University Chorus, Men’s Chorus, and the Charles and Reta Ralph Opera Center with which he held several lead roles. He also spent 3 years singing with the Fort Collins community group Laudamus Chamber Chorale. While at CSU, Westin was involved with the Collegiate National Association for Music Educators (CNAfME), Students National Association for Teachers of Singing (SNATS), and the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). Westin currently remains an active member of both NAfME and ACDA. In the summer of 2015, Westin had the honor of spending two weeks in Italy at the Sarteano Chamber Choral Conducting Workshop where he got to work with world renowned conductor, Simon Carrington. In the past, Westin has worked with students at Fort Collins High School, Rock Canyon High School, and Bear Creek High School. In addition to singing with Anima, Westin currently sings with the Colorado Bach Ensemble, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, and Bethany Lutheran Chancel Choir.
Laura hails from Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she earned degrees in trumpet and voice performance at Western Michigan University and lived in her father’s violin shop. She moved to Colorado in September 2014 after many years of daydreaming about the Rocky Mountains and the sunny bluebird sky that makes the Denver area so special. Thrilled with the active choral scene, Laura has performed with the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, Colorado Bach Ensemble, Colorado Opera Chorus, Colorado Symphony Chorus, Denver Pro Chorale, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Choir, Canto Deo, Wellshire Presbyterian Sanctuary Choir and Celebration Singers, Denver Jingle Singers, and the Vittoria Ensemble. She is also a Colorado Honor Band instructor and enjoys teaching younger students. Along with her deep passion of music (which includes an extremely vast array of genres), Laura loves riding her bike, hiking, taking pictures, yoga, and feeling grateful – especially for colors, tomatoes, and friends.
Following in the steps of his twin sister, Andrew was fresh to the music scene as a 5th grade boy when he began singing in Centennial Children’s Choir, based in Fort Collins. From there, he found his passion, going on to sing in musicals and choir throughout junior high and high school. He then pursued a Bachelor of the Arts degree in Music from Colorado State University, where he continued his love for performing in the University’s opera performances, and by being a part of Chamber Choir, under the direction of Dr. James Kim. After graduating in May of 2018, Andrew found his next and current musical endeavor, a professional acapella group called Collide Vocals, where he sings bass. Andrew is currently living his life-long dream, serving as the upper school musical theatre and choir director at Liberty Common High School in Fort Collins. Andrew is excited to now be a part of Anima Chamber Ensemble, where he gets to exercise his passion for chamber music. Andrew is a fun-loving, downright silly guy. His favorite TV shows are The Office and Breaking Bad. In his free time, Andrew likes to run and spend as much time with his friends as possible. This is not surprising, considering he received ENFJ from the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test, and group 1 wing 2 from the Enneagram. He serves as the junior-high youth group leader at his church, and prefers Chick-fil-A sauce over Raising Canes sauce. He insists that this is a crucial and defining detail.
Matthew Weissenbuehler has been involved in Colorado music for many years. From his early days with the Colorado Children’s Chorale to the present he has performed often as soloist or part of a choral ensemble. He has appeared in roles with Opera Colorado and Colorado Opera Troupe. He has performed the roles of Horace Tabor (The Ballad of Baby Doe), Marcello (La Boheme) and Guglielmo (Cosi fan Tutte) at the Black Box Opera Workshop in Aurora. He studied music at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, where he performed as a soloist with the Wartburg Choir and Chamber Orchestra of Iowa. Other solo opportunities have been varied, from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, to the title role in Mendelssohn’s Elijah, to the national anthem at a Rockies baseball game. Mr. Weissenbuehler has performed in recital a number of times in Denver. Choral music remains his favorite performing opportunity, however. He has sung as a member of the Colorado Symphony Chorus, Opera Colorado Chorus, and in the chorus of the Colorado Bach Ensemble, where he serves on the Board of Directors. He also has been part of Kantorei since its first season, serving as bass section leader for 16 years. Singing with the level of musicians in Anima is a great honor for which he is grateful.
jane burgchardt wright
Jane Burgchardt Wright was born in Fort Collins, CO, where she discovered her passion for choral singing as a small child. She sang with many ensembles along the Front Range until relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010. There, she performed with Opera San Jose for three seasons, as well as participating in their school outreach program, and with several local choirs. Jane was also a performer with the Colorado Bach Ensemble. Since moving back to Colorado in 2017, she is able to perform more frequently with CBE, and is delighted to be joining Anima for the first time. In addition to singing, Jane loves to read, practice yoga, and spend time with her husband, John, and their dog, Rikki, at their home in Boulder.
John Wright, recently back in Colorado after seven years in the San Francisco Bay Area, has performed in several choirs along the Front Range, including the Colorado Bach Ensemble, Laudamus Chamber Chorale, and Abendmusik. John also enjoys singing tenor in barbershop quartets. Outside of music, John’s passions include software engineering, bicycling, and outdoor photography.