Guest Performing Ensembles
Thurman White Academy of the Performing Arts Advanced Choir
The Thurman White Academy of the Performing Arts Advanced Choir has been under the direction of Athena Mertes since 2015. This ensemble consistently receives Superior ratings at Choral Festivals and competitions. Their recent virtual choir performance of “Don’t Give Up On Me” was selected to be featured at the 2022 Western Region ACDA Conference “Stories of the Pandemic”. In 2019, they received numerous awards at the Worldstrides Choral Festival in San Diego, California. These awards included: 1st place, Gold, Adjudicator’s Award, Outstanding Choral Group, Outstanding soloists and Overall Sweepstakes. They will perform at the 2024 American Choral Directors Association Western Region Convention in Pasadena, California.
Athena Mertes is the director at the Thurman White Academy of the Performing Arts, where she has over 400 students in her program. where she has been given many accolades for her outstanding teaching. Ms. Mertes is also the Chorus Master of the Opera Las Vegas Youth Chorus. In 2020, she received the Teacher of the Year Award from Magnet Schools of America. As a singer, Ms. Mertes is one of the Valley’s most celebrated sopranos, and has performed numerous opera roles. She has performed as a guest soloist with the Burbank Philharmonic, Las Vegas Philharmonic, Henderson Symphony, Opera Las Vegas, Vegas City Opera, Lexington Opera Outreach, and the Southern Nevada Musical Arts Society.
The Las Vegas Academy of the Arts’ The Academy Singers
The Las Vegas Academy of the Arts’ The Academy Singers is the premiere chamber choir from the 12-time Grammy award-winning Las Vegas Academy of the Arts. This ensemble consists of forty-four of the most talented singers on campus. As the voice of LVA, The Academy Singers have performed nationally and internationally including with Hugh Jackman, Barry Manilow, Wayne Newton, Foreigner, Star Wars in concert, the Boston Brass, Andre Rieu, with the stars of the Broadway show Memphis, Producer Kenny Ortega, and many more. In addition, in this past year, they have been featured on nationally televised performances for the NFL Draft, the NFL Pro-Bowl, the Las Vegas Raiders home game season opener, a Timberwolves game and a PBS Special with Daniel Emmet, Pia Toscano, and David Foster. They are a talented, driven and focused group of students with a true passion for singing. Although they come from many different backgrounds, their goal is the same – to share their love of music.
Megan Franke originally hails from Fargo, North Dakota, receiving her bachelor’s degrees in Vocal Performance and Music Education from the University of Mary. She continued her graduate work at the University of Minnesota Duluth, completing her master’s degree in Vocal Performance. While in the Midwest, Ms. Franke performed in both the opera and jazz worlds. Since 2007, Ms. Franke has been the Director of Vocal Activities at the 12-time Grammy winning Las Vegas Academy of the Arts. She also serves as Music Conservatory Chairperson. Under her direction, the Vocal Department has more than doubled in size and scope, and her ensembles have garnered national attention. Visit www.lasvegasacademy.net for more information about the award-winning programs under the direction of Ms. Franke!
Cimarron-Memorial High School Advanced Choir
The Cimarron-Memorial High School Advanced Choir has been under the direction of Andrea Williams since 2022, which has not had a choir program since 2019. Since reinventing the choral program, this group of musicians has grown by leaps and bounds. They received high marks at the 2021 Clark County School District Choral Festival. In December, several singers participated in the annual Clark County School District Holiday Extravaganza at the Smith Center in Las Vegas. Last February, the choral program produced a Black History Concert, the first in the school’s history, which featured several dignitaries as guest speakers, choral music provided by the choirs, Black History skits, and solos performed by members of the choir program. They sang the National Anthem at a Las Vegas Aviators game this past year. Driven and motivated, these young singers strive for choral excellence and artistry, and are honored to be part of a Southern Nevada Musical Arts Society performance!
Andrea Williams is the Choir Director at Cimarron-Memorial High School and a recent Las Vegas resident. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Vocal Music Education from Eastern Michigan University in 2010 and received her master’s degree in Vocal Pedagogy from Oakland University in 2015. Prior to relocating to Las Vegas, Mrs. Williams taught Choir in Detroit, Michigan for 11 years. In addition to teaching, she was the Choir Director and alto soloist at Metropolitan United Methodist Church, where she performed many vocal recitals.
Thurman White Academy of the Performing Arts Orchestra
The Thurman White Academy of the Performing Arts Orchestra is known for its beautiful and technical sound. They have performed extensively at many prestigious events and venues.
Kerry Bennett, a native of Las Vegas, is the director of orchestras at Thurman White Academy of the Performing Arts. She has taught strings to over 2,500 young people and piloted the orchestra programs at two performing arts magnet schools within the school district, including in her current position. An educator with a strong vision and passion for classical music, Ms. Bennett became the first middle school orchestra teacher to represent Nevada at the prestigious Midwest Clinic, as well as the American String Teachers Association National Conference. Soon after, the American String Teachers Association named Kerry Bennett as “Classroom Teacher of the Year” in Clark County. As a conductor, Kerry Bennett has led the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra, and has been a preparatory conductor for the CCSD Honor Orchestra, as well as chairing the Middle School Honor Orchestra program. Recently, Kerry conducted her middle school orchestras in Carnegie Hall in New York City, and Davies Hall in San Francisco.
Olivia Yokers, Soprano, is well regarded for her thrilling voice and versatility onstage. Praised for singing with “gorgeous vulnerability” (Richmond Times), her most notable roles include Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance (Dayton Opera, Tulane Summer Lyric, Utah Festival Opera), Zerlina in Don Giovanni (Dayton Opera, Chance Opera Theatre), and Miss Honey in Matilda (Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma). Ms. Yokers has performed as a solo artist with companies such as Virginia Opera, Dayton Artist Alliance, and Oklahoma City’s Canterbury Voices and performed oratorios including Haydn’s The Creation, Handel’s Messiah, and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem. As an advocate for new music, Ms. Yokers was a part of the debut of Before the Night Sky presented by Opera America New Opera Showcase. With the company, Opera Las Vegas, Ms. Yokers performed the role of Lily in the debut of Letters to Lily composed by Emily Clements in 2022.
Andrea Williams, Contralto/Mezzo-Soprano, is the Choir Director at Cimarron- Memorial High School. She performed as a chorister at the Detroit Opera House for 10 years, performing in 13 productions including Carmen, Tosca, and Macbeth. Mrs. Williams has most recently sung in the chorus for the Opera Las Vegas’ production of La Traviata and is an alto in the Southern Nevada Musical Arts Society, and Las Vegas Master Singers.
Michael TK Lam
Michael TK Lam, Tenor, completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and is currently on the faculty of the University of Nevada, Reno. Originally from Hong Kong, Mr. Lam graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara with a BA in Sociology with a Minor in German Studies and Music. He also received an MA in Music Education from the University College London. He also graduated from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC) with a MMus in Vocal Performance. In the summer of 2022, Michael became a young artist of the dell’Arte Opera Ensemble, where he performed Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and Lucero’s Juana. He has had over twenty recent engagements in a variety of operatic roles and was the tenor soloist in Bruckner’s Mass in F Minor Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. He has also won first place in the New England Music Festival and first place in the graduate division of NATS in Las Vegas.
André Chiang, Bass, has been lauded as “vocally commanding” (Oregonian), “handsome of voice” (Opera News), and lauded with “let’s hear more from this singer” (Washington Post). Chiang’s recent engagements include Dandini (La Cenerentola) with Dayton Opera and Escamillo (Carmen) with Mobile Opera. Previous companies include Portland Opera, Virginia Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and the Glimmerglass Festival. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in the World Premiere of Martin Palmeri’s Gran Misa as Baritone soloist. Upcoming engagements include Opera Las Vegas, Opera Western Reserve, Mobile Opera, and Opera Philadelphia. As an educator, Chiang was a 2018 NATS Intern and in the first cohort of Pan American Vocology Association – Recognized Vocologists (PAVA-RV). Chiang is an Assistant Professor of Voice at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, an Instructor of Voice at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, and runs a private online and in-person studio teaching acoustic and amplified styles.
Alyssa Deitsch is an Emmy award-winning journalist and a weekday morning news anchor and host on FOX5 News Las Vegas. While attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, Alyssa reported on drug tunnels in Nogales, AZ, for which she received a Society of Professional Journalists award. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Alyssa’s career has taken her to Wyoming, Northern California, and finally, Las Vegas. Alyssa loves calling Las Vegas home, where she lives with her husband, their son, dog, and four desert tortoises.
Olympic Gold Medalist Connor Fields rode his bike on a local BMX track when he was 7 years old and was instantly hooked. He rode his bike through a journey that led him to 3 Olympic games! Connor traveled and competed all around the world, representing the USA on his sport’s biggest stage, and it has been one heck of a ride! At age eleven, Connor stopped playing all other sports and focused only on BMX. During this time, Connor sang in choir at Thurman White Middle School. After ups and downs, his BMX career picked up around age 14. At age 16, he earned his first USABMX National Age Group title, and would end his amateur career with 3 total N.A.G. #1 titles. After his stellar career which included Olympic and World Championships, Connor retired in 2022 and was elected to the Nevada Sports Hall of Fame in 2023. He is a huge fan of all sports, especially the Vegas Golden Knights. He catches every round of the AMA supercross and motocross season. Currently, Connor enjoys coaching, commentating, and just riding for fun! www.connorfields.com