Jesi Hempstead, principal mezzo soprano, graduated from Millikin University, where she received degrees in vocal and instrumental performance. She also holds a graduate degree in instrumental performance from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Jesi has sung with several choirs in the St Louis region, with repertoire ranging from early music to musical theatre and contemporary choral music. Her journey in choral music began as an awardee of a grant to sing with the Masterworks Chorale during her high school years, and she was thrilled to have the opportunity to come full circle and rejoin the Chorale in 2022.
Megan Schmid, principal soprano, has sung with the Masterworks Chorale since the 2017-18 season. She has appeared regularly as a featured soloist in repertoire ranging from German Lieder to Celtic folk music to Broadway. Megan holds a degree in Music Education with a vocal emphasis from McKendree University. She is in her fourth year of teaching in the Collinsville School District as a K-6 music teacher as well as choir director. She is also principal guest soprano at Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Saint Louis.
Andrea Lair, principal mezzo-soprano, holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Music Education at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis. She has performed in numerous roles with the UMSL Opera Theatre, appearing in productions of Die Fledermaus, The Mikado, Hansel and Gretl, and Dido and Aeneas. A past second place winner in the NATS competition, she has also performed with the UMSL University Singers and the ensemble Vocal Point. Andrea is also the Assistant Conductor for the Masterworks Children’s Choruses. Since 2018, Andrea has served as Camp Director of the Masterworks Summer Youth Experience. Andrea is a music instructor and choral director at McNair Elementary School in the Hazelwood School District, for whom she has also presented clinics for elementary grade choirs. She is also handbell choir director for Salem United Methodist Church (Saint Louis), and cantors and sings with the Salem Chancel Choir.
Jeffrey Ballard, principal tenor, trained as an instrumental and vocal major at Southwestern Oklahoma State University and also studied abroad at the Rachmaninoff State Conservatory in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, where he studied choral and orchestral conducting. A native of St. Louis, he has sung with several local choruses, including the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, the American Kantorei, the In Unison Chorus, and the Bach Society of Saint Louis, with whom he appeared as tenor soloist in a performance of the Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor. Jeff serves as principal singer at Webster Groves Presbyterian Church, and is an annual guest director of the St. Anselm Abbey Schola Holy Week services. Masterworks credits include solo appearances in Kodály’s Missa Brevis, Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music; Copland’s Lark; Cantata BWV 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden by Bach; and stellar performances of selections from Handel’s Messiah. Jeff is also the Assistant Conductor for the Masterworks Chorale.
Brandon Smith, principal baritone, is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, where he studied voice and opera performance with Stella Markou. He has also studied with Vinson Cole at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Brandon was the featured soloist in performances of the Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs. He was also the baritone soloist in the Chorale’s performances of Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, and Bach’s Cantata BWV 4, and Faure’s Requiem. Brandon is a winner of the Sigma Alpha Iota-Saint Louis Alumnae Chapter scholarship. In 2012, he was named the Outstanding Musician in Opera at UMSL, and honored in 2013 as the university’s Outstanding Vocal Musician.
STEPHEN MAGER, MUSIC DIRECTOR & CONDUCTOR
Stephen Mager holds a Doctor of Music degree in choral conducting from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, where he also completed his master’s studies. His minor field studies include organ, piano, and musicology. He studied organ with Christopher Young; Baroque performance practice with Elizabeth Wright; and piano and harpsichord with Mary Mottl, Daniel Schene, and Carl Smith. His choral teachers have included Jan Harrington, Julius Herford, Thomas Binkley, Robert Shaw, Margaret Hillis, Robert Porco, Dale Warland, John Poole, and Carmen-Helena Tellèz.
Dr. Mager has served as Artistic Director and Conductor of the Masterworks Chorale, Belleville, Illinois, since 2009. The ensemble performs in an annual subscription concert series, serving the southwest Illinois region. Under Dr. Mager’s direction, the Chorale has performed numerous major works including the Bach’s Cantatas BWV 4 and 147; Handel’s Messiah (part I); Berlioz, L’Enfance du Christ; Carissimi, Jephte; Haydn’s Nelson Mass; Poulenc, Gloria; and Requiem settings by Mozart, Brahms, Fauré, and Duruflé.
Other conducting credits include the Arcangeli Chamber Chorus, with whom he has produced two CD recordings; The Providence Singers, Saint Louis; St. Louis Chamber Chorus; The Baden Chamber Orchestra; Saint Louis University Chorale; and education outreach performances for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and the Washington National Opera.
An active composer, Dr. Mager has written extensively for chorus and orchestra. His works have been performed by such distinguished ensembles as the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus; VocalEssence, Minnesota; and the Dallas Symphony Chorus. In 2004, Mager was appointed composer-in-residence by the Bach Society of Saint Louis, which has since commissioned a number of major choral works. His publishers include Oxford University Press and MorningStar Music.
Meet Our Conductor & Personnel
Dave Ressler, principal bass, a lifelong choral singer, has sung in boys’ choir, high school chorus, seminary chorale, and several Catholic church choirs. He studied choral conducting, led choirs and planned liturgical music during his time at Cardinal Glennon College, and later with Dignity St Louis.
His classical musical experience began in high school with the Cosmopolitan Singers, singing opera choruses and Beethoven. He sang for three years with the Bach Society of Saint Louis under conductors Ronald Arnatt, Donald Chen and Pat Partridge, before devoting the next thirty years to the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, under Thomas Peck and Amy Kaiser, in which he sang most of the standards of the choral-symphonic repertoire.
The last four years in Masterworks closes a circle for Dave, who had met and sung under Dr. Mager in an early-music ensemble in the 1970s, and establishing a cherished relationship with him and Margaret. Dave relishes the opportunity to revisit some pieces and meet the challenges this group offers.
A proponent of Sacred Harp singing, Dave has sung with traditional singers from around the world at all-day singings in the American South, the Midwest, and in Israel. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Shape Note Singers, and regularly “pitches” and helps lead the local singings.
Dave recently retired after thirty-five years in pipe organ tuning and service for The Wicks Organ Company. He currently lives in the home his parents bought in 1954 in the Southwest Garden District of the City of St. Louis, and volunteers with the Red Cross and Tower Grove Park.
Samantha Arten, Administrative Manager
Samantha Arten is a professional soprano and music historian whose activities range widely in both areas, though she is most at home in early music. She performs as a soloist and choral singer for repertoire that extends from medieval chant to contemporary barbershop singing. Samantha is a principal singer with the Bach Society of St. Louis and a staff singer in the choir of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and she also maintains an active schedule of solo recitals.
Samantha holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Duke University, where she studied early music vocal performance with Penelope Jensen, and a Bachelor of Music degree in music history from Washington University in St. Louis, where she studied voice with Christine Armistead and Jolly Stewart. She teaches as a Lecturer in Musicology at Washington University in St. Louis, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Maryville University, and is a faculty affiliate with Saint Louis University’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Her musicological research focuses on sixteenth-century English music printing in the context of Reformation theology and book history, and her research has been published in the Yale Journal of Music and Religion, Early Music, Reformation, and in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and the Arts. You can read more about Samantha’s interests and hear recordings of her singing at her website, www.samanthaarten.com.