Artistic Director and Conductor, Dr. David R. Thye
Principal Pianist, Dr. Robert Mills
Founding Conductor, Dr. Glenn Bennett
Artist in Residence, Paul Phoenix
Dr. David Thye


David R. Thye is a passionate conductor, educator, lecturer, and clinician. He joined Arizona Cantilena Chorale as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor in May 2018. While inspiring excellence through artistic mastery, discipline, and musical integrity, Dr. Thye consistently delivers cutting-edge live performances with sincerity, focus, passion and enthusiasm. He also remains active as a conductor of music festivals across the U.S. and abroad.



Dr. Robert Mills is a Clinical Associate Professor of Music and the vocal coach/accompanist for Arizona State University’s Lyric Opera. He is a frequent guest artist with the Grammy Award-winning Phoenix Chorale and the Three Tenors of Mexico and is in high demand as a coach accompanist in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Dr. Mills concertizes throughout the United States as a collaborative pianist and has special affinity for contemporary American art song.



The Arizona Cantilena Chorale is proud to call Grammy Award winner Paul Phoenix our Artist in Residence for the 2017-2018 seasons. Averaging more than 130 concerts annually, he has sung in many of the world’s greatest concert halls. In 2014, Paul retired from the King’s Singers and launched Purple Vocals: Perform and Engage, a coaching and engagement consultancy. Paul has worked with the Arizona Cantilena Chorale since October 2016, and we are proud to have Paul on board as our Artist in Residence.

Karen Hubbard-Leverton, alto, Board President

Karen Hubbard-Leverton has a Bachelor’s of Music Degree from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. She has been a member of Cantilena since 2006, when the Chorale began at Mesa Community College as Mesa Schola Cantorum. Her love of music has provided the opportunity to perform as a chorister and a soloist. She is proud to be a founding member of the Arizona Cantilena Chorale and the Vice-President for its inaugural year. When she is not singing she works for Great American Title, Inc. as a Senior Escrow Officer.

Pamela Watson, soprano, Secretary

Pamela is from Mesa, Arizona, where she lives with her husband, David Watson. They have three daughters, Lauren, Erin and Amber. Pamela has her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Arizona State University, having studied under Judy May. She has sung with the Phoenix Symphony Chorus and various other groups in the valley. A flight attendant for American Airlines for 29 years, Pamela enjoys photography, history, scuba diving and travel.

Laura Barton, soprano

Laura moved to the Phoenix area in 2013 from Atlanta, Georgia. She enjoys living in the west with her husband and three children. She has a great love for the Arts and is a member of the Mesa Public schools Art Masterpiece Council. Laura has a BA in Humanities and a MS in Psychology. She has performed in various choirs and venues as a soloist throughout her life. Some favorite theater roles from the past include Lily in The Secret Garden and Adelaide from Guys and Dolls.

Vicki Bennett, soprano, VP of Marketing and Communication, Artistic Board Member, Section Leader

Vicki Bennett has a Masters of Vocal Performance from Arizona State University. She is presently on faculty in the music department at Mesa Community College. She’s been a Soprano soloist in the greater metropolitan Phoenix area through the years, collaborating with Scottsdale and Mesa symphonies as well as many other community groups as their guest artist for concerts. She treasures most singing wonderful music alongside her fellow Arizona Cantilena Chorale members.

Meridith Borta, soprano

Meridith developed her love for singing as a young child performing in church and school productions, as well as touring and recording with a Christian singing group throughout her youth. She has a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Grand Canyon University and has performed in numerous musical theater productions around the Valley, including her favorite roles of Mabel (Pirates of Penzance), the Witch (Into the Woods), Sarah Brown (Guys and Dolls), Cinderella (Cinderella), and Casilda (Cosi Fan Tutti), for which she won an AriZoni award. With Masters degrees in both Elementary Education and Educational Leadership, education is one of her passions. She has been the Elementary Principal at Faith Christian School in Mesa for 15 years where she also teaches several subjects and serves as the musical director and choreographer for the major musical productions. Meridith is also a business owner and enjoys mentoring her growing team. She and her husband, Paul, have been married for 17 years and have 4 beautiful daughters.

Maureen Buza, alto, Founding Board Member

Growing up in Tempe, Maureen Buza has been singing in choirs since the 5th grade. As a charter member of the Arizona Cantilena Chorale, she is proud to be a part of the Alto section. Maureen holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University after transferring from Mesa Community College … back in the day. She has performed as a soloist in the community as well ensemble. When she isn't singing with AzCC, Maureen enjoys spending time with her husband Paul, her friends and family, her rescue dogs Oreo and Jackman … and listening to Rush. Long live music!

Paul Buza, bass, Artistic Board Member

Paul began his musical education at Mesa Community College at the age of 19 and continues performing to this day. He has been fortunate enough to have numerous opportunities to perform with various organizations in Arizona. Along his journey in musical theatre, opera, operetta, and as a featured soloist for oratorios and other major choral works ,Paul has met and worked with awarded-winning conductors and performers. He met his wife, Maureen, who is also a member of Arizona Cantilena Chorale, and many of his closest friends through music.

Ed Cluff, bass

Ed Cluff had the love of singing instilled in him at a young age. He began performing in elementary school and continued singing though high school. After graduating, Ed served a two-year mission for his church in Mexico where his love of singing hymns in Spanish enabled him to utilize his glorious bass voice. Upon returning from his mission in 1971, Ed continued to sing at MCC and taught in the Mesa district for over 30 years. When Dr. Glenn Bennett began teaching choir in the valley, Ed was there as one of his first selected basses. Last year Ed and his wife, of 41 years, served a mission for their church to Chile. While he was away Cantilena missed him dearly. He lives in Mesa, has 7 children, and 18 grandchildren.

Deborah De Simone, mezzo-soprano

A member of Arizona Cantilena Chorale since 2015, mezzo-soprano Deborah DeSimone has performed in several Musica Nova concerts. These include the part of Inez in the 2016 world premiere of No Exit: A Comic Opera, the alto solo in Mozart’s Vespere Solenne, and the role of La Ciesca in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. She also sang for several years with Scottsdale Choral Artists. She studied voice with Dan Kurek and also participated in many of his opera workshops. This summer she has continued her love of singing in an opera workshop directed by Jennifer Nagy and Dr. Jeffery Stevens. Originally from New Jersey, Dr. DeSimone holds a Ph.D. in Engineering from Cornell University and has lived in Arizona for over 30 years.

Jared McLain, bass

Jared McLain graduated with a degree in Vocal Performance and History from Arizona State University, having studied under Jerry Doan. He has performed with numerous choirs and ensembles across the Valley and has recently been performing and recording with Rob Gardner as a part of the Spire Choir. Jared has been a featured soloist with Arizona Cantilena Chorale and with the Arizona Millennial Choir. Jared is a father of 3, and the choir director for his local congregation at his church.

Steve Negley, bass

Steve Negley studied piano and sang in choral groups and opera ensemble at University of Colorado, Boulder. He received his bachelors degree in Music Education from Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, and his master of music degree from Arizona State University in piano performance and pedagogy. He has taught general music, choral music and orchestra in Arizona public schools for 11 years and has enjoyed singing in various ASU choral groups and church choirs.

Jenny Preece-Thompson, alto

Jennifer Jenny Preece-Thompson (Soprano II) hails from Roanoke, VA, and is a four-year resident of the Phoenix area. She is a graduate of Hollins University where she studied voice under Dr. Judith Cline. She also holds a Masters of Business Administration degree from Averett University. She currently works as an Underwriting Assistant at XLCatlin Insurance and lives with her husband Ron in Laveen.

Helen Robles, alto, Artistic Board Member

Helen Robles has been singing ever since she can remember. Her parents met in college and were both music majors. They all played guitars and sang harmony, and everywhere they went they had to sing for their supper! Helen studied music in college, sang in many choirs and vocal groups until she found Cantilena. Outside of music, she is a registered nurse and works in a local hospital as a lactation consultant.

Robert Smith, tenor, Founding Board member & Past President

Robert is from a family of singers in Indiana with a rich musical history ranging from his father who sang for Fred Waring in Carnegie Hall, to an uncle who sang Back Home Again in Indiana at the 1980 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, to a brother and a sister who are professional jazz/rock ’n’ roll musicians. Robert graduated in Audiology and Speech Sciences from Purdue University where he was a soloist for the Purdue Glee Club and a professional group, Collegiate Singers, that traveled extensively in the Midwest. In Arizona, Robert has studied voice at Arizona State University, sang as a soloist at Trinity Cathedral, and is a tenor soloist for the Dayspring Chorale and Arizona Cantilena Chorale. He is a retired educator of 45 years. Robert and his wife Pauline have two grown sons and two beautiful granddaughters.

David Watson, tenor, VP of Technical Projects and Support, Artistic Board Member

David has his Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Arizona State University where he studied with Jerry Doan, and also a degree in Information Systems from Western Governors University. He has been singing and directing choirs for many years, having performed many musical theater roles including the Caliph in Kismet, Enoch Snow in Carousel, and Orpheus in Orpheus in the Underworld. David is a pilot for American Airlines and co-owns Cloud Software in Tempe, Arizona. Married to Pamela Watson and the father of three musical daughters, he lives in Mesa, Arizona.

Jeff Wieland, bass, Section Leader

Jeff Wieland is a graduate of Carroll University with a Bachelor of Science in Education with minor studies in Vocal Performance. He completed his K-12 music education certification in May 1999. While attending Carroll University, he studied voice with Patricia Crump, the music/director/voice coach of Florentine Opera House in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Jeff is the president of the Masters Praise Choir and Orchestra at First Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. He and his three children presently reside in Chandler.

Lauri Wieland, soprano

Lauri Wieland studied voice as well as viola at Mount Senario College in Wisconsin. She continued her studies at Grand Canyon University after a move to Arizona. She has been involved in musical theatre, opera, symphonies, string quartets, church choir productions and orchestras. She also was involved with Arizona Masterworks Chorale. Currently she is in the Phoenix Praise Symphony, leads worship, sings in a professional quartet called Hosanna, teaches voice, piano, guitar, and is very involved in her church's music ministry.

Stephen R. Willis, tenor

Prior to joining the Arizona Cantilena Chorale, Stephen sang in the Highland High School Concert Choir and at the Chamber Choir at Chandler Gilbert Community College, both under the direction of Rita Scholz. In addition to choral music, Stephen directs the praise band for the contemporary worship service at Church of the Master. He also writes and records music for his folk music project My Eclectic Self. Outside of music, he is a writer, web developer and co-editor of the literary magazine, The Uprising Review.