About Toyes

In the summer of 2005, a few singers in the Madison Early Music Festival decided that it was a fine idea to get together and delight themselves with singing madrigals. The group's first piece—William Byrd’s “This sweet and merry month of May”, whose ending celebrated Queen Elizabeth I with the words

And greet Eliza with a rhyme:
O beauteous Queen of Second Troy,
Take well in worth a simple toy.

provided a great name for the group. Eliza’s Toyes was born, and existed every summer in Madison, Wisconsin.

In 2008, a fair number of singers who were in Eliza's Toyes are living in Madison once again. Thus we gather, outside of the Festival, for the joy of music making. It is our pleasure to continue sharing this wonderful body of music with you, through programs with innovative themes!

For bio of musicians, please visit the full version of this page using a desktop browser.

Members biography

Andrew Aumann, baritone

Arielle Rae Basile, soprano

Cheryl Bensman-Rowe, soprano/alto

Grammy award winner Cheryl Bensman Rowe, vocalist, is known to both early and new music audiences in this country and abroad. Her voice has been described as one of "timbral purity with dramatic intensity" (New York Times.) She has premiered many new compositions and performed with John Adams, Luciano Berio, William Bolcom, Lukas Foss, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Tania Leon, Ingram Marshall and Michael Torke and Pauline Oliveros. As a member of Steve Reich and Musicians, the Waverly Consort and the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, she toured extensively in North and South America, Europe and Japan. She has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, St. Louis Symphony and the Israel Philhamonic. Ms. Bensman-Rowe is the Co-Artistic Director of the Madison Early Music Festival at UW-Madison.

Carl Carlson, tenor

Sandy Erickson, alto/recorders

Sandy Erickson, alto, first became acquainted with Early Music when she studied organ while in college in Kansas. Her passion has been nurtured through additional organ study and participation in the Recorder Ensemble and Adult Choir at Luther Memorial Church in Madison, WI, under the direction of Director of Music, Bruce Bengtson. She is a “founding participant” in the Madison Early Music Festival, having attended all 13 and currently serves as the President of the Advisory Board of the Madison Early Music Festival. She is part of the “original caste” of Eliza's Toyes, active in Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity and has an extensive library of early music recordings. Sandy’s weekdays are filled with interesting and meaningful work on the staff of United Way of Dane County.

Peter Gruett, tenor

Peter Gruett is a graduate of the UW - Madison where he studied voice with James Doing. He has remained active singing with multiple ensembles in the upper Midwest including the Madison Bach Musicians, UW Madrigal Singers and the Milwaukee-based Canticle Consort.

Deb Heilert, soprano

Kathrine Handford, organ (guest)

Kathrine Handford joined the faculty of Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music in 2004. In addition, she was appointed Director of Music and Organist at the historic Central Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota in the spring of 2006 after serving the church in an interim capacity for nearly a year. From 2000-2004 she was Director of Music and Organist at Hamline United Methodist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. She holds the Master of Music degree in Organ Performance and Literature and the highly coveted Performer’s Certificate in Organ from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where she is currently pursuing a doctorate in organ. Her principal teachers include the late Russell Saunders, David Craighead, David Higgs, Jerry Evenrud, Paul Manz and Grethe Krogh in Copenhagen, Denmark.

A musician of wide ranging interests and accomplishments, Ms. Handford has appeared in recitals in the United States, Canada, England and Scandinavia. She has been a featured artist at the Bergen International Festival in Norway, the St. Olaf Festival in Trondheim, Norway, the Lahti International Music Festival in Finland, and at the International Organ Festival in Arona, Italy. Ms. Handford was the winner of the 35th International J.S. Bach Competition held at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. in 1993. In the same year, she received first prize in the John R. Rodland Scholarship Competition, sponsored by the New Jersey Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. She has been the recipient of many other grants and awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts. She has appeared as soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra in Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 in C Minor and with the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra performing Poulenc’s Concerto in g minor at the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians National Convention held at The Temple of The Community of Christ in Independence, Missouri. She has performed numerous recitals with the Swedish natural trumpet virtuoso Niklas Eklund. Her interest in new music has led to premieres of several new works for organ, including Stephen Paulus’s Toccata for Organ, Ketil Hvoslef’s Toccata for Organ, Robert Starer’s Angel Voices, and David Liptak’s Sonata for Violin and Organ which was commissioned by Benedictinus 2000 and premiered in Rome during the Jubilee. In the Twin Cities, Ms. Handford is active as a free-lance musician. She has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and has led numerous sessions during the summer Liturgical Music Workshops which draws individuals from throughout the United States and Canada.

Michael Hoke, tenor

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Michael Hoke graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with a BA in Vocal Performance and Russian Language. He is currently a Masters student at UW Madison in Vocal Performance studying with James Doing. Since moving to Madison he has sung with the Madison Choral Project, Madison Opera Chorus, Wisconsin Chamber Choir, and Isthmus Vocal Ensemble. He also serves as tenor section leader and soloist at Christ Presbyterian.

Sherry Holcomb, soprano

Sherry Holcomb, soprano is an accomplished singer in a variety of genres from opera to cabaret. Originally from Texas, she received her BA in music from the University of North Texas. She has appeared with the Fort Worth Opera, the Denton Bach Society, and as a freelance classical singer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. As a musical theatre performer, she has interpreted roles such as Laurey in Oklahoma and Marian in The Music Man. In the world of popular music, Ms. Holcomb became well known on Fort Worth's west side for her signature cabaret stylings of the music of Gershwin, Sondheim, Legrand and other great songwriters. She is also a veteran of a cappella jazz quartet singing, having appeared in a variety of ensembles all over north central Texas. Ms. Holcomb holds an MS in environmental science and has another life in research administration. However, she remains active as a professional singer, primarily in the early music world, and moonlights as an assistant stage manager for Madison Opera.

Jerry Hui, director; alto/baritone/recorders

Jerry (Chiwei) Hui is the founder and director of many music ensembles throughout the years; recent affiliations in Madison include early music ensemble Eliza’s Toyes, and New Music Everywhere (New MUSE) which designs and performs site-specific multidisciplinary programs of contemporary chamber music. He is the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. As a singer, Jerry has recently been performing with the Madison Bach Musicians, Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, and the New Brunswick Early Music Festival. Jerry received his doctoral degree in music composition (minor in choral conducting) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Besides being an active vocalist and conductor, he is an award-winning composer, and a conductor of both instrumental and choral music. jerryhui.com

Steve Johnson, tenor

Steve Johnson is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Catherine of Alexandria Catholic Church in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. He is a 1993 graduate of the UW-Madison School of Music. He has taught in public schools and has worked in full-time church ministry for the past 15 years. Steve is also a member of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and Jubilate Chorale (Waukesha) and past member of the Fayrfax Ensemble and Madison Chamber Choir.

Melanie Kathan, recorders

Christina Kay, soprano

Soprano Christina Kay is an avid soloist and ensemblist in the Madison and Milwaukee areas, and frequently appears with the Madison Choral Project, Present Music’s Hearing Voices, and Eliza’s Toyes. Christina’s love of early music is evidenced in her Summer 2015 plans, which include her Fresco Opera Theatre debut as a Mermalien in Rinaldo and the Galactic Crusades, and participation in both the Queens College Baroque Opera Workshop and the Madison Early Music Festival. Recent operatic and musical theatre appearances include Dalinda in Handel’s Ariodante, Second Woman/First Witch in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and Mrs. Segstrom in A Little Night Music. Christina has been a featured soloist with the Madison Choral Project (Fauré, Requiem), Rural Musicians Forum (Hovhaness Magnificat, Willcocks Magnificat), University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert Choir (Bach St. John Passion), and the Madison Summer Choir.

In addition to performing, Christina teaches voice lessons at the Madison Music Foundry and Beloit College, and private piano lessons in Fitchburg, WI. She holds degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (M.M., Vocal Performance) and Gettysburg College (B.A., Music), and Young Artist training from SongFest in Malibu, CA.

Theresa Koenig, dulcian/bassoon/alto

Theresa Koenig has been the finalist and winner for several different competitions, including the Milwaukee Symphony Young Artist Competition, Indiana University concerto competitions, and the UW-Madison concerto competition. Ms. Koenig received her Bachelor and Master’s degree in bassoon from the Indiana University Jacob School of Music, studying bassoon with Kim Walker, Michael McCraw, and Arthur Weisberg. At IU, Ms. Koenig was awarded a performers certificate for her junior recital, and was highly involved with chamber music, orchestra, and new music. She played and toured with the IU New Music ensemble and premiered many new works. Theresa is presently pursuing her Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is a recipient of the Paul Collins Distinguished Fellowship, studying bassoon and baroque bassoon with Marc Vallon. theresakoenig.org

Sarah Leuwerke, soprano

Sarah Leuwerke has been seen on the opera stage, as concert soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician throughout the United States. Highlights include performances with the Billings Symphony, Greeley Philharmonic, Santa Fe Opera, Minnessota Opera, Opera Theatre of the Rockies, Madison Opera, and the San Antonio Chamber Choir. Ms. Leuwerke also sings lead vocals and plays keyboard and guitar in a newly formed rock/blues band (yet to be named...watch for us, though). A busy wife and mother of three young children, Ms. Leuwerke and her family enjoy living in Middleton with their 3 cats and 10 chickens.

Ben Li, baritone

Eric Miller, gambist (guest)

Eric Miller is a versatile cellist, viola da gambist, and trumpeter active in baroque performance, improvisation, and traditional classical music. He currently performs with the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble. He also collaborates with Mineral Point songwriter Katie Burns and has recorded two albums with her, a third to be released this summer. In 2010-2011, Eric performed with American Players Theater in The Gift of the Magi, an intimate musical involving only two musicians and three actors. Eric is a committed educator, teaching in the Madison schools and also maintaining a large private studio based in the Suzuki approach.

Beth Morgan, soprano/cello

Madison native, Beth Morgan holds a bachelor's degree from Vassar College where she double-majored in political science and music, studying cello and vocal performance. In 2007 she earned a master's degree in musicology from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Focusing her graduate education on early music, she has studied the viol, and has taught at the Madison Early Music Festival. Ms. Morgan is currently personnel manager and music librarian for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and is cellist and backing-vocalist for Madison-based band, Pale Young Gentlemen.

Daniel O’Dea, tenor

Katherine Peck, soprano

Chelsie Propst, soprano

CHELSIE PROPST is an active performer of contemporary and early music within the Madison area. She has performed with Madison-based ensembles such as the contemporary music group, Clocks in Motion, the Isthmus Chamber Ensemble, Eliza’s Toyes and the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble. Chelsie has performed several opera roles, including Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Belinda in Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas. She is a regular participant in the Madison Early Music Festival and recently attended the Vancouver Mediaeval Programme. She was a finalist in WPR’s 2012 Neale-Silva Young Artists’ Competition and UW-Madison’s 2013 Concerto Competition. In addition to performing, she teaches private voice lessons in the Madison area. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Musicology at UW-Madison. Chelsie received a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from UW-Madison and Bachelor of Arts degrees in Sacred Music and Voice Performance from Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.

Blake Rodgers, bass

Brigid Schultz, soprano

Ryan Thorn, baritone

Doug Towne, lute/guitar/theorbo

Douglas Towne began teaching himself classical guitar (with interruptions) while in the Marine Corps in Vietnam in 1969. After returning from the war, he got his first lute in 1971. In 1979 he gave up the guitar in favor of the lute. He edited the quarterly Newsletter of the Lute Society of America in 1982 and 83. From mid-1986 to mid-1988 he served as the president of the Lute Society of America. He has collected and edited the works of the great Austrian lutenist Wolff Jakob Lauffensteiner (1676 Ð 1754), published in two volumes in 2010 by Tree Editions of Lübeck, Germany. He is currently gathering the surviving works of two 17th century French lutenist-composers, Laurent DuPre and Claude(?) Emond. Doug earned a B.A. in English from UW Madison in 1973 and earned a B.B.A. in Management Computer Systems (Summa cum laude) from UW Whitewater in 1998. Doug works as a consultant/Java programmer for Smart Solutions of Madison, WI.

Ryan Veillet, tenor

Mark Werner, baritone