Artistic Leadership

Dawn Willis

Dr. Dawn O. Willis, Artistic Director

Dr. Dawn Willis is the Artistic Director of Solaris Vocal Ensemble, a twenty-four member mixed-voice ensemble she founded in 2013. Her broad knowledge of exceptional choral repertoire is at the base of the Solaris mission to present exciting and meaningful performances to its varied audiences. Under her leadership, Solaris has performed as the featured ensemble at the Vermont/New Hampshire American Choral Directors’ Association Gather at the River conference in New Hampshire, and on performance tours in Maine and Canada. Solaris has also performed at the Vermont statehouse in Montpelier by invitation. Solaris regularly performs in Waterbury and Burlington along with other venues throughout Vermont and has produced two CDs – I Was Glad and Vivat Musica – Music is Life. Dr. Willis is also the founder and Artistic Director of Bella Voce Women’s Chorus of Vermont, and she has served as the Interim Music Director at College Street Congregational Church, Burlington and Music Director at First Baptist Church, Burlington; Chorus Director for the Green Mountain Opera Festival; and as the Assistant Director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

Melissa Ewell, Collaborative Pianist

Melissa Ewell taught music for 40 years, retiring in 2017 only to take a job as accompanist and vocal coach for the music department at Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans. Those 40 years and before included countless performances as accompanist for recitals, chorus concerts and festivals, master classes, musical theatre, operas, and auditions. Melissa has a Master’s Degree in Arts Education from St. Michael’s College and lives in St. Albans with her husband, Michael, and mini-labradoodle, Dickens. Melissa joined Solaris in the fall of 2021.

Cameron Brownell, Assistant Conductor

Cameron, a native Vermonter from Colchester, graduated summa cum laude from SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music with degrees in Music Education and Voice Performance. He went on to earn a master’s degree in Sacred Music from the University of Notre Dame where he received the Sacred Music Program’s Academic Achievement Award.

After living in Utah for three years, where he worked as a chorus teacher and parish music director, and sang with the Utah Chamber Artists under the direction of Dr. Barlow Bradford, Cameron moved back to Vermont to accept the job as Chorus Teacher at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg in 2020. In February 2022, he took on the additional role of Music Director at Charlotte Congregational Church in Charlotte.

Dr. Susan Summerfield, Organist

Susan Summerfield has a long career of performing and teaching music. She received degrees in music from Douglass College (Rutgers), Mills College and Stanford University, specializing in historical performance practice on keyboard instruments. She also studied organ with William Hays (Westminster Choir College) and in Paris, with Pierre Cogen and Michel Chapuis. Before moving to the Burlington area, Susan was the Luther B. Marchant Professor of Music at Mills College where she taught for 18 years. Now at Saint Michael’s College, she teaches music history, theory and performance. She also serves as the Saint Michael’s College Organist. Susan has accompanied choirs for many years, including nine years as organist at the First Baptist Church in Burlington.

Solaris Board of Directors

Karen Baron, Chair

Nan O’Leary, Secretary

Linda Wheeler, Treasurer

Jenny Berchling

John Buck, Past Chair

Dean King

Skip Potter

John Trackey

Katherine Wayman

Gail Whitehouse

Dawn Willis