Meritáge Vocal Arts Ensemble, Southern California Master Chorale and Starlight Carolers stand as an enduring testament to the power of music in Southern California. Our journey traces back to the 1980s, when Dr. Sheridan Ball, a passionate musician from Nebraska, ignited the choral program at Cypress College in Cypress, California.

Under Dr. Ball’s visionary leadership, the Cypress College choral program flourished, blossoming from a modest seven students in two choirs to over 200 singers across six remarkable ensembles by the mid-’80s. It was during this era that Dr. Ball encountered the enchanting Abend Kammerchor at Long Beach City College, inspiring him to create Cypress College’s chamber ensemble of 36 skilled singers, Camerata, in 1984. 

The choir standing at the alter in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Ireland.
Meritáge Vocal Arts Ensemble, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Ireland, 2023
Dr. Sheridan Ball, Artistic Director Emeritus holding a baton.
Dr. Sheridan Ball, Artistic Director Emeritus

Cypress College’s Camerata rehearsed and performed as an evening ensemble, allowing singers to harmonize without daytime conflicts, and its formation marked a turning point in the school’s music expansion. As the Cypress choral programs grew, so did the need for private financial support to supplement public education funding, leading to the formation of Friends of Choral Music (FOCM), a private IRS 501(c)3 nonprofit. FOCM’s tireless efforts developed the creation of the Starlight Carolers, whose festive holiday performances raised substantial funds for the choral program, further enhancing the singers’ musical endeavors.

Over the years, the Cypress College choral program’s quality and scope expanded, leading to the formation of the Southern California Master Chorale (SCMC). This skilled ensemble, comprising Cypress College singers, alumni, and Camerata members, embarked on numerous worldwide cultural and educational musical exchanges captivating audiences across Europe, Asia, Oceania and beyond.

SCMC’s repertoire transcended boundaries, performing with renowned orchestras and gracing prestigious venues, including St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Carnegie Hall in New York City, and the famed Sydney Opera House. But the joy of music also included such wide-ranging cultural experiences such as sharing music with a Fijian tribal community as well as music students from a Tel Aviv kibbutz.

Ultimately, Dr. Sheridan Ball retired from Cypress College, and the choral programs under new college leadership ebbed.  But the bonds of friendship, adventures and musical experiences under his leadership, as well as the dedication of a hard-working non-profit board of directors at FOCM, kept the music alive for Starlight Carolers and Southern California Master Chorale. And the veteran members of Cypress Camarata, no longer students at the college, formed Meritáge Vocal Arts Ensemble under the FOCM umbrella.  

When Dr. Ball retired from all conducting, the groups’ musical prowess continued to evolve under the baton of distinguished conductors, including the accomplished Dr. Cristian Grases of USC.  Dr. Grases, a world-renowned conductor and composer, broadened FOCM’s appeal and Meritage’s horizons, introducing diverse musical traditions from Latin America and the Caribbean. This commitment to musical diversity extended to collaborations with local high schools, nurturing the next generation of choral enthusiasts.



In 2019, the choruses welcomed Dr. Brian Dehn of Claremont College as their third Artistic Director. Brian’s exceptional musical skills, depth of knowledge of all choral music genres, decades of experience and conducting leadership revitalized the ensembles, even amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under his guidance, Meritage remained steadfast, delivering online rehearsals, solo performances, and a heartwarming “virtual” Christmas concert that received acclaim from a grateful pandemic-weary audience.



The tradition of excellence persisted as Meritage joined forces with the professional Meistersingers choral ensemble and other regional choruses, crafting monumental performances, such as the remarkable rendition of Duruflé’s Requiem. Meritage’s dedication to musical exploration is further exemplified by their upcoming seasons, promising masterworks, a concert version of the beloved Broadway musical, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and an expanding array of community performances and educational productions. 



As we look ahead, Meritage Vocal Arts Ensemble, SCMC and Starlight Carolers invite you to join us on our continuing journey through the world of music. Our legacy of harmony, diversity, education and artistic innovation remain our passion as we share the vibrant tapestry of Southern California’s choral traditions to ever widening appeal.