In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument
Founded in 1969 under the name Plymouth Music Series, VocalEssence is recognized internationally for innovative exploration of music for voices and instruments. Each year the organization presents an engaging collection of concerts featuring the 130-voice VocalEssence Chorus and its core group, the 32-voice professional mixed chorus called the Ensemble Singers, along with soloists and instrumentalists. There is no organization quite like VocalEssence in its range, variety and quality of performance.
The Plymouth Music Series was founded by Philip Brunelle, now one of Minnesota's most recognized musical entrepreneurs, as an arts outreach program of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. The Series immediately established the marks of its future success: world, United States, and Midwest premieres; famous guest artists; commissions of new works (over 115 to date); and a reputation for surprise.
In the very first season Aaron Copland came to conduct his choral works for the Plymouth Music Series - the first time he had ever been asked to conduct his choral music.
By 1979, the Plymouth Music Series was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation governed by its own independent board of directors. In 1991, international recording successes convinced the board that the Series was ready for new artistic challenges. Over the next three years, the organization professionalized its performing ensemble, creating the Ensemble Singers, and hired its first full-time management staff.
Internationally recognized as a leader in choral performance and organizational management, the Plymouth Music Series hosted the annual Chorus America Conference in Minneapolis in June 1999. At the invitation of the Series and other Minnesota choral organizations, the Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music was held in the Twin Cities in August 2002. Philip Brunelle served as the president of this international event.
In 2002 the Plymouth Music Series changed its name to VocalEssence, capturing the essence of its mission to explore music for the human voice, from spoken word to choral singing.
In addition to championing lesser known works of the past, VocalEssence has an unwavering commitment to today's composers. It has received the ASCAP/ Chorus America Award for adventurous programming of contemporary music an unprecedented five times it has been eligible, and it was awarded the once-in-an-organizational lifetime Margaret Hillis Achievement Award for Choral Excellence.
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Review: VocalEssence and the American Composers Forum have joined forces to offer an annual contest encouraging the composition of new carols. Over the years hundreds of worthy carols have been submitted. "Behold This Heavenly Night" presents the world premiere of some of these contest-winning carols alongside outstanding arrangements of more familiar melodies. Also included is the U.S. premiere of John Rutter's new "Carol of the Magi" and a unique arrangement of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" translated into Latin by Philip Brunelle and his son Christopher.
Review: Storyteller Garrison Keillor and conductor Philip Brunelle lead a harmonious celebration of all things Thanksgiving with the melodious voices of the VocalEssence Chorus & Ensemble Singers and their special guests, singer Jearlyn Steele and pianist Richard Dworsky. Along the way we learn that Thanksgiving really isn't all about the turkey - it's actually all about the pie.
Review: VocalEssence WITNESS recordings showcase the music of trailblazing African American composers - the soul of American classical music. William Grant Still's music for chorus, orchestra and organ brings the blues into the concert hall, ragtime to the ballet stage and the Old World into a new era!
Review: The world premiere recording of Carol Barnett and Marisha Chamberlain's bluegrass mass - a joyful affirmation of life expressed in sophisticated choral sound and jubilant bluegrass harmonies written especially for the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers and bluegrass band Monroe Crossing. In addition ten American masterworks spanning the centuries, originally recorded for the national radio program Saint Paul Sunday, from Billings to Bolcom and beyond. The composers represented here display a passion for voices and what they can convey through song. Each is among the most respected in blending American song and text.
Review: In 1991 founder and artistic director Philip Brunelle and 24 mixed-voice VocalEssence presented "Witness," the first of an enduring series of concerts focused on the music of African American Composers. It was taken from "Witness: Six Original Compositions in a Spiritual Style," commissioned for Jubilant Sykes and VocalEssence. Visiting several area high schools while soloist Sykes was in Minneapolis for the premiere led VocalEssence to create an award-winning educational outreach program, bringing the talents of African Americans to thousands of Minnesota school students. A Woodwind Quintet and Jazz Ensemble perform with VocalEssence on the 18 pieces of "Dance Like The Wind," Undine Smith Moore's lovely "Mother to Son," "We Shall Walk Through the Valley" and "Tambourines to Glory," the title tune--William Banfield's beautiful instrumental, "My Soul Hath Found Refuge In Thee" (Psalm 91), by Evelyn Simpson-Curenton," Adolphus Hailstork's soaring "Nocturne," two selections from Billy Childs' "Piece for Stringed Orchestra" and David Baker's eclectic "Images, Shadows and Dreams: Five Vignettes." "Dance Like the Wind" is thought-provoking and moving music by eight modern, cutting-edge African American composers.
Review: Reflecting the shared American heritage like a patchwork quilt, this is a charming collection of folksongs performed by conductor Philip Brunelle and the 32-voice VocalEssence Ensemble Singers with guitar, harmonica, accordion, bass and piano. Whether passed along by tradition or composed by a known songwriter, all of these songs have a melody that you can hum, sing and remember! Thanks to Norman Luboff, Edwin Fissinger, Jack Halloran, and the dynamic team of Alice Parker & Robert Shaw, there are wonderful arrangements that capture the atmosphere of each in choral settings.
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
Review: The world premiere recording of Conrad Susa's beloved Carols & Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest, plus a delightful collection of carols from around the world, tied together by their diversity and charm. Featuring the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers with woodwinds, cello, bass, harp, guitar and percussion under the direction of conductor Philip Brunelle.
In Dat Great Gittin' Up Mornin'
Review: Philip Brunelle, founder and artistic director, leads 24 mixed-voice, MN-based VocalEssence in the "Witness" concert series-this one focused on African American spirituals and gospel music. Joining them are Moore by Four, an ensemble of Minneapolis-based jazz vocalists, and several accompanists on piano, drums and bass. 16 powerful, soulful tunes here: "Witness," "Hush, Somebody's Callin' My Name," "Death Is Gonna Lay His Cold Icy Hands On Me," the upbeat "Walk Together, Children," the powerful a cappella hymn "Were You There," the Moses Hogan-arranged "Elijah Rock," the Jester Hairston-arranged "In Dat Great Gittin' Up Mornin'," "Go Where I Send Thee," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and the Michael Abels-arranged title tune, "What a Mighty God." This is a wonderful collection of spirituals and Gospel tunes, authentic and sung with soul and spirit by one of the best Choruses (and jazz ensembles) on the planet. Great stuff!