About Us

The Mission of VocalEssence

 VocalEssence champions choral music of all genres, celebrating the vocal experience through innovative concerts, commissions, and community engagement programs.


Called “one of the irreplaceable music ensembles of our time” by Dana Gioia, past chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, VocalEssence is renowned for its innovative exploration of music for voices and instruments under the enthusiastic direction of Artistic Director and Founder Philip Brunelle. Each season, the organization presents an eclectic series of concerts featuring the 130-voice VocalEssence Chorus, the 32-voice professional Ensemble Singers, guest soloists and instrumentalists.

VocalEssence was founded in 1969 as the Plymouth Music Series, an arts outreach program of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. Ten years later, the organization was incorporated as a separate 501(c)(3) non-profit. In 1991, the first full time executive director was brought on board to expand its local and national impact. In 2002, the Series formally changed its name to VocalEssence, capturing the essence of its mission to explore music for the human voice, from the spoken word to choral singing.


In the very first season, Aaron Copland guest conducted a program of his own choral music, setting the stage for more than 40 years of tremendous success with world, United States, and Midwest premieres; famous guest artists; commissions of new works; and a reputation for surprise.


In addition to championing lesser-known works of the past, VocalEssence has an unwavering commitment to today’s composers, which has resulted in more than 140 world premieres to date. The organization has received the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for adventurous programming of contemporary music six times and has been honored with more Chorus America awards than any other ensemble nationwide, including the once-in-an-organizational-lifetime Margaret Hillis Achievement Award for Choral Excellence.
Beyond its work in performances and recordings of choral music, VocalEssence reaches into the community with programs that impact thousands of students, singers and composers every year. WITNESS celebrates the contributions of African Americans to our shared American heritage through concerts, recordings and comprehensive school programs. ¡Cantaré brings the talents of composers from Mexico directly into Minnesota classrooms. VocalEssence partners with American Composers Forum to offer Essentially Choral, a program encouraging composers to write new music for chorus and instruments, as well the annual Welcome Christmas Carol Contest.


VocalEssence has fourteen commercially released recordings in print, including four WITNESS CDs of music by African American composers and artists, three live recordings with special guest Garrison Keillor, and two Christmas albums.