In Honor of the VocalEssence 50th Anniversary by Catherine Dehoney, President of Chorus America

I’m Catherine Dehoney, President of Chorus America, the research, professional development, and advocacy organization for choruses in North America. Philip asked me to keep my remarks “short and profound, like the Gettysburg Address”.  I’m not sure I can achieve ‘profound’, so I’ll try for ‘short’!

Two score and 10 years ago, Philip Brunelle brought forth on this continent a new chorus. And things in the Twin Cities and the choral world at large were never the same again!

President Lincoln used the Gettysburg address in part to talk about the future of the nation. A VocalEssence 50th Anniversary Address can’t help but be about the future, because throughout it’s history VocalEssence has focused on the future.

If you consider the many milestones showcased during this 50th celebration, it’s clear that Philip and VocalEssence more often than not were blazing the trail for the field, constantly looking for new ways to share the beauty and community-building power of choral music while creating a robust organization to last.

Chorus America creates programs and resources to help choruses of all types, large and small, to be the best they can be in their public service roles and meeting their varied missions.

At each pivotal point in Chorus America’s history, Philip Brunelle and VocalEssence have worked hand in hand with us, providing leadership and serving as a model and resource for other choruses.

Chorus America was founded to advocate for professional choruses and professional choral singers. Over the years we expanded our mission to serve choruses of all types. When we began to develop programs for volunteer choruses, we could point to this organization as model, melding the best of professional choral craft and excellent volunteer choral forces.

When chorus ask us about commissioning new works that would help engage new audiences and speak to our times, we point to VocalEssence.

The future of choral music art form depends on working with children and youth to develop a pipeline of singers and to plant the seeds for a lifelong appreciation of music. But it’s critical that the approach speaks to their experience and ties to the culture they know.  When Chorus America was looking for model programs where a community – based chorus had moved beyond run-out concerts in schools to create interactive, hands-on programs with measurable impact, we pointed to the Witness program, and then Cantoréi, and now Singers Of This Age (SOTA).

Yes, we’ve learned that for choruses large and small across the country, the answer to most questions is “Ask VocalEssence!”

VocalEssence’ leaders have been unfailingly generous in sharing their talents and expertise to benefit the larger field: Philip served on our Board for about 20 years, making connections and raising money in his inimitable style, hosting our annual conference, helping produce our signature choral orchestral masterclasses. Mike McCarthy has been a Board member and served as Chorus America’s treasurer for more than 20 years. And Frank Stubbs served on the Board for nearly 10 years.

When emerging leaders in our field needed some mentoring or advice, there was Russ Bursch, and today MaryAnn Aufderheide, ready to get on a phone call and share their best practices.  For the past several years, MaryAnn has been the chair of our Leadership Development Forum for the executive directors of the nation’s largest budget choruses.  And Sigrid Johnson and Phillip Shoultz have given wonderful presentations at our Conferences.

Chorus America has almost run out of awards to recognize VocalEssence’ innovation, excellence, and impact.  We are deeply grateful for all you have done to keep your eye on the future all of these years, and in the process you took the entire choral field with you.

And yes, it must be said…that thanks to Philip and VocalEssence—where they’ve been and where they are going—choral music, of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth!

Catherine Dehoney presented this toast at the VocalEssence 50th Anniversary Dinner at the Landmark Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota on Sunday, October 7, 2018.