Philip’s Favorites Digital Concert Program

Philip Brunelle, conductor, looks into the camera smiling with his hands open and near his face. Photo Credit: Anna MinFEATURING:
VocalEssence Ensemble Singers
Anthony Ross, cello
Casey Rafn, piano
Philip Brunelle, conductor


Looking over 55 years of choral music I thought it would be OK to have a 4 hour concert…until the VocalEssence staff and the Ensemble Singers suggested that I consider 90 minutes instead!
We have been so fortunate to perform the music of composers near and far, present and past, and such wonderful people. From the beginning I wanted VocalEssence to be at the forefront commissioning and premiering works by established composers as well as those whose careers were just beginning. Minnesota is fortunate to have a great number of composers living right here, with many of them devoted to writing choral music. In total, we have premiered more than 350 works over these 55 years! One of my greatest pleasures has been the opportunity to offer the music of composers to all the singers of VocalEssence and, often, the composers have been here in person to speak about their music and offer insights into its performance.
Since a 90 minute program does not allow me to feature all of our composer friends, I knew I wanted to include some from the early years, some whose music was recorded and became award winners, and some whose music was the result of a commissioning friendship that has never ended. With the exception of Benjamin Britten (and thank you for “Paul Bunyan”), all these composers have been friends and have made my life and all our lives richer—singers and listeners alike—through the gift of their music and the poetry they have chosen.
Thank you everyone—composers, singers, commissioners, listeners and staff—you have made this experience exciting, memorable, and unforgettable. A special thank you to my wife Carolyn and our children; your support and encouragement putting up with a musician like me has been invaluable. Now on to the next concert and the next season!
—Philip Brunelle, Artistic Director and Founder, VocalEssence


arr. Moses Hogan (1999)
from With a Poet’s Eye
Cary John Franklin (1985)
from Ringeltänze 
Libby Larsen (1983)
Elsa Buck, Kristina Rodel, Ben Brunette, David Gindra, solo quartet
TO GOD (In Memoriam M.B.)
Dominick Argento (1994)
from Indianas 
Carlos Guastavino (1967)
from Carols and Lullabies  
Conrad Susa (1992)
Richard Rodney Bennett (2001)
Anthony Ross, cello
Melanie DeMore (2019)
Jaakko Mäntyjärvi (1997)
Benjamin Britten (1934)
JoAnna Johnson, Patricia Kramer, Peter Aldrich, Christopher Brunelle, solo quartet
Egil Hovland (1990)
Eric Whitacre (2002)
Carol Barnett (2016)
John Rutter (2018)
from The Best-Beloved 
Chris DeBlasio (1990)
Anthony Ross, cello
Stephen Paulus (2006)


In the Lord, in the Lord.
My soul’s been anchored in the Lord.
Before I’d stay in hell one day,
I’d sing an’ pray myself away.
My soul’s been anchored in the Lord.
Goin’ shout an’ pray an’ never stop,
Until I reach the mountain top.
My soul’s been anchored in the Lord.
—Negro Spiritual
THE UNCERTAINTY OF A POET, from With a Poet’s Eye, Cary John Franklin
I am a poet.
I am very fond of bananas.
I am bananas.
I am very fond of a poet.
I am a poet of bananas.
I am very fond,
A fond poet of ‘I am, I am’—
Very bananas,
Fond of ‘Am I bananas?
Am I?’—a very poet.
Bananas of a poet!
Am I fond? Am I very?
Poet bananas! I am.
I am fond of a ‘very.’
I am of very fond bananas.
Am I a poet?
—Wendy Cope (b. 1945)
BEAUTIFUL STAR, from Ringeltänze, Libby Larsen

Beautiful Star whom I love,
Wondrous Sun shining on me.
Beautiful Star I ask only to love,
None but Thee.
Beautiful Star, morning star
Of this holy day,
Gentle Star, light my nights,
Light of my life.
From the skies you came down, bright star
To save my soul.
Gracious starbeam, you soothe my heart
And make me whole. Refrain:

Constant Star, I want never to be
Far from your sight.
When the world darkens about me bright star,
I dwell in your light. Refrain:
—17th Century Carol
TO GOD (In Memoriam M.B.), Dominick Argento
Do with me, God! as Thou didst deal with John,
[Who writ that heavenly Revelation]
Let me (like him) first cracks of thunder hear;
Then let the Harps enchantment strike mine ear;
Here give me thorns; there, in thy Kingdom, set
Upon my head the golden coronet;
There give me day; but here my dreadful night:
My sackcloth here; but there my Stole of white.
—Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
GALA DEL DÍA, from Indianas, Carlos Guastavino
Sung in Spanish
I love the light of dawn because it kisses you
and returns you alive, alive and fanciful.
Straight ear of grain in the wind of midday,
I love the sun that guilds it, ripe and mine.
When the afternoon cries for its lost light,
I love the trill you pin over my life.
I love so much the night which is infinite
like your sweet, dark, tepid hour.
O, heart of night, day’s gala!
My life burns for your happiness.
—Arturo Vazquez (1888-1958)
¡OH, MI BELÉN!, from Carols and Lullabies, Conrad Susa
Sung in Spanish
Oh, my Bethlehem!
Your beloved hour has arrived!
The light you shine unceasingly
Like a beacon that guides us
On our way, night and day.
Oh, my Bethlehem!
—Traditional Biscayan carol
A FAREWELL TO ARMS, Richard Rodney Bennett
I. The helmet now an hive for bees becomes,
And hilts of swords may serve for spiders’ looms;
Sharp pikes may make
Teeth for a rake;
And the keen blade, the arch enemy of life,
Shall be degraded to a pruning knife.
The rustic spade
Which first was made
For honest agriculture, shall retake
Its primitive employment, and forsake
The rampires steep
And trenches deep.
Tame conies in our brazen guns shall breed,
Or gentle doves their young ones there shall feed.
In musket barrels
Mice shall raise quarrels
For their quarters. The ventriloquious drum
Like lawyers in vacations, shall be dumb.
Now all recruits
But those of fruits
Shall be forgot; and th’ unarmed soldier
Shall only boast of what he did whilere,
In chimneys’ ends
Among his friends.
—Ralph Knevet (1600-1671)

Cello Interlude
II. His golden locks time hath to silver turned.
O time too swift, o swiftness never ceasing!
His youth ‘gainst time and age hath ever spurned,
But spurned in vain, youth waneth by increasing.
Beauty, strength, youth are flow’rs but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love are roots and ever green.
His helmet now shall make a hive for bees,
And lovers’ sonnets turn to holy psalms.
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed on prayers which are age’s alms.
But though from Court to cottage he depart,
His Saint is sure of his unspotted heart.
And when he saddest sits in homely cell,
He’ll teach his swains this carol for a song,
Blest be the hearts that wish my Sovereign well,
Curst be the soul that thinks her any wrong.
Goddess, allow this aged man his right,
To be your beadsman now that was your knight.
—George Peele (1556-1596)
BLESSED BE!, Melanie DeMore
Blessed Be!
Blest, Be, Blessed Be the Living Tree.
Blessed Be the Tree of Life
that grows within you and me.
Steady and true,
Rooted in love.
Shelter and peace
Below and above.
Sing to the sky,
Rise from the earth.
Seasons come round again,
Death to rebirth.
Blessed Be the Tree of Life
that grows within you and me.
—Melanie DeMore
EL HAMBO, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
(This piece uses a text with nonsensical words.)
A HYMN TO THE VIRGIN, Benjamin Britten
Of one that is so fair and bright,
Velut maris stella, (like a star of the sea)
Brighter than the day is light,
Parens et puella; (parent and virgin)
I cry to thee, thou see to me,
Lady, pray thy Son for me,
Tam pia, (So holy)
That I may come to thee,
All this world was forlorn
Eva peccatrice, (Through Eve the sinner)
Till our Lord was born
De te genetrice. (From you, the begetter)
With ave it went away
Darkest night, and comes the day
Salutis; (Of salvation)
The well springeth out of thee.
Virtutis. (Of virtue)

Lady, flower of everything,
Rosa sine spina. (Rose without thorn)
Thou bare Jesu, Heaven’s King,
Gritia divina; (Through divine grace)
Of all thou bear’st the prize,
Lady, queen of paradies
Electa; (Chosen)
Maid mild, mother es Effecta. (Made a mother)
—Anonymous 14th century poem
Now I lay me down in silence,
In this still and quiet hour.
Sorrow’s hold on me is fading ,
Clamoring voices lose their power.
Take this day which now is ended.
Let me rest until tomorrow,
For I know that you can finish
What I found of joy or sorrow.
All my harmful thoughts and actions,
Heal and make them new and wholesome.
Take my days and make them over.
Come, transform their dust to diamond.
Lift them up and bear them from me,
I will leave them in your keeping.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Let me rest as I am sleeping!
—Karin Boye (1900-1941), translated by Gracia Grindal
Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine
To carry a man up into the sun…
And as he’s dreaming the heavens call him,
Softly whispering their siren-song:
“Leonardo, Leonardo, vieni à volare.” (“Leonardo, Leonardo, come fly.”)
L’uomo colle sua congiegniate e grandiale, (A man with wings large enough and duly connected)
Facciendo forza contro alla resistente aria. (might learn to overcome the resistance of the air.)
As the candles burn low he paces and writes,
Releasing purchased pigeons one by one by one
Into the golden Tuscan sunrise…
And as he dreams, again the calling,
The very air itself gives voice:
“Leonardo, Leonardo, vieni à volare.” (“Leonardo, Leonardo, come fly.”)
Vicina all’ elemento del fuoco…(Close to the sphere of elemental fire…)
Scratching quill on crumpled paper
Rete, canna, filo, carta. (Net, cane, thread, paper.)
Images of wing and frame and fabric fastened tightly
…sulla suprema sottile aria. (…in the highest and rarest atmosphere.)
As the midnight watchtower tolls,
Over rooftop, street and dome,
The triumph of a human being ascending
In the dreaming of a mortal man.
Leonardo steels himself,
Takes one last breath, and leaps…
“Leonardo vieni à volare! Leonardo, sognare!” (“Leonardo, come fly! Leonardo, dream!”)
—Charles Anthony Silvestri (b. 1965)
(Italian fragments taken from the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci)
MOST HOLY NIGHT, Carol Barnett
Most Holy Night, that still dost keep
The keys of all the doors of sleep,
To me when my tired eyelids close
Give thou repose.
And let the far lament of them
That chaunt the dead day’s requiem
Make in my ears, who wakeful lie,
Soft lullaby.
Let them that guard the sacred moon
By my bedside their memories croon;
So shall I have strange dreams and blest
In my brief rest.
Fold thy great wings about my face,
Hide day-dawn from my resting-place,
And cheat me with thy false delight,
Most Holy Night.
—Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)
When music sounds, gone is the earth I know,
And all her lovely things even lovelier grow;
Her flowers in vision flame, her forest trees
Lift burdened branches, stilled with ecstasies.
When music sounds, out of the water rise
Naiads whose beauty dims my waking eyes,
Rapt in strange dreams burns each enchanted face,
With solemn echoing stirs their dwelling-place.
When music sounds, all that I was I am
Ere to this haunt of brooding dust I came;
While from Time’s woods break into distant song
The swift-winged hours, as I hasten along.
—Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)
MY BELOVED IS MINE, AND I AM HIS, from The Best-Beloved, Chris DeBlasio
E’en like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having ranged and search’d a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames,
Where in a greater current they conjoin:
So I my Best-belovèd’s am; so He is mine.
E’en so we met; and after long pursuit,
E’en so we joined; we both became entire;
No need for either to renew a suit,
For I was flax, and He was flames of fire:
Our firm-united souls did more than twine;
So I my Best-belovèd’s am; so He is mine.
If all those glittering Monarchs, that command
The servile quarters of this earthly ball,
Should tender, in exchange, their shares of land,
I would not change my fortunes for them all:
Their wealth is but a counter to my coin:
The world’s but theirs; but my Belovèd’s mine.
—Francis Quarles (1592-1644)
THE DAY IS DONE, Stephen Paulus
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes over me
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;
Then read from some treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall be banished like restless feelings
That silently steal away.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Anthony Ross

Since 1991 Anthony Ross has been principal cellist of the Minnesota Orchestra and has appeared with them as soloist on many occasions, most recently in January playing Dvorak’s cello concerto. In addition to the standard repertoire he is passionate about new music so it is perfect to have him join the Ensemble Singers in music of Richard Rodney Bennett and Chris DeBlasio. In the Twin Cities, he is a member of Accordo and the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota.

About VocalEssence

For 55 years, VocalEssence has provided opportunities for singers from the Twin Cities area to create incredible music together and build connections as part of the vibrant arts community in Minnesota.
VocalEssence is known for introducing audiences to music and artists who are not yet known, often welcoming guest artists, composers, and conductors who are emerging, have unknown works, or represent a variety of cultures. Welcoming all members of the greater community, VocalEssence embodies the motto: Together We Sing.
VocalEssence draws upon the power of singing together to nurture community, inspire creativity, affirm the value of all persons, and expand the influence of choral music.
Artistic Director and Founder
Philip Brunelle, artistic director and founder of VocalEssence 55 years ago, is an internationally-renowned conductor, choral scholar, and visionary. Philip has conducted symphonies, choral festivals, and operas on six continents; at age 19 he was the youngest member of the Minnesota Orchestra and for 17 years was Music Director of the Minnesota Opera. He holds five honorary degrees, served 9 years as Vice President of IFCM (International Federation for Choral Music), and has been recognized for his commitment to choral music by the governments of Norway, Hungary, Sweden, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. In 2019, he was awarded the American Prize in Choral Conducting and, in 2020, was given the Honorary Member Award by the Society for American Music. Last fall Philip was appointed a National Arts Associate of the Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity. Philip is also Organist-Choirmaster at Plymouth Congregational Church, Minneapolis. During the pandemic Philip recorded 300 “Musical Moments” which can be accessed at https:// and his thoughts on music are at Philip and his wife Carolyn, a studio artist, have 3 children (Tim, Christopher and Elise) and 7 grandchildren.
Associate Artistic Director
G. Phillip Shoultz, III, associate artistic director, uses the power of the spoken word and song to foster community and inspire action among people of all ages and abilities. Phillip conducts festival choirs and leads workshops across the United States and beyond. He serves on the faculty of the University of St. Thomas and guides the ministries of worship, music, and the arts at Westwood Lutheran Church. An accomplished curator of multi-disciplinary community collaborations, Phillip is the Artistic Director of the University of Minnesota Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Concert. The Minnesota Orchestra regularly engages Phillip to host their Young People’s Concerts and his online presence continues to grow as his pandemic livestream, Take 5 with GPS, recently reached the 500-episode milestone. The winner of numerous honors, including the ACDA Graduate Conducting Competition and multiple Teacher of the Year awards, Phillip founded “Table for More” in the summer of 2020 to help organizations address issues related to innovation, equity, racial justice, and belonging in the arts. Phillip lives in St. Louis Park with his wife, Michelle, and their two children (Malachi and Lydia Grace).
Learning and Engagement Manager
Conductor, Vintage Voices
Robert Graham is the Learning and Engagement Manager at VocalEssence where he serves as the conductor for the VocalEssence Vintage Voices choirs, and oversees the renowned VocalEssence WITNESS School Program. Robert has a Master of Music degree in both vocal performance and choral conducting from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and a B.A. in vocal performance from Xavier University of Louisiana. Robert currently serves as a section leader of the adult choir at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, sings second tenor in the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers, and also performs around the Twin Cities as a solo and chamber musician.
Pianist Casey Rafn enjoys a varied career as a collaborative pianist both in the United States and abroad, in Europe and Latin America. He is a member of ‘Trés’, whose saxophone-piano trio was just nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Instrumental Album for their new album “Romance al Campesino Porteño.” Casey often collaborates in concert or recordings with members of the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and University of Minnesota School of Music faculty. As a piano soloist he took top prizes at the International Liszt-Garrison Competition in Baltimore, has appeared with the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra, and has taught at both the University of Minnesota School of Music and the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts.
Accompanist, VocalEssence Vintage Voices
John Jensen received his music degrees in Southern California, where he attended Occidental College and University of Southern California. While there he free-lanced as a studio musician, playing on the Andy Williams show and touring the country with prominent singers through Columbia Artists Management. He moved to Iowa and taught for 15 years at Grinnell College as an artist-in-residence. In 1990, John moved to St. Paul and has played with VocalEssence, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In November 2022, John appeared with the Yale Symphony Orchestra at Yale University to play and record a piano concerto by the late Paul Reale, for Naxos records (to be released in 2023).

VocalEssence Chorus 2023-24, photo credit-Bruce Silcox

The VocalEssence Chorus is a group of talented and enthusiastic singers from many different walks of life, united by their love of singing and community. Performing a wide variety of musical styles, premiering new works, and sharing the stage with a diverse array of guest artists, the Chorus is a welcome home for singers who wish to continue making music throughout their adult lives.

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers 2023-24, photo credit-Bruce Silcox

The VocalEssence Ensemble Singers have established an international reputation because of their extensive catalog of recordings and broad range of unique repertoire. This chamber choir, whose members hail from a wide variety of professions, is bound together by their skilled artistry to create what The Times of London has described as a “flawless” sound.
Jennifer Bevington
Katie Boardman
Elsa Buck
Chloe Johnson
JoAnna Johnson
Kathryn Rupp
Mari Scott
Carey Shunskis
Robin Joy Helgen
Patty Kramer
Audrey Lane-Getaz
Judith McClain Melander
Anna G. Meek
Carolyn Nuelle
Kristina Rodel Sorum
Catherine Terres
Peter Aldrich
Eli Baumgartner
Will Berendsen
Ben Brunnette
Nicholas Chalmers
Robert J. Graham
Jonah Herzog
Phil Reilly
Christopher Brunelle
Zack Carlson-Giving
Joseph Ellickson
David Gindra
Joe Kastner
Erik Krohg
Dr. Michael P. Schmidt
Benjamin Shermock

Members of VocalEssence Singers Of This Age on performing stage wearing multi colored shirts.
VocalEssence Singers Of This Age, photo credit-Anna Min

The VocalEssence Singers Of This Age (VESOTA) is a community of Twin Cities teenagers engaged in expanding what it means to be a choir and, encouraging a wider circle of participation in the artform. Presenting music ranging from classical to hip-hop, they use creativity and collaboration to build an accepting community, equipped with the skills to lead social change in our society.

Three adult Vintage Voices members holding black folders and singing. Photo Credit: Adja Gildersleve
Vintage Voices members, photo credit-Adja Gildersleve

VocalEssence Vintage Voices is an exciting choral program that integrates the arts into the everyday lives of older adults. Guided by a desire to create a welcoming atmosphere and remove barriers for participation, these choirs sing to build community, combat loneliness and isolation, and improve physical and emotional wellbeing.

VocalEssence Board of Directors and Staff

Carolina Maranon-Cobos
Torrie Allen
Vice President
Daniel Fernelius
Kristen Hoeschler O’Brien
Mary Ann Aufderheide
Anna Boyle
Tanya M. Bransford
Philip Brunelle
Ben Brunnette
Amber Cales
Mirella Ceja-Orozco
Margaret Chutich
Dan Dressen
Martha Driessen
Cassandra Garnett
Autumn Gurgel
Valton Henderson
Daniel Kantor
Lisa Merklin Lewis
Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed
Richard Neuner
Kristine Oberg
Jim Odland
Doug Parish
Joanne Reeck
G. Phillip Shoultz, III
Jeff Smith
Amanda Storm Schuster
Timothy C. Takach
Bob Thacker
Elizabeth Truesdell Smith
Ann Barkelew
Ann Buran
Art Kaemmer
Nikki Lewis
Mike McCarthy*
Dave Mona
Fred Moore
Don Shelby
Dorene Wernke
Dominick Argento*
William Bolcom
Dave Brubeck*
Stewart Copeland
Aaron Copland*
Håkan Hagegård
Louise Heffelfinger*
Eskil Hemberg*
Betty Hulings*
Sigrid Johnson*
James Earl Jones
Garrison Keillor
Donald Mitchell*
Helmuth Rilling
John Rutter
Peter Schickele*
Dr. André J. Thomas
Eric Whitacre
*In remembrance
Philip Brunelle
Artistic Director and Founder
G. Phillip Shoultz, III
Associate Artistic Director
Robert Graham
Learning and Engagement Manager | Conductor, Vintage Voices
Casey Rafn
John Jensen
Accompanist, Vintage Voices
Azure Anderson
Executive Assistant
Mary Ann Aufderheide
Executive Director
Jeff Bina
Director of Finance and Operations
Rhiannon Fiskradatz
Learning and Engagement Manager
Laura Holst
Development and Marketing Associate
Emma Jirele Sandhurst
Learning and Engagement Manager
Ethan Johnson
Director of Artistic Operations
Amanda Timmer
Director of Marketing and Communications
Elissa Weller
Director of Development

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Thank you, VocalEssence Supporters

VocalEssence has a large group of committed supporters and is honored by the many gifts received in memory, appreciation, and celebration of friends and family that are too many to list in this concert program. Please click the button below to see a full list of supporters and special tributes.

VocalEssence Supporters