VocalEssence celebrates 20th anniversary of WITNESS in 2010
Minn. (December 1, 2009) – Every year since 1991, the Minneapolis-based choral
music organization VocalEssence has
honored the classical music of African American composers in the annual
VocalEssence WITNESS concert. Now in
its 20th season, WITNESS has become one of the most extensive programs of its
kind in the nation, designed to illuminate the contributions of African
Americans to our shared American culture. Much more than a concert, WITNESS has
grown to include a School Program placing teaching artists in Minnesota
schools, a WITNESS Young People’s Concert, and a series of four commercial
WITNESS program began when VocalEssence Artistic Director Philip Brunelle noted that very little classical music by African
American composers was being programmed in conjunction with Black History
Month. Through research at the Library of Congress and the input of colleagues
and composers across the country, he developed repertoire for the first WITNESS
concert. In the 19 years since, VocalEssence has commissioned and premiered
many new choral works and arrangements on WITNESS concerts as well as a
full-scale symphony, a ballet, and a piece for chorus narrated by Academy
Award-winning actor James Earl Jones.
name for the program was inspired by a conversation between Philip Brunelle and
composer David Baker, Director of Jazz Studies at Indiana University, who
suggested the name WITNESS — “Because that’s what you’re doing; you’re
has drawn the participation of many nationally recognized guest artists. To
name a few, past poet laureate Rita Dove, baritone Jubilant Sykes, jazz
singer/composer Bobby McFerrin, jazz pianist Dr. Billy Taylor, and cellist
Anthony Eliot have been special guests for WITNESS. New music has been
commissioned from many composers, including Patrice Rushen, William Banfield,
Ysaye Barnwell, Alvin Singleton, and Rosephanye Powell.
over 120,000 students since its inception, the WITNESS School Program highlights African Americans’ contributions
to the fine arts. During the 2009-2010 school year, 7,500 students in 40
schools will participate. Eleven African American Teaching Artists will lead
more than 200 classroom workshops in dance, poetry, music, storytelling, and
theatre. They will prepare the students to attend the WITNESS Young People’s Concerts featuring VocalEssence and this
year’s special guest, Sweet Honey In The Rock.
has created the definitive overview of classical music by African American
composers on a collection of well-received compact discs: What A Mighty God—Spirituals and Gospel for Chorus; Skyward My People Rose—Music of William
Grant Still; Dance Like the
Wind—Music of Today’s Black Composers; and Got the Saint Louis Blues—Classical Music in the Jazz Age.
state, and national organizations support WITNESS including the National
Endowment for the Arts, the General Mills Foundation, Best Buy Children’s
Foundation, 3M, St. Paul Travelers, and Medtronic.
more information on WITNESS, please contact Jennifer Bauer (612-547-1459,