Press Release


Jennifer Weismann


Choral and community-building organization celebrates 30 years of VocalEssence WITNESS, honoring the contributions of African Americans to the arts

            MINNEAPOLIS — February 25, 2020—Heading into its second half-century stronger than ever, VocalEssence is ready to reveal the program for its 51st season. This year VocalEssence WITNESS turns 30, and the community-building choral nonprofit is celebrating by adding a second WITNESS concert to the season.

Five decades of nurturing and rewarding interest in choral music has shaped the VocalEssence approach to programming, which shows group singing in all its forms: as a source of diversion, connection, self-determination, and inspiration.

“We’re drawn to singing because of its power to connect,” said Philip Brunelle, VocalEssence founder and artistic director. “A song is a declaration anyone can make, and our 30 years of programming VocalEssence WITNESS have shown what a vital tool this art form can be as people build their identities and express the truth of their experiences. We’re always reaching out to share this miracle—with new parents through the Lullaby Project, with young children through the Family Series programming (back for its second year), and with outstate Minnesotans through our Get Minnesota Singing Tour. Of course, once we’ve welcomed new members into our community, we want to keep delighting them—which is why we commission new work from both established and emerging composers.”

“There are always new branches growing on the VocalEssence family tree,” said G. Phillip Shoultz, III, associate conductor and director of learning and engagement. “The vocalists in our intentionally inclusive high school choir, VocalEssence Singers Of This Age, have been singing together for two years, and we’re sending them out on their first tour, Voices Calling. And we’re approaching our legacy programs like WITNESS with the same creativity and excitement, collaborating with young talent and commissioning new work even as we honor and elevate the greats who came before us.”

Events in the 2019-2020 season include:

  • FAMILY SERIES: Tales & Tunes, September 28, 2019: Let’s create together! In this musical story time your little ones can roll up their sleeves and make a craft, sing along to nursery rhymes with VocalEssence singers, and hear an acclaimed author read some of their most-loved books. Listen to brand new songs written by teen moms through our Lullaby Project and create a song with us that you can share with your loved ones.
  • CONCERT SERIES: Divine Light, October 13, 2019: Soak in the intimate beauty of the human voice in this unique chamber performance exploring the relationship between the human and the divine. Joining the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers on this journey will be Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Associate Concertmaster Ruggero Allifranchini. Skillfully selected for the space, the wide-ranging blend of music from all over the world includes György Ligeti’s 16-part Lux Aeterna, made famous in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • CONCERT SERIES: What a Mighty God, a VocalEssence WITNESS Concert, November 17, 2019: Feel your spirit soar to new heights at this vibrant and soulful program. Born of a dark past, spirituals have an unmistakable power to connect us through our joys and sorrows. Dr. André Thomas expertly honors this past and moves into the gospel realm by conducting the Midwest premiere of his Mass: A Celebration of Love and Joy with orchestra, soloists, and choir. Continue the journey with powerful spirituals for choir and orchestra including “In That Great Gettin’ Up Morning” and “What a Mighty God,” and get ready to shout for joy!
  • CONCERT SERIES: Welcome Christmas, December 7, 8, 13, 15, 2019: God Jul! Celebrate a Nordic Christmas with carols from Sweden, Finland, and Norway, including the world premiere of Nordic Christmas—a suite of Norwegian carols arranged by Norway’s hot young composer, Kim André Arnesen—commissioned in honor of the 125th anniversary of Sons of Norway. Traverse the fjords and hear arrangements of carols you know, and fall in love with two new carols featuring violin as the Welcome Christmas Carol Contest celebrates its 22nd anniversary.
  • FAMILY SERIES: Winter Wonder at Mia; 9 am, 11 am, and 1 pm on December 14, 2019: Deck the hall with VocalEssence at this hands-on holiday event. Clap, wiggle, and sing along to your favorite holiday classics, and try your hand at creating a winter-themed craft to take home. Sit up close and experience the wonder of singing together (maybe for the first time). Baby bottles and teddy bears welcome!
  • FAMILY SERIES: Together We Sing Festival, January 18, 2020: “Come together…right now” and sing as we honor the musical legacy of Minnesota and the rich tapestry of voices who call it home. Enjoy a performance by future stars from our radically diverse youth choir, VocalEssence Singers Of This Age, and give back to our community through a service project to benefit a local nonprofit.
  • FAMILY SERIES: Moana Movie Sing-Along, 10 am and 1 pm on February 1, 2020: Whether it is Moana, Maui, or even Hei Hei, “make way” for your favorite character on screen at a Moana movie sing-along led by members of our youth choir, VocalEssence Singers Of This Age. Create a craft to take home and voyage into the castle for Moana treasures to win a prize. ASI Museum admission included. “You’re welcome!”
  • CONCERT SERIES: Deep Roots, a VocalEssence WITNESS Concert, February 23, 2020: Join us as we honor the deep musical roots from which VocalEssence WITNESS sprang 30 years ago. Guiding you on the journey through spirituals, jazz, gospel, and soul will be homegrown artists—singers, actors, dancers—including two-time Billboard Gospel chart-topper Jovonta Patton and a special 30th Anniversary Community Choir. Continuing our commitment to include new voices on stage, the concert will include a world premiere arrangement of the spiritual “Witness” by Joel Thompson.
  • CONCERT SERIES: The Mendelssohns: Music of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, April 4, 2020: Musical talent often runs in families, and one of history’s most talented set of siblings were the Mendelssohns—Felix and Fanny. Connected by their extraordinary gifts and love for music, they developed a close relationship that endured from birth to death. Hear their music side-by-side in this celebration of Felix and Fanny’s marvelous musical creations.
  • TOUR: Get Minnesota Singing Tour, April 25, May 2, and May 9, 2020: Get your singing voices ready, Minnesota, VocalEssence is coming to you! Weaving a traditional concert and a community sing into one, these performances in Worthington, Morris, and St. Cloud will make you tap your toes, clap your hands, and sing your heart out. Including favorites from the stage and screen, gospel, folk, classical, and pop music, there is a little something for everyone to love. Bring your outdoor voices!
  • VocalEssence Gala, May 17, 2020: Spring into song by attending the VocalEssence Gala 2020, a singing celebration to benefit the VocalEssence Learning and Engagement Programs. Every other year VocalEssence presents an out-of-the-box gala, and this spring is no exception. Guests can bid in the not-so-silent auction, join in the sing-along, savor delectable cuisine, and raise a glass as we toast to the good work VocalEssence does in the community.
  • FAMILY SERIES: VocalEssence ¡Cantaré! Community Concert, May 21, 2020: Hear our community come together as hundreds of students join VocalEssence to celebrate Mexico in song. The culmination of a year-long composer-in-residence program, this bilingual concert includes new pieces performed for the first time and an audience sing-along that will leave you with a renewed hope that music can change the world. ¡Viva México!
  • FAMILY SERIES: Voices Calling Pre-Tour Concert, May 30, 2020: Cheer on our young stars of VocalEssence Singers Of This Age as they prepare to head off on their first Midwest tour showcasing favorites from the past season. These talented and charismatic high school singers will delight you with a blend of music that includes everything from classical to hip-hop, and they invite you into a world where music breaks down the walls that divide us. See the future of choral music at this inspirational concert.

VocalEssence season tickets will go on sale starting Monday, February 25, 2019. Single tickets go on sale Monday, August 5, 2019. For season tickets, details about the season, individual tickets and other information, please visit

VocalEssence, called “one of the irreplaceable music ensembles of our time” by Dana Gioia, past chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, impacts thousands of students, singers, and composers each year through its initiative programs, contests, and support for innovative art. VocalEssence was founded in 1969 and has debuted more than 300 commissions and 500 world premieres. For more information, visit