VocalEssence, a Minnesota Choral Institution, Returns for Its 54th Season
Twin Cities Geek | October 13, 2022
In classical music circles, Minnesota has long been known as a center for choral music. In addition to world-renowned college choirs, such as the ones at St. Olaf, Concordia, and Gustavus Adolphus, the Twin Cities alone have dozens of different choral groups that one could join.
One of those groups, VocalEssence, has developed a strong reputation for innovation and excellence in choral performance since its founding in 1969. Now beginning its 54th season, VocalEssence has decades of history as one of the world’s premier choral music organizations. Yet even with this global reputation, VocalEssence strives to maintain its local focus and strengthen Minnesota’s community through music.
Note: The author is currently a member of the VocalEssence Chorus.
VocalEssence often chooses music outside of the traditional choral repertoire. There are many places to hear Beethoven’s 9th or Mozart’s Requiem, but founder and artistic director Philip Brunelle and associate artistic director G. Phillip Schoultz III often program works that have not been performed as often. As one example, not long after VocalEssence was founded (as the Plymouth Music Series), Brunelle decided to create a concert focused on the choral works of Aaron Copland. Deciding that it was worth taking a risk, he contacted Copland and invited him to come to Minneapolis to conduct. According to Brunelle, Copland responded by saying no one had asked him to conduct his choir pieces before, and he would gladly clear his schedule.
The organization has four groups, each with its own focus:
- VocalEssence Chorus, a 110-voice volunteer chorus singing a wide variety of music, from Bach to bluegrass
- VocalEssence Ensemble Singers, a 32-voice professional choir performing music from the baroque era to the present
- VocalEssence Singers of This Age, a diverse group of 40 young students from Twin Cities high schools who sing, dance, rap, and create new music
- VocalEssence Vintage Voices, which creates choirs in assisted-living communities and senior centers around the Twin Cities
The groups have performed with a wide variety of guest artists, from guest choirs from around the country to Peter Schickle of P. D. Q. Bach fame to popular artists such as the Rolling Stones and the Twin Cities’ own Dessa.
VocalEssence will start its 2022–2023 season on October 15 with a concert featuring music of brother and sister Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. It is said that Fanny published some of her music under her brother’s name, which led to Queen Victoria declaring to Felix that she wanted to perform for him a favorite one of his songs, only for Felix to embarrassedly explain that it was one of Fanny’s.
The season will continue in November with a concert by the Montserrat Boy Choir, guest artists from Barcelona, Spain. This concert, at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, will be the choir’s Midwest premiere. Next, in December, is VocalEssence’s annual Welcome Christmas concerts, which for the first time will feature all of the VocalEssence ensembles together onstage at Northrop Auditorium.
In February is VocalEssence’s annual WITNESS concert, this year entitled Reawakening Love. This concert series started in 1991 and celebrates the contributions of African American artists to the fine arts and to our common cultural heritage. Guests for this year’s concert will include Minneapolis-based artist, author, educator, and speaker Joe Davis as well as the New Renaissance, a multimedia production company.
In April, the VocalEssence Singers of This Age will present Change Sings, a program of singing, movement, spoken word, and visual art inspired by poet Amanda Gorman. The concert is meant to encourage each of us to see ourselves as agents of change, to take action to make the world a better place.
The season comes to a close in May, when the Chorus, Ensemble Singers, and Singers of This Age present this season’s namesake concert, Singing the World Awake. The singers will be presenting works from around the globe, including Denmark, Haiti, Mexico, and more.
This will be VocalEssence’s first full season since the pandemic cut the 2019–2020 season short, and it aims to bring people together through the power of music and art. (As of October 5, 2022, the group welcomes masks for both attendees and singers and will provide free masks at all concerts, but the group does not require either masking or vaccination. Concert venues may have their own protocols.) More information about this season’s performances, including ticket info and free digital content, is available at VocalEssence.org.