VocalEssence Strategic Plan 2022-2025

Pie Chart with three strategic imperatives: 1. Expand the Influence of Choral Music 2. Bridge Societal Difference 3. Ensure Sustainability At the center: Celebrate Singing as Essential Human Expression

VocalEssence celebrates singing as an essential human expression. Artistic quality, passion for singing together, and reputation for engaging people are hallmarks of our impact.

As our community changes, we have developed this strategic plan to address our future in three key areas, keeping singing together at the center of our work.

STRATEGIC IMPERATIVE 1: EXPAND THE INFLUENCE OF CHORAL MUSIC

Purpose: Emergence of mission-driven singing ensembles and new performance models introduces competition for singer recruitment/retention and audience growth.

Image of a chart showing goals and objectives for strategic imperative number one containing the following text: Goal 1.1: Ensure a compelling singer experience. Objective 1.1: Provide creative growth opportunities for all singing ensembles and create connections among and between all VocalEssence singers. Goal 1.2: Ensure a compelling audience experience. Objective 1.2: Program music representing a variety of styles, cultures, and themes and engage audiences beyond the traditional concert format. Goal 1.3: Commit to creation and performance of new works. Objective 1.3: Develop opportunities for co-creation and new commissions. Goal 1.4: Feature artists and perform works honoring the global majority. Objective 1.4: Expand representation of artists of the global majority.

FEBRUARY 2024 PROGRESS UPDATE

• The VocalEssence Chorus performed at the Midwestern Region American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. This was the first time that a VocalEssence ensemble was selected by a blind audition to perform at a regional ACDA conference.

Click the button below to see the program from this thrilling performance.
Concert Program

• All four VocalEssence ensembles (more than 175 singers) performed on the Northrop stage at Welcome Christmas.

Click the button below to see highlights from Welcome Christmas on VocalEssence On Demand.
Welcome Christmas Highlights

• Members of the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers, conducted by Philip Brunelle, performed a concert of holiday selections for the Mount Olivet Rolling Acres (MORA) community. MORA provides services for adults and children with developmental disabilities and mental health needs. This performance is a long-standing partnership between MORA and VocalEssence.

Singers with black folders performing with a conductor in front of them. Photo credit: Ethan Johnson
Members of the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers conducted by Philip Brunelle perform for members of the Mount Olivet Rolling Acres community. Photo credit: Ethan Johnson

• Members of the VocalEssence Singers Of This Age along with conductor G. Phillip Shoultz, III had the honor of performing O Holy Night with Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and singer, Kristin Chenoweth, at her Christmas concert accompanied by the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall.
VocalEssence Singers pose with Kristin Chenoweth. Photo Credit: Rhiannon Fiskradatz
VocalEssence Singers pose with Kristin Chenoweth. Photo credit: Rhiannon Fiskradatz

DECEMBER 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

• The theme of the Fall 2023 Vintage Voices concerts, entitled Forever Grateful!, centered on the theme of gratitude and friendship. The concerts included a variety of music representing various cultures and experiences that were interspersed with poems and personally-written reflections shared by singers as well as reflective piano solos.

Person wearing glasses, a colorful stole, and holding a black folder speaks into a microphone with people smiling behind them. Photo credit-Nik Linde
A member of the Sabathani Vintage Voices speaks into a microphone at Forever Grateful! Photo credit: Nik Linde

• 85 singers from 19 schools participated in the Urban Choir Festival that was held November 16-17, 2023. Led by Artist in Residence Robert T. Gibson and the VocalEssence Singers Of This Age Team, participating students learned music (and a step routine created by Gibson) that they performed for an audience of 350 people at St. Andrew’s Church in Mahtomedi.

Click the button below to watch a video of Urban Choir Festival participants rehearsing a step routine created by Artist in Residence Robert T. Gibson.
Urban Choir Festival

• The soprano and alto voices from VocalEssence and the St. Olaf Choir featuring Jocelyn Hagen, piano, and conducted by Dr. Anton Armstrong performed the newly commissioned Song in My Heart by Jocelyn Hagen. This piece was written in memory of Sigrid Johnson and was premiered at the VocalEssence and the St. Olaf Choir concert on October 29, 2023.

“Jocelyn Hagen’s piece is a beautiful tribute to Sigrid Johnson’s life and work. The performance was absolutely stunning and heartfelt.”
—VocalEssence and the St. Olaf Choir Audience member

Click the button below to watch a video of the world premiere performance of Song in My Heart.
Song in My Heart

SEPTEMBER 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

• Members of the VocalEssence Singers Of This Age took two tours over the summer. The first was to Southwestern Minnesota where a highlight was performing at the Children’s Museum in Mankato. The second was to Chicago where singers performed, saw the sights of the city, and participated in workshops including a session on vocal jazz with members of Chicago a cappella and an aural tradition workshop highlighting the Gosa, Georgian, and Catalonian cultures with Mollie Stone.

People posing in front of a ferris wheel at Navy Pier in Chicago.
Members of the VocalEssence Singers Of This Age pose in front of the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier in Chicago. Photo credit: Rhiannon Fiskradatz

• Moira Smiley inspired a new level of engagement at our Singing the World Awake concert by including quotes submitted by audience members during the performance into a live premiere, breaking down the barrier between artist and audience. Click the button below to watch to Seven Generations from Singing the World Awake
Seven Generations

• Singer rosters are at an all-time high with 35 new Chorus members and 9 new Ensemble Singers joining VocalEssence for the 2023-24 season.

VocalEssence WITNESS continued our celebration of artists of the Global majority featuring Joe Davis who incorporated spoken world with traditional choral music.
Click the button below to watch to This Joy from WITNESS: Reawakening Love
THIS JOY

• The Sabathani Vintage Voices Spring 2023 concert, Journey On My Friends, featured renowned Praise Dancer, the Rev. June F. Pierce of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in North Minneapolis, whose beautiful and lyrical movement illuminated the text of Andy Beck’s choral anthem, “Carry the Light.”
Click the button below to watch Journey On My Friends
JOURNEY ON MY FRIENDS

MAY 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

• American Public Media and Classical Minnesota Public Radio presented a new VocalEssence radio special,  Song of Joy: The Mendelssohns, hosted by John Birge. The one-hour program aired on Easter Sunday, April 9, at noon on YourClassical Minnesota Public Radio 99.5 FM in the Twin Cities, for stations nationwide via American Public Media, and online.
Click the button below to listen to Song of Joy: The Mendelssohns.
SONG OF JOY: THE MENDELSSOHNS

Change Sings paired VocalEssence Singers Of This Age and the Ensemble Singers along with guest artists Vox A Cappella Band. The concert featured co-created and singer composed new works.

Singers performing on stage with a conductor.
VocalEssence Singers Of This Age, Ensemble Singers, and Vox A Cappella Band perform at Change Sings, photo credit Caroline Yang

• Members of the VocalEssence Chorus and Ensemble Singers have had conversations about the purpose, mission, and identity of each individual singing group and how they can work towards the larger organizational mission, vision, and values.

• Since Musical Moments with Philip Brunelle was completed, 350 composers have been profiled and access has been available the VocalEssence website and featured in an article in the ACDA Choral Journal. This pandemic created resource has been accessed across the world, most recently used by a graduate student in Taiwan.
Click the button below to access Musical Moments.
MUSICAL MOMENTS

FEBRUARY 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

•  Students from Albert Lea, Robbinsdale-Armstrong, and St. Michael Albertville high schools joined the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers, Chorus, Singers Of This Age, and orchestra for a celebration of music of the Mendelssohns at the opening concert of the 2022-2023 season.
Click the button below to watch Richte mich, Gott (Judge Me, O God), Op. 78, No. 2, by Felix Mendelssohn (1843).
RICHTE MICH, GOTT

•  Welcome Christmas 2022 and the January singer retreat were milestones as the first time all four VocalEssence ensembles, Chorus, Ensemble Singers, Singers Of This Age, and Vintage Voices, performed and gathered together.
Click the button below to watch this milestone performance.
WELCOME CHRISTMAS 2022

•  Reconcile: Singing Hope Into the World brought VocalEssence Singers Of This Age together with singers of all ages to build bridges between communities and celebrate their humanity with love.
Click the button below to read more about this event.
RECONCILE: SINGING HOPE INTO THE WORLD

• The Urban Choir Festival celebrated its third year and engaged 46 high school students from 6 urban metro area high schools.

Urban Choir Festival 2022 Participants

STRATEGIC IMPERATIVE 2: BRIDGE SOCIETAL DIFFERENCE

Purpose: Conscious development of equitable opportunities in our society serves as a catalyst for new conversations about how to address disparities.

Image of a chart showing goals and objectives for strategic imperative number two containing the following text: 

Goal 2.1: Look and operate in ways that reflect the changing demographics of Minnesota. 

Objective 2.1: Deepen relationships with constituents that connect us to historically marginalized communities and members of the global majority. 

Goal 2.2: Ensure the value of many voices and perspectives. 

Objective 2.2: Welcome voices and perspectives that create connection across dimensions of difference. 

Goal 2.3: External relationships will be collaborative, responsive to community needs, and reflective of community perspectives. 

Objective 2.3: Deepen relationships that connect us to communities that further our commitment to bridging societal differences.

 

FEBRUARY 2024 PROGRESS UPDATE

• Healing Beats Sessions with Melanie DeMore were held at five different sites with a total of 210 participants, including members of the St. Paul Police Department. Each session included Gullah stick pounding, singing, stick decorating, and dialogue with people of the communities where the workshops were held. All participants got to keep their pounding sticks and have been invited to join VocalEssence on stage during the VocalEssence WITNESS: Leading with Love concert.

Image of decorated Gullah Pounding sticks leaning against a wall with the following words in different colors: Unifying, Inclusive, Hope, Memorable, Vibrant, Soulful, Relief, Powerful, Community, Ancestors, Inspirational, Safe, and Amazing, photo credit: Rob Graham
Image of decorated Gullah Pounding Sticks with responses of Healing Beats Sessions participants. Photo credit: Rob Graham

• The VocalEssence Singers Of This Age performed in the 43rd annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute concert which was hosted and curated by G. Phillip Shoultz, III.

VocalEssence Singers Of This Age standing on risers with G. Phillip Shoultz, III at the piano performing at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Concert. Photo credit: Rhiannon Fiskradatz
VocalEssence Singers Of This Age with G. Phillip Shoultz, III at the piano performing at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Concert. Photo credit: Rhiannon Fiskradatz

• VocalEssence Singers Of This Age joined a consortium of choirs from around the Twin Cities in a song share celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park.

Click the button below to learn more about the event.
100TH ANNIVERSARY OF BETH EL SYNAGOGUE

DECEMBER 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

• Over the past several months, VocalEssence has hosted Sing Your Joy Sing-Alongs at Keystone Community Center. Participation has grown from 5 singers at the first event to 16 singers. These community sings are in preparation to launch a new Vintage Voices site in St. Paul in Spring 2024.

• Conversations between VocalEssence, vocal activist Melanie DeMore, and local police departments have begun to plan stick-pounding workshops that bring together community members through conversation and song.

• At the annual Fall Singer Retreat, VocalEssence singers split into groups to discuss a prompt regarding one of Moira Smiley’s pieces and the topic of cultural appropriation in music.

VocalEssence singers are standing and sitting looking toward the conductor. Photo credit: Azure Anderson
VocalEssence singers rehearse. Photo credit: Azure Anderson

SEPTEMBER 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

• Board and Staff have continued their commitment to inclusion, diversity, and equity work by taking the Intercultural Development Inventory and working with a consultant to process their results. They will work together to continue their intercultural capacity work and lead organization-wide impact.

• Singers from all four VocalEssence ensembles participated in Let Freedom Ring, a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the march on Washington with community members from choirs around the Twin Cities. 1,000 people attended the celebration featuring remarks by dignitaries from Minnesota and beyond. The concert highlighted the work of numerous local multi-disciplinary black artists.

Singers performing on stage with their hands raised.
Singers performing at Let Freedom Ring. Photo credit: Lisa Miller

• Members of VocalEssence Singers Of This Age joined Joe Davis and The New Renaissance to perform in Ancestors Rising, an immersive multi-sensory Afrofuturist theater production featuring over 20 local interdisciplinary artists weaving together choreography, live band music, singing, and poetic storytelling. The event also featured the launch of Mapping Black Joy in the Twin Cities.

MAY 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

Songs from the Heart is a new VocalEssence program that engages young mothers and their babies in shared music creation and singing experiences at Longfellow High School in Minneapolis. Workshops with these twenty mothers are led by G. Phillip Shoultz III, VocalEssence Teaching Artist Ginger Commodore, 29:11 International Exchange, and Vox A Cappella Band. This program was recently featured on WCCO.
Click the button below to view the WCCO clip.
SONGS FROM THE HEART

• VocalEssence Singers Of This Age engaged with artists and community groups including 29:11 International Exchange, ComMUSICation, Vox A Cappella Band, CNLE (Community Neighborhood LE), and caterer Preps By Marvelles for neighborhood block parties during the weekend of the Change Sings concerts.

People in concentric circles holding hands looking up.
29:11 International Exchange, ComMUSICation, Vox A Cappella Band, and VocalEssence Singers Of This Age at the Sing Your Change Block Party, photo credit Rhiannon Fiskradatz

• Three WITNESS partner schools are having the opportunity to host a Teaching Artist for an extended residency to test a new more in-depth model for the WITNESS school program beyond our standard two session visit. Irondale High School, Osseo High School, and Las Estrellas Dual Language Immersion School in Minneapolis have all hosted Teaching Artists for a total of eight workshop days, spread out over multiple weeks. The experiences have been inspirational and positively impactful for both the students and teaching artists based on teacher and direct student feedback and will be important information to plan future classroom programming.

“I learned that no matter who you are, or what your beliefs are; We are all equal. We all deserve a chance. We all deserve to be ourselves. We all are deserving of love.”
—Osseo High School Student

FEBRUARY 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

• VocalEssence is partnering with catering and merchandise companies led by primarily Black owners.

• VocalEssence is a sponsor of Chorus America’s Choral Executive Leadership Academy which will identify and support the next generation of administrative leaders who have been marginalized because of race or identity.
Click the button below to read more about this initiative.
Choral Executive Leadership Academy

On the Rise: Joe Davis Birthday Concert is an example of a partnership between VocalEssence and artists from cultures and musical styles representing and celebrating the global majority.

Image of Joe Davis in front of an orange background
On the Rise: Joe Davis Birthday Concert Promotional Flyer

STRATEGIC IMPERATIVE 3: ENSURE SUSTAINABILITY

Purpose: Respond to generational shifts in donor priorities in the areas of social justice, inclusion, access, and equity.

Image of a chart showing goals and objectives for strategic imperative number three containing the following text: Goal 3.1: Allocate resources toward amplifying under-represented voices. Objective 3.1: Invest in voices from historically marginalized communities. Goal 3.2: Engage with both legacy and new audiences. Objective 3.2: Realign how we engage with audiences. Goal 3.3: Engage constituencies to support sustainability. Objective 3.3: Develop strategies engage new, recapture past, and retain singers, audiences, and donors. Goal 3.4: Ensure financial resources are adequate to realize programmatic efforts. Objective 3.4: Implement thoughtful asset allocation and secure new funding sources. Goal 3.5: Ensure human resources are adequate. Objective 3.5: Align or reallocate staff resources to ensure program implementation.

FEBRUARY 2024 PROGRESS UPDATE

• New funder updates:
-A three year pledge has been secured from the Hodder Family Foundation to support VocalEssence Vintage Voices.
-The Bob and Kathie Goodale Legacy Foundation provided support for the VocalEssence Chorus performance at the Midwestern Region American Choral Directors Association Conference in Omaha, Nebraska.
-Best Buy, Sue Shepard, and the Katherine B. Andersen Fund of The Saint Paul Foundation donated funds for the Executive Director search.

• VocalEssence renewed its commitment as a sponsor of Chorus America’s Choral Executive Leadership Academy which will identify and support the next generation of administrative leaders who have been marginalized because of race or identity.
Click the button below to read more about this initiative.
Choral Executive Leadership Academy

DECEMBER 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

• This fall marked the launch of House Concerts, a board member generated initiative. Since September, there have been three concerts that were attended by 88 attendees. These concerts have generated new donors and expanded the visibility of the organization.

People sitting watching a person playing a piano and two people singing with black music stands in front of them. Photo credit: Elissa Weller.
Philip Brunelle and members of the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers perform at a House Concert. Photo credit: Elissa Weller

• The goal set for Philip Brunelle’s 80th Birthday Campaign has been met and the first funds were used for a commission by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds. His piece, Three Latvian Juletide Folksongs was premiered at Welcome Christmas.
Click the button below to hear Ēriks Ešenvalds share his inspiration for the piece and listen to VocalEssence singers rehearsing the first folksong of the piece.
Ēriks Ešenvalds Commission

• The Executive Director search is progressing. A committee has been established and Ballinger Leafblad has been engaged to lead the search process. Staff fundraising efforts have resulted in securing adequate support for the process from corporate, foundation and individual donors.

SEPTEMBER 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

• In celebration of Philip Brunelle’s 80th birthday a special campaign was launched, raising (to date) nearly $300,000 to fund special artistic initiatives including recording projects, new music commissions and international touring.
Click the button below to learn more about Philip Brunelle’s 80th Birthday Campaign
Philip Brunelle 80th Birthday Campaign

• Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies renewed their funding for the VocalEssence Singers Of This Age initiative and community work for an ongoing investment of $1 million.

Singers with their hands crossed over their hears performing.
Members of the VocalEssence Singers Of This Age performing at Christ Chapel, Gustavus Adolphus College. Photo credit: Rhiannon Fiskradatz

• We welcomed Emma Jirele to the VocalEssence staff to support the expansion of our Learning & Engagement work and other initiatives.

Emma Jirele

• We ended the 2023 fiscal year with a healthy surplus that will be reinvested into future program initiatives.

MAY 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

• VocalEssence is no longer asking singers to pay a fee to audition for the Ensemble Singers and Chorus. In addition, we are subsidizing payment to the pianist, so all candidates have access to a free accompanist.

• Participation in our flagship Sabathani Vintage Voices program increased by four singers and celebrates nine years of engaging older adults in the power of singing together.
Click the link below to view their latest digital concert.
SABATHANI VINTAGE VOICES FALL CONCERT

FEBRUARY 2023 PROGRESS UPDATE

• We met our Bridge to the Future Campaign goal of $4.5 million through the generosity of 101 individual and institutional donors.
Click the button below to learn more.
Bridge to the Future Campaign

• Six young alumni are participating as mentors with VocalEssence Singers Of This Age members, encouraging lifelong participation in choral singing.

Members of 2022-2023 VocalEssence Singers Of This Age pose for a group photo
Members of 2022-2023 VocalEssence Singers Of This Age, photo credit: Rhiannon Fiskradatz