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VocalEssence champions choral music of all genres, celebrating the vocal experience through innovative performances, commissioning of new works, and engaging with diverse constituencies.


Founded by Philip Brunelle in 1969, the groundbreaking organization that grew into what is now known as VocalEssence inspires new voices in singing groups in the United States and around the world. Originally known as the Plymouth Music Series, the organization incorporated as a separate nonprofit in 1979 and in 2002 changed its name to VocalEssence, capturing the essence of its mission to explore music for the human voice.

Throughout its first five decades, VocalEssence has unceasingly given access to and nurtured new voices through composer festivals, commissions, presenting choirs from around the world, cross-cultural education programs, free tickets to students and seniors, the creation of our new intentionally inclusive youth choir VocalEssence Singers Of This Age, and many more.

Under the enthusiastic leadership of Artistic Director and Founder Philip Brunelle and Associate Conductor, G. Phillip Shoultz, III, VocalEssence performing groups—the Ensemble Singers (32 professionals) and the VocalEssence Chorus (110 volunteers)—are made up entirely of local residents. New in 2017, VocalEssence launched a youth choir—VocalEssence Singers Of This Age—which empowers young people through artistic expression, champions the community building capacity of group singing, and encourages a wider circle of participation in the art form.

VocalEssence has an unwavering commitment to performing today’s composers, which has resulted in more than 550 premieres and 300 commissions—more than half of which were written by American composers. The organization has received the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music six times and has been honored with more Chorus America awards than any other ensemble nationwide, including the once-in-an-organizational-lifetime Margaret Hillis Achievement Award for Choral Excellence.

VocalEssence is well-known for community engagement programs that promote cultural diversity and tolerance, showcase new music by diverse living composers, and provide positive role models for young people. The organization has programs that are inclusive of all communities and ages including K-12 public, private and parochial schools, college/university students, community partners, artists and composers, aging adults, and the public. These innovative, enticing choral music programs include:

School Curricula—The pioneering music education curricula developed by VocalEssence highlight the contributions of diverse cultures in our community. The organization’s flagship program, VocalEssence WITNESS, celebrates African American culture, while VocalEssence ¡Cantaré! brings the vibrancy of Mexican music to the classroom. More than 5,000 students participate in these programs each year.

Elder Learning Initiatives—Since 2006, VocalEssence has helped older adults rekindle their passion for choral music. VocalEssence Vintage Voices fosters the creation of choirs in assisted living and senior centers.

Commissions and Recordings—VocalEssence gives composer the opportunity to create and publish new works through the VocalEssence Music Press, the Welcome Christmas Carol Contest, and VocalEssence ReMix—a mentorship program for emerging Minnesota composers to create new works. VocalEssence offers a catalog of unique and high-quality commercial recordings, many which are available through Gothic Records.

VocalEssence Featured on Twin Cities Public Television’s Minnesota Original

Published on Oct 26, 2012 – Artistic Director Philip Brunelle founded the internationally acclaimed choral music ensemble VocalEssence in 1969.

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VocalEssence – Together We Sing

VocalEssence champions choral music of all genres, celebrating the vocal experience through innovative performances, commissioning of new music, and engaging diverse constituencies. At VocalEssence, we believe when we sing together, we succeed together.

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Love Has Broken Down the Wall performed by VocalEssence Singers Of This Age

The new VocalEssence youth choir, VocalEssence Singers Of This Age, had their premiere performance at the VocalEssence WITNESS concerts this February 2018. Enjoy this performance of “Love Has Broken Down the Wall” by Mark Miller. VocalEssence Singers Of This Age are comprised of young people from Minneapolis and Saint Paul high schools who sing, dance, write their own music, rap, and—most importantly—reflect the diversity of our community in its membership. Learn more at https://www.vocalessence.org/.

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