This podcast is an ongoing interview series with noted conductor, organist, musical leader, educator and entrepreneur Philip Brunelle.
15 - Improvisation, Part Two (Opera)
And we’re back! We return to the topic of Improvisation—this time focusing on improv in the realm of Opera. (See episode 11 for Improv, Part One.) You might not consider Opera a venue for improvisation but the practice goes back to the Baroque era and the practice of ornamentation. Philip discusses this, and more, in a conversation including singer and long-time operatic improv partner Vern Sutton. The two first met at the University of Minnesota in the 1960s. They take us on a journey to Minnesota Opera in the 1970s and its fully improvised performances of The Newest Opera in the World, directed by Wesley Balk. Imagine an opera who’s libretto, roles and music style are dictated by the audience spinning a wheel of fortune—Act 1 might be Romantic while Act 2 is German Expressionism. “Improvisation teaches trust, it teaches ensemble,” notes Sutton. The two define the process and rigor involved in organizing eight singers to improv together over dozens of performances. They also discuss failing, the role of the audience, resilience, and Balk’s book about their experiences together, The Complete Singer-Actor: Training for Music Theater. The episode includes several instances of Vern singing while Philip collaborates on piano to illuminate various points.
Episode 14 - Christmas Prep 2018
In this episode, Philip walks us through his methodology for preparing a Christmas music season — starting with his first at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis in 1968. We discuss programming, rehearsing, and then focus on the topic of carols. Philip talks about the history, structure and nuances of effective Christmas carols. We end with a review of the winners in this 20th year of VocalEssence's holiday carol contest.
13 - VocalEssence Turns 50
Way back in 1969 a 25-year old Philip Brunelle was hired as organist and choirmaster at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, while still serving as percussionist and pianist for the Minnesota Orchestra. Clearly, he wasn't busy enough. Because in that same year, Philip founded the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota which later became VocalEssence (http://vocalessence.org).
In this episode we go back in time to understand the organization's founding stories -- the motivations and challenges Philip faced, as well as his inspirations.
We talk about how Philip met Aaron Copland (it involves sitting between Leonard Bernstein and Copland) then later inviting Copland to Minneapolis to conduct his choral work. We talk about the systems and attitudes necessary to sustain decade upon decade of inventive musical programming, financial stability and audience engagement. And we talk about what's in store for VocalEssence's 50th season, as well as the next 50 years. If there's a founder's story, this is it.
This episode also features three numbers from VocalEssence's 1990 Virgin Classics recording of Aaron Copland's opera The Tender Land.
Act 1 - Two Little Bits Of Metal
Act 2 - Stomp Your Foot Upon The Floor
Act 1 - The Promise Of Living
12 - Dominick Argento Interview, March 2018
In mid-March 2018, Philip sat down with Pulitzer Prize winning music composer, and Minneapolis resident, Dominick Argento. Their conversation ranges across a decades-long relationship, from the 1960s when Philip was student and Dominick his teacher at the University of Minnesota, to later periods when Philip commissioned Dom to write all kinds of choral music.
11 - Improvisation, Part One
In this first of three related episodes, Philip begins a conversation on Improvisation. After checking in on recent adventures with the IFCM in Barcelona, Spain and Kaili, China, Philip dives in—discussing improv training, perspectives and experiences in the classical, church and operatic realms. He touches on French organist training, Handel’s oratorios, Baroque ornamentation and Bel Canto, as well as music theory and the importance of understanding Inventions, Sonata Form, Fugue form, etc. Philip talks about a legendary improvisation experience taking over the piano chair for Arthur Kleiner to support a five hour silent film - Abel Gance’s Napoleon - at the Walker Art Center. He digs into the preparation and live improvisations created for Minnesota Opera’s “Newest Opera in the World” as well as frequent and varied types of improvisations on A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor and his infamous weekly organ improvisations during Sunday services at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.
10 - ACDA 2017 National Convention
In this tenth episode, Philip talks about preparations and excitement for the American Choral Directors Association national convention, which involves thousands of singers from all over the world, taking place in Minneapolis in early March 2017.
Fun 4 music choir mavens and learners
What a fun listen, informative & entertaining, especially if you love music -vocal music in particular. Hope you do some more soon.