22 episodes

This podcast is an ongoing interview series with noted conductor, organist, musical leader, educator and entrepreneur Philip Brunelle.

Renaissance Man - Philip Brunelle and Music Tim Brunelle

    • Arts

This podcast is an ongoing interview series with noted conductor, organist, musical leader, educator and entrepreneur Philip Brunelle.

    22 - 2023 World Choral Symposium Recap

    22 - 2023 World Choral Symposium Recap

    This episode is a quick recap of Philip's journey to Istanbul for the 2023 World Choral Symposium. We talk about his previous trip to Istanbul 60 years prior, and the range of insights uncovered during this year's event, and his visit to the historic Blue Mosque. We also preview the final concert of VocalEssence's 54th season featuring Moira Smiley, the American Choral Director's Association annual meeting at the end of this month, and Philip's plans for the summer.

    VocalEssence Concert

    World Choral Symposium

    • 23 min
    21 - Pragmatic Choral Direction

    21 - Pragmatic Choral Direction

    "Singing is a tricky business!" notes Philip, before he flies East to attend the 2023 World Choral Symposium in Istanbul. "It's the only musical experience where you can't see your instrument." In episode 21 we sat down to talk about the business of being a choir director. "It begins with observing the product, the choir in action," says Philip. He learned by being a choir member first, then watching how others, including Robert Shaw and Charles Munsch, directed. Philip's first full-time choir director position came with also being the organist at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Minneapolis at age 20. (He had joined the Minnesota Orchestra the year prior.) Philip moved to become Organist and Choir Director at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis at age 25, where he has remained since.

    "Choirs need three things," says Philip. "The first is rhythm. That's the most important skill. Then you learn notes. And then words. That's it!" Philip also talks about the business of "singing as one," which is not about blend—rather, about achieving a unified sound. He also reveals various habits, process and techniques for helping balance choirs, build confidence among singers, and increase their flexibility. "50% of what a choir does is vocal. 50% is listening," says Philip. As a director, you are always coaching ways to actively listen, so a choir hears where and how each part fits in the picture.

    This episode features excerpts from two VocalEssence recordings. The first is from Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise)by Felix Mendelssohn (1840). The second is "A Ukrainian Prayer" by John Rutter. Both can be found at VE's YouTube page.

    • 58 min
    20 - The State of Choral Music Around the World, Circa 2023

    20 - The State of Choral Music Around the World, Circa 2023

    The State of Choral Music Around the World, Circa 2023. To begin the 2023 season of this podcast we journey around the globe to gain an understanding of choirs, audiences, repetoire and innovation in choral music. Philip surveyed his network to gain perspective from choral leaders, including:

    • Simon Halsey, Chorus Director – City of Birmingham (England) Symphony Chorus
    • Jorge Cordoba, radio program: Horizontes de Nuestra Música (Mexico)
    • Reijo Kekkonen, publisher of Finnish choral music - Sulasol 
    • Jonathan Velasco, Senior Lecturer, University of Philippines College of Music 
    • Virginia Bono, Founder and Artistic Director, Estudio Coral Meridies (Argentina) 
    • Yoshi Egawa, Deputy Secretary-General, Japan Choral Association

    Both choirs and audiences are coming back, but slowly, worldwide. Within Philip’s network, he’s estimating audiences returning to roughly 60-75% of pre-Covid levels, as of early 2023.

    Interestingly, in both Finland and especially the U.S. there’s been a shift in ticket purchasing—from season tickets and per event tickets sold months in advance to much shorter purchasing windows. The average is now just a few weeks, and often day-of purchasing, which is impacting the ability for choral organizations to plan financing of choral programs effectively. 

    Choirs are also curious about and embracing more diverse sources of repetoire. In Mexico there’s a resurgence in interest in pre-Hispanic sounds and instruments.   

    And in a nod to the value of continuous innovation, Philip encourages young choral musicians to, “Be curious—See what’s out there, and what’s out there may not be brand new...it may be somthing that was written 100 years ago.”And to conclude, Philip’s assessment of the state of choral music globally is: It is thriving, growing and embracing a wider range of music, in great part because, “Everyone needs music in their life for their own soul and for their own well being.” 

    We closed out this episode with a snippet of Felix Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise), performed by the VocalEssence Chorus & Ensemble Singers featuring Nicholas Chalmers, tenor, JoAnna Johnson, soprano, Elsa Buck, soprano II, and orchestra conducted by Artistic Director & Founder Philip Brunelle—recorded at Benson Great Hall, Bethel University in Arden Hills, MN on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

    • 35 min
    19 - VocalEssence '22-'23 Season & 54 Years at Plymouth Church

    19 - VocalEssence '22-'23 Season & 54 Years at Plymouth Church

    Philip dives into the work involved in planning not one, but two seasons: His 54th as Organist and Choir Master at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, and the 54th season of VocalEssence. As Philip notes, "People love challenges in choral music" and both seasons deliver. We discuss the business of being a music director in these two seasons, and the efforts required to get them ready for launch. Then we talk through details behind the six major concerts in VE's 54th year.

    • 37 min
    18 - Stewart Copeland

    18 - Stewart Copeland

    Episode 18 welcomes 5-time Grammy winning drummer and composer Stewart Copeland to unravel his latest composition, the oratorio Satan's Fall. In this episode, brother Chris steps in for Tim as Philip and Stewart discuss the intricacies of the source text, Milton's epic Paradise Lost. As for composing, "The most important thing in any piece of music is rhythm," says Philip. "That's it. It starts with rhythm. I always say (to a choir), 'You've got just three things to deal with... you've got rhythm, notes, and words... and you learn them in that order.'" The trio discuss the commissioning process, writing specifically for choir and Stewart's assertion that in Satan's Fall, "choir is boss."

    Thanks to Cody Boudrot for engineering.
    Photo credit: Ali Rogers/Pranalens

    Music in episode 18:
    Opening montage is a collection of VocalEssence and Plymouth Church choir moments plus Philip Brunelle on organ and conducting orchestra.

    The closing moment is a segment from Act I of Stewart Copeland's Satan's Fall from Milton's "Paradise Lost". The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburg, Matthew Mahaffey conducting; God (bass Hayden Keefer), Satan (bass Scott O’Neal) narrators, Raphael (tenor Nathan Granner), Raphaella (soprano Jamie Chamberlin) and the Messiah (soprano Stephanie Sue Curtice). Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KisCEHVdMjk

    • 23 min
    17 - VocalEssence 2021-2022 Season, Examined

    17 - VocalEssence 2021-2022 Season, Examined

    Episode 17 covers the expanse of inspiration and insights leading to VocalEssence's 2021-2022 season. Philip talks about researching and programming a diverse mix of choral music—from Astor Piazzolla to Gabriel Kahane to The Aeolians to Jose Nünez to Stewart Copeland of The Police. "There's so much great choral music of the past and present," notes Philip, gesturing to the tens of thousands of scores surrounding his office. In this episode we also learn what constitutes a "fantastic" composition for singers, that Philip manages to "inbox zero," and the secret history linking Stewart Copeland to Philip back in 1977.

    • 51 min

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