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VocalEssence: Professional chorale to perform today at BSU

Philip Brunelle, artistic director with VocalEssence Ensemble Singers, works with the Bemidji State University Choir Friday afternoon. BSU Choir with join VocalEssence for one number during the concert at 7:30 p.m. today at the Thompson Recital Hall. This concert is a part of the Bemidji Concert Series. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Local choral groups are looking forward to working with the internationally known Philip Brunelle and hearing his group, VocalEssence Ensemble Singers.

They will perform a concert for the public at 7:30 p.m. today, Oct. 30, in Bemidji State University Thompson Recital Hall of the Bangberg Fine Arts Complex.

The concert and choral workshop for Bemidji High School Choir members and the BSU Bemidji Choir is the second offering of the Bemidji Concert Series, a concept of the BSU Music Department.

Brunelle founded VocalEssence in 1991 as a 32-voice professional vocal ensemble devoted to bringing audiences a wide variety of music in numerous genres and cultural styles. Brunelle does this in tandem with his involvement with the International Federation of Choral Music and his garnering of awards: an Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire, Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit and the F. Melius Chritiansen Lifetime Achievement Award by the Minnesota Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association to name just of the acknowledgments by his colleagues in the choral music tradition.

"Philip Brunelle is a consummate musician, a wonderful man, and a great motivator," said Brad Logan, chair of the BSU Department of Music. "We are fortunate to have one of the world's greatest choirs perform for us at BSU."

This paean is given by a professor of music and director of the Bemidji Choir who has also toured extensively with his choir in notable European cities. Logan and his counterpart, Chris Fettig, choir director at BHS. accompanied their students for a workshop with Brunelle Friday, the day before the VocalEssence performance.

"This is a rare opportunity for the kids," said Fettig, "To have a director of this caliber of professionalism to visit Bemidji."

The Bemidji Choir has been invited to join the VocalEssence concert for one selection, "This Little Light of Mine." The program will highlight folk songs from Stephen Foster - "Camptown Races" and "Gentle Annie" - along with African-American spirituals, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Witness," and an American Indian "Morning Song." There will also be a Spanish offering, "Mexico Canta en la Ronda de Mis Canciones," along with a piano solo by accompanist Charles Kemper. There will also be selections from familiar literature based on the European tradition - "Ave Maria," "Praise to God" and "O Joy."

"This is one of the most musically expressive choirs I have ever heard," Logan said. "They exhibit an impeccable ensemble blend while maintaining vocal vitality."

The VocalEssence Ensemble Singers have appeared on A Prairie Home Companion and also recorded two CDs with Garrison Keillor. They have also released more than 13 commercial recordings, which include four CDs of music by African-American composers. VocalEssence's performance of Benjamin Britten's opera "Paul Bunyan," was awarded the British Gramophone Award for Best Opera Recoding.

Bemidji audiences have a long history of attending and enjoying choral offerings from local groups. This will be the first opportunity to see and hear an internationally celebrated group in concert. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $5 for all students and are available at Lueken's Village Foods North and the BSU Music Department on the second floor of Bangsberg.