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Renaissance Man - Philip Brunelle and Music
51 minutes | Aug 24, 2021
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.
31 minutes | Aug 10, 2021
16 - Resilience
An apt title for this episode might be How a Choral Director Works Through a Pandemic (and Other Adversities). In facing the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, Philip recalls, "my reaction was—become creative. What are the opportunities to share music in a new way, in a new dimension?" That's our main focus in this episode, on the ways in which a choral director pivots in the face of a situation that literally threatens choral music. There was a lot to learn, and a lot that's now changed. Philip remarks, "We know there's no going back. we can be in a space, we can sing... but there's an audience beyond the room, so it's going to have to be streamed. We have to think about the audience in the venue and the audience watching on their screen." At the root of it all is a mindset: "When something comes at you that you are not expecting, don't panic. Panic will get you nowhere, except down a path you don't want to go."
51 minutes | Oct 9, 2019
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.
56 minutes | Dec 2, 2018
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.
77 minutes | Jun 23, 2018
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
56 minutes | May 11, 2018
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.
68 minutes | Sep 5, 2017
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.
18 minutes | Mar 6, 2017
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.
25 minutes | Feb 17, 2017
09 - Protest Music with Melanie DeMore
Episode 09 of Renaissance Man welcomes vocal activist Melanie DeMore (http://www.melaniedemore.com) who is collaborating and performing with Philip Brunelle through the month of February as part of Vocal Essence WITNESS. In this episode, Melanie and Philip talk about the history of Protest Music in the world and especially in the US, the hallmarks of effective protest songs, and their work together this month leading into the upcoming WITNESS: Underground Railroad performances (http://www.vocalessence.org/event/concert-vocalessence-witness-underground-railroad/). It's a timely and deep discussion of how music, song and singing together can change the individual as well as help change the world.
35 minutes | Jan 9, 2017
08 - Holiday 2016
Episode 8 is focused on the business of holiday music specifically, the logistics and work that goes on behind the scenes by a music director to make Christmas and holiday performances what they are. It was recorded in Philip’s office on December 8, 2016. During the episode, Philip talks about selecting and programming music at Plymouth Church and VocalEssence for the holidays, including his sources of programming inspiration. He talks about how to keep programing fresh, and how to learn from your mistakes. He talks about the importance of organizing music selections in the most effective order, focusing on the audience’s point of view, first and foremost. He winds up discussing 16 years worth of conducting the Minnesota Dance Theater’s production of The Nutcracker. We hope you enjoy it!
43 minutes | Dec 22, 2016
07 - Opera, Part 2
In this second of two episodes dedicated to opera, Philip talks about the business of opera and the role a Music Director plays in day-to-day financials, operations, planning and fund raising that drive an opera company. He uses his 17 years of experience with Minnesota Opera and conducting experience around the world as a tapestry for illustrating the collaboration between composers, stage directors, singers and instrumentalists in getting work from theory to closing curtain. Philip recalls his experiences commissioning and working with American composers including Conrad Susa and Dominick Argento. Later on, he dives into a brief history of bel canto arias, and we discuss why the musical Hamilton is unlikely to make an appearance at your local opera house. Philip also compares and contrasts the role of a music director in an opera company with that of a music director in a church setting. We end the discussion with Philip’s perspective on the future of opera around the world.
47 minutes | Dec 7, 2016
06 - Opera, Part 1
Welcome to Episode 6, the first part of a longer conversation about Opera. This episode dives into Philip Brunelle’s 17 year tenure as Music Director at Center Opera — which later became Minnesota Opera. It’s a fascinating journey akin to today's technology start ups, filled with lots of musical entrepreneurialism. If you’ve got questions for Philip about choral conducting or music in general, please send them to us: renaissancemanpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com.
10 minutes | Oct 7, 2016
05 - Election Music, Bonus Episode
In this bonus episode, Philip talks about recent travels to Ghana and South Africa and then offers perspective on the role of music in presidential elections and politics - including the origins of The Star Spangled Banner.
9 minutes | Aug 21, 2016
04 - Choral Direction, Bonus Episode
Here’s a bonus episode on the role of a choir director and the business of choral conducting. Philip offers a handful of choir directing tips honed over decades of work.
31 minutes | Aug 21, 2016
03 - Choral Direction, Part 2
In episode 03 we continue the conversation on choral conducting and the role of a Choir Director. This part of the conversation focuses on the practicalities of being a choral director (e.g. selecting music, administration, scouting venues, recruiting talent, preparing a score, allocation of voice types, etc.); as well as the business of rehearsing (e.g. how to motivate singers you’ve never conducted before, how to handle challenges with voice ranges and abilities, etc.) and finally,performing. If you’ve got questions for Philip about choral conducting or music in general, please send them to us: renaissancemanpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com.
31 minutes | Jul 14, 2016
02 - Choral Direction, Part 1
Episode 02 is the first of several episodes focusing specifically on choral direction and the job of being a choir director. We open with a brief review of Philip’s choral directing schedule in the month of June 2016, traveling from South Korea to Sweden; followed by a discussion of how and why Philip became a choir director. Then we dive into the job description, the “101" of Being a Choir Director. Philip talks about why choirs and singing matter today, the essential need for a steady pulse, the differences in conducting singers versus instrumentalists, diction, rehearsal techniques, mixing voice types in a choir, as well as giving answers to questions from composer Dominick Argento and others. Philip also offers a few choral directing tips learned from Robert Shaw and over 50 years of conducting singers around the world. If you’ve got questions for Philip about choral conducting or music in general, please send them to us: renaissancemanpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com. And thanks so much for listening! Music excerpts in the podcast include (in order of appearance): "Quartet Of Swedes - Swedish Born And Swedish Bred" by Benjamin Britten, performed by The Plymouth Music Series (now VocalEssence) from Britten’s opera Paul Bunyan conducted by Philip Brunelle for via Virgin Classics (1987) "Deo Dicamus Gratias" sung by the Plymouth Congregational Church choir off the album Praise And Thanksgiving: Music And Spoken Word, conducted by Philip Brunelle (2006) "Tocotta In F Major" for organ by Charles-Marie Widor, performed by Philip Brunelle off the album Make A Joyful Noise (1998) "Riksdagsmusiken In D Major - Riksdagsmarsch” by Joseph Martin Kraus, performed by the Orchestra of The Royal Swedish Opera conducted by Philip Brunelle (1996) "Zuni Sunrise Song" by Anonymous/Brent Michael Davids, performed by VocalEssence Ensemble Singers and conducted by Philip Brunelle off the album The World Beloved - A Bluegrass Mass (2010) "Since The Birth Of The Earth” by Benjamin Britten, performed by The Plymouth Music Series (now VocalEssence) from Britten's opera Paul Bunyan conducted by Philip Brunelle for via Virgin Classics (1987) "Quartet Of Swedes - Swedish Born And Swedish Bred" by Benjamin Britten, performed by The Plymouth Music Series (now VocalEssence) from Britten’s opera Paul Bunyan conducted by Philip Brunelle for via Virgin Classics (1987) "The Mask (text G. Gwendolyn) - The Mask_ No. 2. Heritage” by William Bolcom/Gwendolyn Bennett, performed by VocalEssence Ensemble Singers and conducted by Philip Brunelle off the album The World Beloved - A Bluegrass Mass (2010)
66 minutes | May 26, 2016
01 - Education
Welcome to the debut episode of "Renaissance Man - Philip Brunelle and Music," an ongoing podcast series with noted conductor, organist, musical leader, educator and entrepreneur Philip Brunelle by his son, Tim. This show connects the dots across all kinds of music - especially choral, church and opera, with the arts, non-profits, entrepreneurialism, education, and travel around the world. In this first episode, we're going to start at the beginning and focus on Philip's musical education. We talk about being a boy soprano performing at age 4, about requesting and receiving - at age 6 - a vocal score of Handel’s Messiah for Christmas. We talk about his piano teachers and organ teachers - and the influence they've had on an extensive career. We also talk about how a musician becomes a musician. And about the state of music education here in America as well as around the world. It's a fitting start to Renaissance Man.
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