Born in Faribault, Minnesota in 1943, VocalEssence Artistic Director and Founder Philip Brunelle (b.1943) showed signs at an early age of the adventurous spirit that has driven his lifelong enthusiasm for all forms of choral, vocal, opera and symphonic music. At the age of six, he requested and received a vocal score of Handel’s Messiah for Christmas. As a teenager he was already working as a professional church organist; at 19 he became a full-time member of the Minnesota Orchestra.
At the age of 25, Philip was appointed choirmaster-organist of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. He immediately established the Plymouth Music Series, which has become today’s choral music organization VocalEssence. Philip played piano on the very first episode of A Prairie Home Companion in 1974, forging a connection with Garrison Keillor that has resulted in many creative ventures over the years.
Philip has been invited to guest conduct choirs and orchestras across the United States, South America and Europe, including the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Berkshire Choral Festival, the BBC Singers and the Seattle Symphony. He is called upon to adjudicate choral competitions all over the world, with recent visits to South Korea, China, Norway and Hungary.
Philip is currently a board member of Chorus America and the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM), where he serves as Vice President. He was on the planning committee for the Ninth World Symposium on Choral Music, held in Argentina in August 2011. He was a member of the Artistic Committee for the Eighth Symposium in 2008 and served as President of the Sixth Symposium, held in Minneapolis in 2002.
Philip has been recognized for his commitment to choral music by Norway (Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit), the United Kingdom (Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire), Hungary (Kodály Medal), Sweden (Royal Order of the Polar Star) and Mexico (Ohti Recognition Award). In 2003, Chorus America honored Philip with its highest award, the Michael Korn Founder’s Award for Development of the Choral Art.
He has been honored with a “Local Legend” award from General Mills and the United Negro College Fund; American Composers Forum “Champion of New Music”; U.S. Bank Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Commitment, recognizing lifetime achievement, contribution and leadership in culture and the arts; and the F. Melius Christiansen Lifetime Achievement Award, American Choral Directors Association-Minnesota Chapter’s highest honor. Philip holds honorary doctorates from St. Olaf College, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. John’s University and United Theological Seminary.
On October 6, 2011 Philip was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters, the highest award conferred by the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. This honor recognizes individuals who have achieved acknowledged eminence in their field. Most recently, Philip was the recipient of the Weston H. Noble Lifetime Achievement award, given by the North Central American Choral Directors Association.
In those rare moments when he is not pursuing his passion for choral music, Philip may be found catching up on his next book club selection, running five miles most days, or enjoying gourmet cuisine. He is married to visual artist Carolyn Brunelle; they have three grown children and six grandchildren.