Philip Brunelle, Artistic Director

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Born in Faribault, Minnesota in 1943, VocalEssence Artistic Director and Founder Philip Brunelle 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 with 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, Burundi and Hungary.

Philip served for 18 years on the board of Chorus America and is currently on the Executive Committee of the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM), where he serves as Vice President/Treasurer. He served as President of the Sixth Symposium, held in Minneapolis in 2002 and again as Executive Director for the 2014 Symposium in Seoul, Korea. 

Philip has been recognized for his commitment to choral music by Mexico (the Ohtli Medal), Norway (Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit), the United Kingdom (Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire), Hungary (Kodály Medal) and Sweden (Royal Order of the Polar Star). 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.

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.


Awards and accolades

  • Honorary doctorates: St. Olaf College, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. John's University, United Theological Seminary, University of Minnesota
  • Awards: Kodaly Medal (Hungary), Royal Order of the Polar Star (Sweden), Minneapolis Award, F. Melius Christiansen Award (highest honor of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association), Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, U.S. Bank Sally Ordway Irvine Award, Mpls.St.Paul "Best Impresario", Michael Korn Founder's Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art (Chorus America's highest lifetime achievement award), honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE); Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit; "Local Legend" award presented by General Mills and United Negro College Fund (2010); Ohti Recognition Award from the government of Mexico (2011); Weston H. Noble Lifetime Achievement award, given by the North Central American Choral Directors Association (2012)
  • Board of Directors of International Federation for Choral Music, Board of Directors of Chorus America
  • Recent guest conductorships: BBC Singers, Houston Symphony, Hollywood Bowl, Berkshire Choral Festival


Updated August 2014

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Philip Brunelle Headshot 2009 (Ann Marsden) 1.79 MB