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World's best coming to "choral country"
By Brandt Williams
Minnesota Public Radio
August 2, 2002


Some of the best singers in the world are in Minnesota for the next several days. The Twin Cities is hosting the triennial World Choral Symposium. It's the first time the event has ever been held in the U.S. For the next week, more than 1,000 singers from more than 50 countries will attend workshops and perform numerous free concerts.

Philip Brunelle
Philip Brunelle is director of the locally-based choral group Vocal Essence, and the president of the organizing committee for this year's symposium. "Everybody who's coming (to the symposium) is the best," he says.
(Photo courtesy of World Choral Symposium)

The World Choral Symposium is kind of like a United Nations summit, except they're not here to talk politics, they're here to sing.

Organizers of the symposium say the event will present the best choirs from every continent on the planet. Philip Brunelle is the director of the locally-based choral group Vocal Essence, and the president of the organizing committee for this year's symposium.

"Everybody who's coming is the best. They are best in various ways - best in children's choir, in youth choir, in adult, in baroque, in contemporary, in folk. They're in many different fields, but they're all wonderful choirs," Brunelle says.

Choirs from within the U.S. will also perform, including the Harlem Boys Choir. Local groups like Vocal Essence and the Dale Warland Singers will premier new works. And erstwhile Minnesotan Bobby McFerrin, the former artistic director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, will perform with his group Voicestra.

Boys Choir of Harlem
The Boys Choir of Harlem is one of several American choirs to perform at the symposium. They will appear at Orchestra Hall on opening night, Sat. Aug. 3.
(Photo courtesy of Boys Choir of Harlem, copyright Richard Howard)

Philip Brunelle pitched the strength of the local choral scene when he went before the International Federation for Choral Music four years ago to argue for the event coming to Minnesota. He says that, and the history of Minnesota singing, made it a natural choice to host the symposium.

"If you're going to have it in the USA, there's only one place to have it - and that's Minneapolis-St. Paul," says Brunelle. "This is choral country and it belongs here."

And they will be. The Adelaide Chamber Singers will be coming from Australia. There will also be an appearance by the Namibia National Youth Choir.

Organizers have spent the last year and a half securing hotel rooms, ground transportation, meals, and coordinating travel schedules for their guests. Symposium executive director Cookie Coleman says that, in itself, is a major undertaking. She says language barriers and time differences made it even more complex.

"We've had, many phone calls where we've been waking people up in the middle of the night, and they were trying to find someone who could speak English so we could communicate. English is the official language of the symposium," says Coleman.

Namibia National Youth Choir
The Namibia National Youth Choir makes its U.S. debut at the choral symposium.
(Photo courtesy of World Choral Symposium)

Brunelle says he wanted to make sure that if the symposium was going to be held here, it had to reflect America's immigration history.

"We are of course a country that everybody calls the melting pot. If that's the case, then I said we have to have representation - all of it A plus - but we have to have representation from South America, from Canada, from Africa, from Europe, from Asia - they all have to be here," he says.

Organizers have not yet reached their budget goal of $2 million. Most of the $1.2 million raised so far has come from corporate sponsors. Both the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have also contributed. Each choir is responsible for paying their own airfare to Minneapolis. After that the symposium is picking up the tab for lodging, food and ground transportation.

Coleman says there's a myriad of smaller details requiring close attention.

"The Croatian choir is going to South St. Paul to the community center to perform a concert. So they go there and maybe there's a reception for them afterwards with people from the community. Then they come back and there might be a pizza party with local choirs. So it's a huge amount of expense," says Coleman.

"If you're going to have it in the USA, there's only one place to have it - and that's Minneapolis-St. Paul. This is choral country and it belongs here."

- Philip Brunelle

There will be 60 concerts performed during the week - many of them will be free. The opening night concert, at Orchestra Hall, features the music of the Harlem Boys Choir and Chanticleer, performing with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Stephanie Trump, choir director at Armstrong High School in Plymouth, will attend some of the events during the symposium. She says she's looking forward to hearing the different choirs and absorbing the international atmosphere.

"Its hard not to look at the brochures and look at the information out there and see who's coming, and not just get taken aback by the fact that all these people will be sitting in Minneapolis for the next couple of days. That's pretty exciting," she says.

Trump isn't the only one excited about the symposium. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is looking forward to the event too. The planning for the event took place before Rybak was elected mayor last year. However, the mayor was a board member of the Plymouth Music Series, before it became Vocal Essence. He says an event like this is a great way to promote Minneapolis as a cultural arts center.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for the city. As a citizen I was excited about it, and as a mayor I'm more excited. It really helps with the messages that we're using, in which we're partnering with our arts organizations to help send a message of multiculturalism," Rybak says.

Minnesota Public Radio will broadcast some of the concerts from Orchestra Hall on its classical music service. It will also stream some concerts live on its website. MPR is also a co-sponsor of the event.

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