Thursday, February 10, 2011

Boisterous 400-voice choir to sing Spirituals & Gospels in the annual VocalEssence WITNESS concert

[André J. Thomas]
Press Release
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (February 7, 2011) – Every year since 1991, Philip Brunelle and VocalEssence have honored the choral music of African American composers in the annual WITNESS concert. This year’s WITNESS performance will be an exhilarating evening of spirituals and gospel music conducted by André Thomas and sung by a 400-voice choir, including the VocalEssence Chorus, The St. Olaf Choir and three distinguished Minnesota high school choirs. The concert takes place on Friday, March 4, 2011 (8 pm) at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN. Tickets for WITNESS are $13.50-$43.50. For tickets and information, call 612-371-5656 or visit

Revered for his world-class settings of spirituals and gospel music, distinguished composer, educator, and conductor André Thomas is inspired by the incredible legacy of music created by his ancestors. Joined by special guests The St. Olaf Choir and three notable Minnesota high school choirs, the VocalEssence Chorus will perform some of André Thomas’s most uplifting music—conducted by the composer himself. The selected choirs include: St. Paul’s Central High School, Hastings High School and Washburn High School of Minneapolis.

André Thomas has set the gold standard for the performance of African American spirituals through his book, Way Over in Beulah Lan’, a practical, heartfelt guide to understanding spirituals and performance practice. In the book, he explores the beginnings of the spiritual, its role in society, and its transition into art music. He also addresses issues of interpretation-text, diction, rhythm, and tempo.

André has also distinguished himself as a composer/arranger and his works are particularly beloved by high school and college choirs. Hinshaw Music Company, Mark Foster Music Company, Fitzsimmon Music Company, Lawson Gould, Earthsongs, and Heritage Music Company publish his compositions and arrangements.

He has been the guest conductor of such distinguished orchestras and choirs as the Birmingham (England) Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Radio Choir, the Netherlands Radio Choir, the Charlotte Symphony, Tallahassee Symphony and the Chinese People's Liberation Orchestra. He is also in demand as a choral adjudicator, clinician, and director of Honor/All-State Choirs throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, New Zealand and Australia.

André is the Director of Choral Activities and Professor of Choral Music Education at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He earned degrees from Friends University (B.A.), Northwestern University (M. M.), and the University of Illinois (D.M.A). Florida State University honored him with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award for his outstanding scholarly excellence and strong commitment to Dr. King’s ideals.

The St. Olaf Choir, founded in 1912, has been singing for capacity audiences in major venues across America, and around the globe for nearly 100 years. The St. Olaf Choir is the premier choral ensemble of St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, a four-year, co-educational liberal arts college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Their ever-expanding discography now features 25 discs. The Choir is perhaps best known for its annual performances in the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, one of the oldest Christmas musical celebrations in the United States. Aired on national and international radio and television for more than 20 years, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival has been featured in hundreds of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and TV Guide. They were honored with the 1999 Wittenberg Award for outstanding contributions to Lutheran church music.

Called “one of the irreplaceable music ensembles of our time” by Dana Gioia, past chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, VocalEssence was founded in 1969 by current Artistic Director Philip Brunelle. Recognized internationally for its innovative exploration of music for voices and instruments, the organization presents an engaging collection of concerts featuring the 130-voice VocalEssence Chorus, the 32-voice Ensemble Singers (well known for their appearances on the internationally-distributed radio show A Prairie Home Companion hosted by Garrison Keillor), guest soloists and instrumentalists. In addition to championing lesser-known works of the past, VocalEssence has an unwavering commitment to today’s composers resulting in more than 130 world premieres. VocalEssence has released thirteen commercial recordings, including four WITNESS CDs of music by African American composers and artists available on the Clarion label.

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