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Category Archive: Choral Music

New York Polyphony's 'Sing Thee Nowell' nominated for Grammy Award

Posted at 2:00 PM on December 18, 2014 by Luke Taylor (0 Comments)
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, Choral Music

New York Polyphony performing in Minneapolis in December 2011 (MPR photo/Tom Campbell)

New York Polyphony have announced that their album, Sing Thee Nowell, has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Chamber Music/ Small Ensemble Performance category. It's the second Grammy nomination for the ensemble, who last received the honor for their 2013 album, Times Go By Turns.

Back in December 2011, New York Polyphony made their Twin Cities debut with a concert in Minneapolis. Perhaps it's fitting NYP earned a Grammy nomination for a Christmas album; the group first came together because of Christmas music and its first album was a collection of Yuletide songs. Here's an excerpt of what I wrote about the group in 2011, after interviewing one of the ensemble's founding members, Geoff Williams:

… it was, after all, Christmas music that launched the ensemble. The four men had first met while singing in church choirs in Manhattan. "We knew immediately how much we enjoyed singing together and we talked over beers every now and again how we should try to form something, but nothing really came of it," Williams recalls.

That changed in 2006, when Malcolm Bruno, a producer friend of Williams, asked Williams if he might be able to put together an ensemble for a Christmas program. Williams and his friends recorded some tracks for Bruno and quicklv realized their sound merited further exploration. Those original tracks became the critically acclaimed album, I Sing the Birth, released on Avie Records. "We had a record deal and an album before we'd actually sung for anyone live," Williams says.

Sing Thee Nowell includes arrangements by longtime NYP collaborator Andrew Smith and was recently featured in Classical MPR Assistant Music Director Jennifer Allen's holiday-album roundup.

New York Polyphony shared this video on the making of Sing Thee Nowell:


Nystedt legacy continues with Knut's grandson

Posted at 2:30 PM on December 9, 2014 by Vaughn Ormseth (0 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music, Programs

Håkon Daniel Nystedt is artistic director for the Oslo Chamber Choir (photo by Helge Lien)

Knut Nystedt, who passed away this week at the age of 99, left a lasting mark on the world of music. Meanwhile, Nystedt's grandson, Håkon Daniel Nystedt, continues his grandfather's legacy as conductor of the Oslo Chamber Choir (Oslo Kammerkor).

The Oslo Chamber Choir did a perfchat on Performance Today during my time with the program, and it became one of the all-time listener favorites of 2009 — people went wild for these elegiac Nordic songs, some of which were layerings of folk songs with other classical choral works (Bruckner, etc.). Asked about the lingering melancholy of these songs, Håkon Daniel Nystedt joked the emotion "is our speciality."

You can listen to the Oslo Chamber Choir's 2009 performances from Performance Today here:
PART I: Grieg and A Wedding March
PART II: Sheep herding songs and Rachmaninoff

One of the most beautiful works on the choir's 2012 CD Strid ("Struggle") is Håkon Daniel Nystedt's own arrangement of The Bridal March of Myllarguten.

The CD was featured on New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher; you can also listen to the disc via Spotify:


Knut Nystedt Dies at Age 99

Posted at 11:15 AM on December 9, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (5 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music

Nystedt was appointed Commander of Order of St. Olav in 2005 for his efforts in Norwegian music. He has also received numerous other awards and honors. (Photo: Lars O. Flydal / Vårt Land)

Grammy Award-winning Norwegian conductor, composer and organist extraordinaire, Knut Nystedt, died yesterday at age 99. Nystedt's music has made a lasting impression amongst classical musicians across the globe.

One of my favorite compositions is this setting of Bach's Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh where he splits the choir into 5 groups and infuses assigned, timed movement to the traditional chorale setting. The final product is hauntingly beautiful…

May he rest in peace …


This Arrangement of Silent Night Can't Be Missed

Posted at 10:30 PM on December 1, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music


I got this video sent to me by my choral partner in crime (B-House). We were fortunate enough to have Pentatonix in our studio earlier this year and hope to collaborate with them again in the near future. We wish everybody a fantastic holiday season and hope this video gets you in the holiday spirit like it did for us!

After checking out this video, please listen to our 24/7 choral stream for more amazing music.

Karl Jenkins will write a piece for your choir to maybe perform at Carnegie Hall - if you win this competition

Posted at 10:28 AM on October 16, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Choral Music

Normandale Choir 2.jpg

A letter to the editor in the November issue of BBC Music Magazine identifies Karl Jenkins as a "Marmite composer": you either love him or you hate him. If you fall into the former group, you'll want to get your choir in tune for a competition being run by music publisher Boosey & Hawkes. The choir that wins the competition will have a short piece written specially for them by Jenkins, and will have the opportunity to perform the piece at either Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.

Here's how it works: you buy the score for Jenkins's motets (read more about a new recording of these works) from Boosey & Hawkes. You perform it, and upload a video of your performance to YouTube. You let Boosey & Hawkes know that you're throwing your hats (or your robes, as it were) in the ring. They choose a winner.

If you win, Jenkins will write "a new short a capella choral work" for your choir, and dedicate it to you. You will then have the opportunity to perform the piece as part of the Distinguished Concerts International New York series at either Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center. (They choose the venue, and FYI: your choir assumes all expenses for travel and lodging.)

Ready to sing it out? Details regarding the contest, which has a deadline of April 30, are at boosey.com.

Photo: members of the Normandale Lutheran Church Choir, happy to be performing in Ireland this summer, jumping for joy such as your choir might do if you win the Jenkins competition.

2014 Twin Cities Choral Showcase Packed the House

Posted at 3:00 PM on October 6, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

Classical MPR's Julie Amacher introduces Jane Ramseyer Miller and the One Voice Mixed Chorus at the 2014 Twin Cities Choral Showcase.

More than 1,000 people attended the 2014 Twin Cities Choral Showcase. Last year during the lockout, the Minnesota Chorale organized the event and it was a huge success. From the looks of it, this might be a tradition for many years to come. Classical Minnesota Public Radio's Julie Amacher hosted yesterday's spectacular choral showcase.

Here is a video of one of the day's many fine performances:

This year's participants included Cantus, Kantorei, Magnum Chorum, Minnesota Chorale, One Voice Mixed Chorus, The Singers, Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus and VocalEssence. You can find more information about each of their upcoming seasons below.

Want even more choral music? Listen to our 24/7 Choral Stream.

Singing in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Posted at 10:50 AM on September 30, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

Blog pic MIA.jpg On Saturday, Sept. 27, 37 people joined together in song at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. We moved, we clapped, we smiled and we sang; often loud enough to cause fellow onlookers to stop in their tracks (some even began to participate). 

Our journey started in the baroque gallery singing Caldara in Italy, moving down to the beautifully sculpted Doryphoros statue where we sang Praetorius', Jubilate Deo. After our canon, we took an expedition to Africa where we sang the beloved South African song, Siyahamba and the Ghanian children's song, Sansa Kroma. We completed our journey in China were we sang an excerpt from Jing Ling Tam's arrangement of the Flower Drum Song

Check out this awesome video of that performance and look for more incredible singing opportunities at classicalmpr.org/choral.

Iconic Choral Organization Finds a New Voice and Logo

Posted at 11:30 AM on September 16, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

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VocalEssence, which is entering its 46th season, decided to do a little soul searching.  After many months of working on this project, the organization had its brand unveil party yesterday at the place it all started, Plymouth Congregational Church. 

According to a press release from VocalEssence, Executive Director Mary Ann Aufderheide, had this to say, "VocalEssence embarked on journey to explore the core of who we are, what we do, and where we see ourselves in the future...In the end, VocalEssence has found our new voice and direction for the future. And now that we have found it, we want to tell the world about it."

The brand refresh includes a new logo, style guide, a redesigned website and tagline (Together We Sing).

Here is a sneak peek screenshot of the new website
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Check out this video of the VocalEssence Chorus performing at Orchestra Hall

VocalEssence Asia Pacific Tour Social Media Highlights

Posted at 4:10 PM on August 21, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

VE-Ensemble-Singers-2011.jpgThe VocalEssence Ensemble Singers just completed a performing tour throughout Korea and China. This group was one of 4 American choral ensembles invited to participate in the 10th World Symposium on Choral Music. Here is the view of that tour through the VocalEssence Social Media Lens.

A Clip of the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers "Singin' in Seoul"

Tenor, Mike Fairnbairn and VocalEssence artistic director, Philip Brunelle enjoying a meal

The VocalEssence Ensemble Singers cruisin' around Korea

Seth Keeton (Bass Extraordinaire) enjoying some tourist time
Tenors trying to keep cool

Dinner in Shanghai
Nanjing and Minnesota find out that they have a common friend in Gustavus Adolphus

Papa Philip feeding his flock before their flight home

Local paper shines spotlight on Tesfa

Posted at 11:10 AM on July 27, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Choral Music, Classical hosts, In the media

Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (far right) poses with Classical MPR's Brian Newhouse and with composer/conductor Eric Whitacre (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

Fans of Classical MPR's choral-music programming likely know of Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, having read his work in this very blog.

On Sunday, July 27, the Star Tribune's Kristin Tillotson published a profile about Tesfa. Entitled "Putting the Cool in Choral," Tillotson's article describes Tesfa's youth in Memphis, Tenn., his work as a teacher in Orlando, Fla., and his new career in Minnesota.

Tillotson writes:

Wondemagegnehu, a young black singer and conductor from Memphis … has wowed the Twin Cities choral scene since arriving in town last summer … when he accepted a job as assistant artistic director for VocalEssence. Not long after, he was hired to help program and promote Minnesota Public Radio's 24-hour streaming of choral music.

Last week, he went full time at MPR, where a new choral initiative will bring him to area schools for music outreach. He'll also head up a new group of young singers, the APM Radio Choir.

The article also makes reference to Tesfa's participation in the Dominick Argento "Seasons" premiere at the Minnesota Beethoven Festival in Winona, an experience Tesfa shared in this blog post before the concert and in this post recapping the Twitter trends of the festival.

You can read all of Tillotson's article on the Star Tribune's website as well as in print editions of the Sunday paper.

3 Fun Facts about Eric Whitacre's Virtual Youth Choir

Posted at 5:00 PM on July 23, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

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#3 There will be 2292 singers from 80 countries across the world performing tonight.

Final map.png

#2 The screen is 300 feet wide, over 40 feet tall and weighs over 83,000 pounds. Here is exclusive video of the screen from the stadium.

#1 Event organizers predict that an audience of more than 1.5 billion people will be watching the games from every country and territory.

Bonus Fact: Eric Whitacre Hangs out with the COOLEST people! Come and hang with Eric and over 2000 singers tonight at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. EW Glasgow.JPGWatch the Official Virtual Youth Choir release HERE

The 2014 Minnesota Beethoven Festival Chorale Top 5 Twitter Countdown

Posted at 1:16 PM on July 14, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music


Photo Credit: Minnesota Beethoven Festival

The 2014 Minnesota Beethoven Festival Chorale had a great week in Winona, MN with the legendary Dale Warland. Here is a Twitter countdown of their experiences. 

#5 The Annual Hang at Culver's

#4 One of Dale Warland's Most Interesting & Quotable Instructions

#3 Stunning Photo While Rehearsing Dominick Argento's Seasons 

#2 Dale Warland Delivers his Top Praise of the Week

#1 Epic Photobomb by Composer Abbie Betinis

Dale Warland & the 2014 Minnesota Beethoven Festival Chorale

Posted at 12:30 AM on July 10, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

photo from www.dalewarland.com 

It's after midnight and I have to record the hardest piece of choral music I've ever attempted in just under ten hours. I'm sitting here, wide awake at my computer, absolutely wired, thinking about all of the mind-blowing musical experiences I have had the past few days and all the exciting things yet to come. I have studied this man and his legacy for years, but to actually get the opportunity to sing for him and absorb his magic has been humbling and inspiring.

It's a build-up to a weekend of choral music by Vincent Persichetti, Arvo Pärt and a work by Dominick Argento that Argento is calling his final composition, and it is dedicated to Dale Warland.

And because I'm in the choir, here's an Inside Information Alert: Maestro Warland was so pleased with how the choir was performing that he released us an hour early during Tuesday's final rehearsal. That has never ever happened. For an über-perfectionist like Dale Warland to be so pleased to allow his choir to go one hour early means he must be feeling pretty good about the concerts coming up this weekend in Winona. As I understand it, Sunday's concert is basically sold out and tickets for Saturday's concert are selling quickly.

One hour before each program, Classical Minnesota Public Radio's Brian Newhouse will host a pre-concert talk with Dale Warland.

Sneak Peek of the Program

Dale and Tesfa.JPG
Photos by Jake Runestad

Casual Conversations: Vol. 4 - Tim Sharp

Posted at 10:00 AM on July 3, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (4 Comments)
Filed under: Casual Conversations, Choral Music

Sharp Promo.jpg

Tim Sharp has made his mark as a conductor, composer and executive.  His High Lonesome Mass has been performed extensively throughout the United States and as the executive director of the American Choral Directors Association, his leadership has contributed to substantial growth and stability within the organization.

Please join us for the Live Webcast Interview with Tim Sharp, Monday July 7, 1:30pm CDT.

View on YouTube

After the interview is over, come and listen to glorious choral music on our 24/7 Choral Stream


Harmony in the Park in Minneapolis as told through social media

Posted at 1:27 PM on June 6, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Choral Music, Concerts, Fun finds

The rain threatened, but thankfully fizzled. The nearby falls were roaring full tilt. And an enthusiastic crowd packed the benches and spread itself out on the adjacent green space as Vocal Point, The Singers and Six Appeal entertained on Thursday, June 5, the first of three installments of Harmony in the Park this month. The next Harmony in the Park concerts are in Mankato on Sunday, June 8, and in Duluth on Sunday, June 15.

A number of people in attendance shared their thoughts and photos via social media. Several of these communications have been collected here so you can relive the concert — or experience it vicariously.

Among those enjoying the concert last night were a number of dogs, which Julia Schrenkler, Ali Lozoff and Jen Van Zandt were spotting and photographing. You can look at a gallery of these canine classical lovers on Classical MPR's Facebook page.

And remember, you can connect with Classical MPR through social media by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.

Here's the Minneapolis Harmony in the Park social-media wrap-up:

VOCES 8 Make High-Quality Choral Art and Educational Impact

Posted at 3:09 AM on June 5, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (2 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music, Education


Getting to spend the day with a cappella ensemble VOCES8 was quite remarkable. I got to listen to eight extraordinarily gifted singers collaborate and work towards choral mastery; I left that rehearsal musically filled and inspired. But what really stopped me in my tracks was their commitment to music education.

Quite often, groups of this caliber have educational outreach programs that function as a side dish to the main course. After speaking with Robin Tyson and Louise Hughes, members from the VOCES8 management team, it became abundantly clear that their educational program is a major component of their organizational structure. This commitment is so major, that the group even published a textbook through Edition Peters called The VOCES8 Method.  The author of the VOCES8 Method, Paul Smith (pictured below), was excited and passionate about sharing this research-based textbook with over 20,000 students a year, and he hopes to create more of its kind.


On top of it all, I got a chance to hear VOCES8's recent album release, Eventide, on the DECCA label and was blown away by their breath-taking artistry and freakishly superb blend. This album isn't currently available in the United States, but the wait is almost over, and you should be able to purchase it before the month is done. Until then, enjoy this beautiful album-snippets YouTube video:


Stephen Layton and Holst Singers Set 'Amateur' Standard

Posted at 1:25 PM on June 3, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music, Concerts


Photo Credit: Simon Perry

Stephen Layton, the Grammy-nominated conductor, and his "amateur" choir excel with their mind-numbing accuracy and attention to detail on Handel's Israel in Egypt

Listen to a clip of the Holst Singers

The choir consists of all volunteers, and its roster rotates depending on the project. This does not mean that this group is limited in any way; in fact, it's probably the most gifted volunteer choir I have ever heard. During the rehearsal that I attended on Monday evening at the Gresham Centre in the City of London, Layton required supreme focus and wouldn't settle for anything less than perfection.

I won't be here in London on June 19, but if you happen to be near St John's Smith Square in Westminster on that day, this is a MUST hear

How Maya Angelou Inspired Choral Music

Posted at 9:10 AM on May 28, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

Maya Angelou at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Saturday, April 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait).

Maya Angelou, one of the most beloved African-American authors, died today at age 86. In spite of her difficult childhood, she became an award-winning writer and a leading civil-rights activist who ultimately received the 2010 Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Even facing the rockiest of realities, Maya Angelou still rose.  

This inspirational journey would later be illustrated in her poem, Still I RiseRosephanye Powell, noted choral composer, was so inspired by Dr. Angelou that she composed an original choral work based on the poem's title. Dr. Rosephanye Powell shared this about the inspiration:

"Still I Rise was inspired by the poem of the same name by poet laureate Maya Angelou. It is a women's anthem, saluting the strength of women to persevere through life's difficulties -- low self-esteem, physical and emotional abuse, rape, incest, prejudice, abandonment, and such like. In summary, though a woman's life or past may be filled with tears and heartaches, with each day that she finds herself still living, she finds that she has grown stronger and risen a little higher because her circumstances have not overcome her. Thus, every new day can be one of hope and joy because regardless of the past, today, 'still I rise'!"

Still I Rise (by Rosephanye Powell)  

One of Maya Angelou's most famous works was her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The title of this book was inspired by the third stanza of Paul Lawrence Dunbar's poem Sympathy

Minneapolis-based composer Jake Runestad recently composed a choral work using Dunbar's poem for Grammy-nominated conductor Craig Hella Johnson and Cincinnati's Vocal Arts Ensemble. Jake had this to say about Maya Angelou and Paul Lawrence Dunbar:
"In both Angelou's powerful autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Dunbar's poem 'Sympathy,' art serves as a vehicle for hope. Each artist was a caged bird in the midst of racial and social injustice and used art to both express themselves and to inspire change. Maya Angelou will continue to be an inspiration to me as someone who used art as a positive force to better our world for years to come."

The caged bird no longer has to beat its wing; it can fly freely and sing with the thousands of spirits that were uplifted by your legacy of excellence and journey of inspiration.

Eric Whitacre's Virtual Youth Choir

Posted at 11:00 AM on May 16, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music


Eric Whitacre's Virtual Youth Choir website is ALIVE and the excitement is spreading all across the world.


Whitacre and his team have formed a partnership with UNICEF and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games to create their first-ever Virtual Youth Choir. Anybody aged 18 and under will be able to submit a video and unlike past virtual choirs, once you upload your video, you are guaranteed to be a part of this exciting project. What If, the song chosen for the Virtual Youth Choir, is originally from his musical Paradise Lost, but a special arrangement has been made for this project.

Eric Whitacre Introduction of the Virtual Youth Choir Project

Here is a demo of the song that was chosen for Eric Whitacre's Virtual Youth Choir
Eric Whitacre and his team are looking for those of us that aren't aged 18 and under to spread the word and help build excitement about this project. Got a sibling, niece or nephew that likes to sing? Share the news with them, help them create a video and pat yourself on the back, knowing that you contributed to an incredible project.
The deadline for submission is June 8; find details on how to submit, as well as technical info, on Eric's Virtual Youth Choir website.

Casual Conversations Vol. 3 - Charles Bruffy

Posted at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Casual Conversations, Choral Music


Charles Bruffy has an extraordinary ability to transform the printed score into the most vivid images and emotional states. His interpretations are leaving an indelible impression on the history of American choral performance. Please join us for the Live Webcast Interview with Grammy award-winning conductor Charles Bruffy tonight at 7pm.

View on YouTube


After the interview is over, come and listen to glorious choral music on our 24/7 choral stream.

Casual Conversations Vol. 2 - Craig Hella Johnson

Posted at 8:00 AM on April 14, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (1 Comments)
Filed under: Casual Conversations, Choral Music

CHJ and TW.jpg

Please join us for the Live Webcast Interview with Grammy nominated conductor Craig Hella Johnson.

View on YouTube
(there will be a slight video delay)  

Got Questions for CHJ?
Submit your questions below, or tweet them @tesfawon with the hashtag #gotchoir?

We won't be able to get to all of them, but during the last portion of the interview the floor will be open for users to ask CHJ questions.


Free Weekend of Bach?

Posted at 2:30 PM on April 1, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (1 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music

PB.jpg Alright, alright...Minnesota has experienced Philip Brunelle's wizardry for over 45 years, but the man might have outdone himself this time.

Imagine this musical party...

Friday Night:  World-class concert pianist plays Bach's Goldberg Variations

Saturday Night: Chamber music festival featuring Bach's "Hunting" Cantata and songs from the Ana Magdalena Notebook

Sunday Morning: Bach's Cantata 79, Gott, der Herr, ist Sonn' and Schild.

Sunday Afternoon: Critically acclaimed organist plays a concert of festive organ works by Bach.

Best part about all of this...the party starts this weekend and its FREE

Minsoo Sohn (pianist) playing Liszt

Christopher Houlihan (organist) playing Widor

I don't know about you, but I will definitely be going to at least one of these Bach festivities.  The wizard has struck again...

Schedule of Events
Bach Page 2.png (1 Comments)

Dose of Adorable: Toddler conducts choir

Posted at 2:56 PM on March 6, 2014 by Luke Taylor (1 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music, Fun finds

Ever been told to mind your manners or your words when young children are present? It's not that the children will necessarily be offended, of course, but because they're likely to model and repeat that behavior.

The reverse is naturally also true; when we model positive behaviors, children imitate that as well.

The Current's host and producer Jade shared this recent video out of Kyrgyzstan that was posted by our friends at the CBC, in which a toddler appears to conduct her father's choir by imitating the choir director.

Jean Piaget may have likely regarded this as typical behavior — but for most of us, it's just plain adorable.


Crush the Choral Geeks Quiz

Posted at 4:41 PM on February 24, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music, Composers, Fun finds

Fellow Choral Geeks,

I hereby challenge you with this mini version of quiz that will be released during Classical MPR's Choral Month. After you finish the quiz, I invite you to LIKE our Choral Music from Classical MPR Facebook page to learn more about upcoming events and exciting choral initiatives. Don't forget to SHARE! 

(Note, the quiz requires Adobe Flash, so most mobile devices will be unable to participate this time. We'll work on bringing a more accessible quiz next time.) 

Choral CD Chronicles: Vol. 1 - Lorelei Ensemble Was The Best Valentine's Day Present EVER

Posted at 6:00 AM on February 20, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (1 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music, Reviews

lorelei composite cropped.png On Valentine's Day I decided to attend a choral concert with friends (I know, I know...this reeks of total choral geekery). I must admit, after hearing the Lorelei Ensemble absolutely nail Steve Reich's Know What is Above You, I knew I made the right decision. I was going to sit at home, watch West Wing re-runs, cook a steak and call it a night. Instead, I got treated to a night of exhilarating music. This group of extraordinarily gifted women sing with such precision and passion that I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by their performance. Like a true choral nerd, I went home and bought their CD, Live. Know. Love. (BTW, brilliantly plugged on their part during the concert) and started my jam session.

First track I checked out was David Lang's I Live in Pain. They nailed this piece in the live performance and of course, the track on the CD was even hotter. Instead of skipping back to the beginning of the disc, I closed my eyes and I let it run...rolling the dice a bit, hoping for the best. After 25+ minutes of aural ecstasy, I found myself wanting more. They deliver eerie, breathtaking performances on every track; locking and spinning intricately woven dissonance with masterful intonation and grand artistry. This group gets my REAL DEAL stamp of approval! 

If you don't believe the hype, just check out these recordings (Concert Highlights):

This is definitely a CD worth checking out!


Casual Conversations: Vol. 1

Posted at 5:21 PM on February 16, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (5 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music

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Dr. Andre Thomas and Dr. Anton Armstrong joined me for a transparent and fun conversation. Tune in below to be moved and inspired!


Mozart Requiem Sing-Along

Posted at 1:45 PM on January 24, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

wolfgang_amadeus_mozart.gifThe St. Paul Civic Symphony will be offering a Mozart 'Requiem' Community Sing-along at the Landmark Center, conducted by Kathy Saltzman Romey. Sunday, January 26th, 3pm.

With the St. Paul Winter Carnival happening this weekend, anybody might show up! So if they showed up looking like that last year, does anybody want to come in Mozart costumes this year?

Fun Video from Amadeus featuring music from Mozart's Requiem

Classical MashUp?

Posted at 5:30 PM on January 17, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music


Minnesota-based composer Jocelyn Hagen has created a really cool MashUp EP and will be featured in recital Friday night.

Studio Z, 275 East 4th Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 8pm

What is a MashUp? This is MY favorite one of 2013!

Recital Sneak Peek

This mashup is Ed Sheeran's song "The A Team" sung over Debussy's "Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum," from CHILDREN'S CORNER. She performs the piece live, singing and playing the piece at the same time.

Did I mention that she was an impressive choral composer as well?

When Practice Tracks Become Art

Posted at 4:00 PM on January 22, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

Do you remember back in the day when you sang in honor choirs and had to use practice tracks? I do and I hated using those damn things. The practice tracks always seemed to have countless intonation problems, wrong pitches & rhythms, AND bad singers. After high school, I vowed to never use rehearsal tracks again. I will be first to admit when I am wrong, so here it is. I WAS WRONG! Choral Tracks LLC has blown my mind with their artistic delivery and extraordinary interpretations.

Check out these testimonials from two choral music legends

"Matthew Curtis has offered a remarkable gift to the Virtual Choir 3...This is a terrific way to help you practice your part!"
-Eric Whitacre

"Matt Curtis' vocal abilities, range, and knowledge of choral literature is simply extraordinary! Choral Tracks is a wonderful resource for singers of all abilities!"
-Dale Warland

It is clear that Matthew Curtis and his new associate Gabriel Lewis-O'Connor have changed the game when it comes to delivering top notch choral resources to thousands of singers across the country. I strongly recommend that you check them out!

Major Choral Appointment

Posted at 10:50 AM on January 15, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

bass-faculty.jpgGrammy nominated conductor James Bass has been appointed to the International Institute for Conductors teaching faculty. James Bass currently serves as the Director of Choral Activities at the University of South Florida and is the chorus master of Grammy nominated choral group Seraphic Fire. Click here for more information about this appointment.

James Bass conducting the USF Chamber Singers

On the Air This Week

Posted at 2:39 PM on December 10, 2013 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Choral Music, On the air

Highlights from Dec. 10 to 17

Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight: The Breck Chamber Players.
Tuesday, 5:30 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Bill Craft, president of Concordia College in Moorhead.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: School Spotlight: The Breck Chamber Players.
Tuesday, 8 pm: Welcome Christmas!
Wednesday, noon: Hollywood Holiday.
Wednesday, 8 pm: Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.
Thursday, 11 am: Christmas with Cantus (live).
Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: The Apollo Male Chorus, Gregorian Singers and Four Voices String Quartet.
Thursday, 8 pm: All Are Welcome! Christmas with Concordia College, Moorhead.
Friday, 8 pm: Christmas at Luther College.
Saturday, noon: Metropolitan Opera: Verdi's Falstaff.
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: The English Nativity Festival.
Sunday, noon: From the Top.
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Houston Symphony Orchestra with conductor Andres Orozco-Estrada.
Monday, noon: Learning to Listen: The Clarinet.
Monday, 7 pm: 1964: A Child's Christmas on the Willamette.
Monday, 8 pm: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Music of Schreker, John Harbison, and Beethoven.
Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature: Bradley Lambrecht of Jefferson High School in Alexandria.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature: Bradley Lambrecht of Jefferson High School in Alexandria.

HOPE: A Choral Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Posted at 5:30 PM on December 6, 2013 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (2 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music


I am having an extraordinarily difficult time writing about the loss of this great leader...

"Where words fail, music speaks."
~Hans Christian Anderson

How Can I Keep From Singing

Oh, Yini

Prayer of the Children

Enjoy the Silence


Finally! Professional Development for Choral Conductors

Posted at 3:17 PM on November 26, 2013 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

Minnesota choral artists The Singers have launched a new education initiative during their 10th anniversary season.

The Conductor's Lab Choir will give Twin Cities-area high school choral directors the opportunity to work with Artistic Director and Founder Dr. Matthew Culloton, in a variety of ways aimed at making the educator -- and their choral program -- stronger overall. This program offers 3 conductors the opportunity to apply new pedagogies and choral techniques to their classrooms. That multiplies out to hundreds of public school students who willl share the outcomes with their schools, districts and families.

What's so crazy about this program is that there are currently no professional development programs of this nature in Minnesota for choral conductors. I got a chance to hear the opening concert of their season and it was simply incredible. Check out this YouTube video from that performance:

Morten Lauridsen - Sure On This Shining Night


Posted at 1:30 AM on November 21, 2013 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (4 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music

Before we begin, you must watch this video of the Florida State University AcaBelles...

Let me start by giving a shout out to my alma mater (FSU) and the AcaBelles for being recognized by the Huffington Post. Also, let me profess my love for modern a cappella groups like Take 6 and the Pentatonix. The creativity found in some of today's a cappella arrangements can be mind-blowing. These groups work tirelessly to perfect their performances and often come pretty close (Don't start with the autotune argument...that's for another day). Unfortunately, the haters keep hating. I have had many conversations with friends and colleagues that got pretty heated because of their sincere disdain for modern a cappella music/groups. Am I in the minority? What's the issue? Help me understand why so many purists can't appreciate this style/genre. Chime in and let me know your thoughts! I am looking forward to a healthy, friendly debate on this topic.

Other a cappella videos

Take 6 LIVE



Veterans Day Choral Tribute

Posted at 2:30 PM on November 11, 2013 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

This is definitely one of my favorite patriotic choral arrangements! Kudos to the American Choral Directors Association for having the Vocal Majority perform at their 50th Anniversary conference. These guys are AMAZING! You know who else is amazing? All the men and women that have dedicated their lives to protecting our great country. Let us thank and remember those who have served in our Armed Forces. Although words will never be enough, I truly appreciate and recognize all you have sacrificed to protect us. God bless you.

Composer Spotlight Vol. 1: Jake Runestad

Posted at 7:45 PM on November 10, 2013 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

Jake-Runestad.jpgWhen I came to Minneapolis for my interview with VocalEssence, one of the first people to show me around the twin cities was "local" composer Jake Runestad. Little did I know that the word local was not an accurate word to use when describing Jake Runestad and his compositional reach. This guy has received commissions and performances by Craig Hella Johnson, Patrick Quigley, Philip Brunelle, Andre Thomas, James Bass and the list goes on.

Funny thing is, he is only 27 years old...and in some conversations...a rising choral rockstar. It is evident that he has an excellent pedigree; having studied with acclaimed composer Libby Larsen and Pulitzer Prize winning composer Kevin Puts. So to put it simply, Jake Runestad is the real deal.

His latest project, Dreams of the Fallen, will be premiered on Monday night and will feature pianist Jeffrey Biegel, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans. This work is part piano concerto and part choral symphony with emotionally charged text by Iraq War veteran Brian Turner. Honoring Our Heroes - A Veterans Day Concert will be performed at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. There will be a live web-stream of the performance starting at 7pm and it can be found at www.lpomusic.com. Did I mention that actor John Goodman will be making an appearance to narrate Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait? I'll definitely be watching and hopefully you will too!

MPR Exclusive Sneak Peak of Dreams of the Fallen

Jake Runestad's description of Dreams of the Fallen

Best YouTube Performance

Music Portfolio

Snow after midnight...

Posted at 1:25 AM on November 6, 2013 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (2 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music

Southern boys don't get to experience snow very often. That's why I decided to stop by the office tonight; to get my first swing at this Minnesota winter (I told y'all I was crazy). I knocked back a few Monsters and started jamming to some good ol' choral music. One of my favorite pieces by Eric Whitacre cued up on my playlist and then it hit me.

Back in the day, when he composed what is now known as Sleep, the music had different poetry. Whitacre originally set Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, unfortunately, he hadn't secured the rights to do so. Long story short, after a battle with the Frost estate, the original text was no longer an option. Whitacre wisely collaborated with lyricist Charles Anthony Silvestri and re-birthed what is now one of his most beloved works. Being totally honest, I prefer the marriage of Silvestri's text with Whitacre's music, but I want to open the floor for dialogue. What's your preference? Listen to both and chime in...

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening



The Heart's Reflection - CD Review and an MPR Exclusive Note from the Composer

Posted at 4:48 PM on November 5, 2013 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu
Filed under: Choral Music

After listening to this album, I was simply blown away by Daniel Elder's beautiful harmonic language. I was so inspired by his music that I contacted him almost immediately to discuss his compositional journey. The artistry this ensemble exhibits is simply astounding and it became abundantly clear why Daniel Elder won the Abbey Road Studios' 80th Anniversary Anthem Competition with his composition The Heart's Reflection. Dr. Joe Miller and the Westminster Choir illuminate the warmth and transparency of Elder's music in this fantastic recording. I strongly recommend you give this album a listen.

An MPR Exclusive Note From the Composer

"The process of recording "The Heart's Reflection," the Westminster Choir's newest recording under Maestro Joe Miller, was one of utmost privilege for me as an emerging composer. From the early stages of planning the program, in which Dr. Miller sat down with me to comb through my entire works and pick a dozen of the best-fitting artistic statements, to the month-long rehearsal process (yes, barely four weeks of rehearsal) in which I sat in with the choir as they prepared these works to record; in all of this I was humbled at the high level of attention and artistry that my music was given. When the album was first planned, I was given leave to write an additional 3-4 works on top of what I currently had in my catalogue - I cannot express how exciting it was to write new music knowing it would immediately be rehearsed and recorded on such a profound project. I endeavored to create a collection of widely-varying themes that could hold the attention of today's diverse audience, from sweet piano themes to electric percussion accompaniments and every a cappella style in between. As a result, I hope that those who listen to this CD can take something from it that speaks directly to them and their unique experiences."

~Daniel Elder

Preview Track: Ballade to the Moon


Posted at 2:38 PM on November 2, 2013 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (7 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music

Just 6 months ago I was dropping 60-hour workweeks like they were hot; working as a high school chorus teacher in Florida. Now I am the assistant artistic director of VocalEssence and the producer of American Public Media's 24/7 choral stream & blog. Wait, what in the hell happened? Are you crazy....you're seriously giving me a blog?

I've always been a choral nerd, but to be producing and blogging for one of the few 24/7 choral streams in the country definitely wasn't on my radar. Can somebody wake me up from this dream? (No, please don't!) Some may think that I'm crazy for moving to the North Country (probably a solid assessment), but when it comes to choral music, this place is the land of Milk & Honey.


Moses (F. Melius Christiansen) led the singers out of the wilderness and some of Minnesota's the region's Joshuas (Westin Noble, Philip Brunelle & Dale Warland) have kept on fightin' the battle.


This is such a grand opportunity to share my love for choral music with thousands of people from this culturally rich state and region. I am hoping that we develop a strong bond and that you become avid listeners of our 24/7 choral stream. So....I guess it's time for that awkward moment during the first date, when we attempt to get to know one another.


Well, who am I?
I am THAT guy. People that know me, realize that I am THAT guy who always looks to push it a step further.

What does that mean for this choral stream and blog?
I recommend that you fasten your safety belts and prepare for one hell of a ride; North Country just got a new injection of Southern swagger.


Choral Truths

Posted at 12:23 PM on April 2, 2013 by Brett Baldwin
Filed under: Choral Music

This month, as part of our Voices of Spring programming, we're having a little fun with those who make the music.

We're asking the singers, choir directors and vocal performers to share with us a little observational humor, so we're taking #ChoralTruths to Twitter. We're hoping that you'll share with us something that you see as being a universal truth from your spot on the risers.

The example we've been using is: "Altos always carry pencils." We don't know why; but it does kinda seem true. Have you ever seen an alto not carrying a pencil?

We'll pick the best and share them on Twitter and here too.

So go on, be merciless... and let us know your #ChoralTruths!

Cantus' Tiny desk concert

Posted at 3:19 PM on February 4, 2013 by Brett Baldwin
Filed under: Choral Music


It's a small desk, but it's no matter -- the 9 members of Cantus ably fit around it for an outstanding performance on a recent trip to NPR's Washington, D.C. headquarters.

The nine-voice ensemble performed pieces from their latest album -- the stellar Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: "Wanting Memories" (Ysaye Barnwell), "Zikr" (A.R. Rahman), "Ave Maria" (Franz Biebl).

For an in-depth account of their recording process, read the transcript of Val Kahler's interview.

And of course, the tiny desk isn't the first odd location for Cantus -- Classical MPR took them on a "Sonic Architecture" adventure back in 2010/2011 when they were our Artists in Residence.

On the Air This Week

Posted at 3:01 PM on December 11, 2012 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Choral Music, On the air

Highlights from Dec. 11 to Dec. 18

Tuesday, 7 pm: Welcome Christmas!, with VocalEssence.
Wednesday, 12 noon: Music with Minnesotans: Actor and singer Dane Stauffer.
Wednesday, 7 pm: Candles Burning Brightly.
Thursday, 11 am: Cantus, live at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: Angelica Cantanti Youth Choir, I Cantanti, The Singers, and the National Lutheran Choir.
Thursday, 7 pm: Christmas with Luther College.
Friday, 7 pm: Minnesota Choral Christmas.
Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Osmo Vänskä leads a program of Prokofiev, Aho, and Brahms.
Saturday, 12 noon: Metropolitan Opera: Verdi: Aida.
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: International Holiday Sampler.
Sunday, noon: From the Top.
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, in Brahms, Wagner, and Richard Strauss.
Monday, 7 pm: A Chanticleer Christmas.
Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: The Childhood of Christ, by Berlioz.
Tuesday, 7 pm: Slavic Wonders, with the Rose Ensemble.

A Night in Havana!

Posted at 8:33 AM on November 14, 2012 by Samuel Kjellberg
Filed under: Choral Music, Events

I had the great privilege this past weekend to attend one of the premiere US concerts of the Cuban choir, Schola Cantorum Coralina, brought to us through the initiation of our very own Philip Brunelle and VocalEssence.

I didn't quite know what to expect going into it. A few weeks ago I thought in my naïve, snobby Midwest "our choirs are the best" attitude, "Okay. A Cuban choir? This will be nice. Some mambo and Afro-Cuban percussion with added singing. Cute. Fun."

...No. It was so much more than that. I was COMPLETELY blown away. Of course there was rhythm, but it was a side note. It was as if they said, "Well, yeah. We're Cuban. Get over it. Now check this out!" I was taken by the tightness of their blend and expressive movement, the complexity of the repertoire, a genre seemingly lost to our American choral ears (Cuban choral music that is), and their unwavering communication. Their conductor (Alina Orraca) had enormous control of this choir who had the musical spectrum and control likened to a 1966 Pontiac GTO - beautiful, tender, muscular, fast, and sassy.

My mind has been consumed ever since, LITERALLY unable to stop thinking or talking about their performance!

A beautiful combination of high-caliber musical performance and commitment to youth education, instilling a passion for choral music in the Cuban community.

If you missed it, I am sorry. BUT, you can still check them out online. Here are some videos from their winning performance at the 2007 European Grand Prix for Choral Singing.

Ryan Cayabyab (Philippines): Sanctus and Angus Dei
Guido López Gavilán (Cuba): La Aporrumbeosis
Felix Mendelssohn: Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen

Guillaume de Machaut, a primer

Posted at 2:35 PM on September 18, 2012 by Emily Reese
Filed under: Choral Music, Composers

Guillaume de Machaut was born sometime around 1300 in Champagne. As is the case with so many medieval composers, and even beyond, no one knows his exact date of birth.

That means we never get to celebrate it.

So I wanted to share a song written by Machaut, called Rose, liz, printemps, verdure, performed by the Gothic Voices. Not only is this one of my favorite Machaut songs, it's one of my favorite pieces of music ever.

My ear is immediately drawn to the open harmony and the unusual cadences (endings of phrases). The cadences are, though, as they should be given the time period - it's just not how we're used to hearing phrases end.

For living in the 14th century, Machaut's music and poetry was well-preserved and cataloged. Although the majority of his music is secular, his mass, Messe de Nostre Dame, is the first extant copy of a composer's complete mass setting. Machaut's hundreds of poems tell tales of the Black Death, the French countryside, love and more.

The State Fair Singers!

Posted at 12:00 PM on August 22, 2012 by Samuel Kjellberg (1 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music, Events, Musician stories

It is understood that Minnesota holds a very strong grip on the world of choral music, both nationally and internationally. With our world-renown professional and collegiate choirs, fabulous public school programs, and choirs with a message we have carved our name in choral history. We live in a special place, and it is our depth that is so remarkable.

Here at Classical MPR we have made an official commitment to the choral community in Minnesota. We started by creating an on-line choral stream with hours and hours of non-stop choral music from around the world. We will bring to the Twin Cities the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the King's College Choir (Cambridge), and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir with a commission by Edie Hill. In the future we will continue to nurture that relationship by creating collaborative programming and content.

This summer at the State Fair Classical MPR thought, given our choral initiative, that it would be appropriate to incorporate several vocal acts, including VocalEssence, the Minnesota Boychoir, and members of the Minnesota Opera. But something was missing...so when I was approached by Brian Newhouse and Daniel Gilliam at MPR to discuss other ensembles to incorporate, I responded immediately with the idea of a young-adult chamber choir. They asked, "Does anything like that exist?" Knowing of nothing I said, "No, but I will create it."

And so here we are, The State Fair Singers with me, Sam Kjellberg, the aspiring conductor. We will sing a short program of music by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, and a short hymn by the great Thomas Tallis. It's a simple concept – young-adults between the ages of 22 and 27 singing together, all coming from fabulous collegiate choral programs – Concordia (Moorhead), Luther, Saint Olaf, the University of Minnesota, and Yale. This project has been the seed to something we hope to continue through the next several years, or until we're too old to be considered "young-adults." (...but "youth" is a mindset, right?...)

The name seems a little narrow and constraining, and in some ways it is, but even with the name attached, this group has hopes of being a symbolic gesture for the future of choral music and classical music in general. It is my opinion that Classical Music must focus on keeping its youthful vigor and innovation alive and well. I hope that ensembles with this sort of youthful energy, determination, and initiative will continue to be heralded for years to come!

Come at check us out at the State Fair!!!
August 27-29th, 2-3pm
September 3, 2-3pm

All at the Minnesota Public Radio booth on the corner of Judson and Nelson!


Minnesota Sings

Posted at 9:04 AM on June 29, 2012 by Daniel Gilliam
Filed under: Choral Music

The American Choral Directors Association, Minnesota chapter (ACDA-MN), is presenting a state-wide choral sing-a-long on November 10, 2012 [corrected date]. You can get your choir invovled by applying here (deadline is October 1, 2012). Locations are spread out across Minnesota, so you should be able to find a convenient spot to showcase your group.

According to the ACDA-MN website, the goal is to showcase choirs "of any size, age, or ability representing school, community and faith-based organizations." This event is part of the organization's 50th anniversary year.

It's the y'all come of choral singing.

Choral Quiz

Posted at 6:00 AM on June 20, 2012 by ClassicalMPR (12 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music

Test your knowledge of choral music, composers, and terminology. While it is multiple choice — no short answers or essays here, although you may feel free to leave them in the comments — we doubt that this is an easy 'A'.

Ferguson Retires Festivally

Posted at 9:32 AM on June 5, 2012 by Daniel Gilliam (1 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music

St. Olaf College organ and church music professor, John Ferguson, is retiring after 29 years. The college celebrated his tenure, complete with a hymn festival and Cantorei reunion (uncluding 200 voices), and this "Ferg Feast" tribute video. You can view the hymn festival program book here.


Michala Petri: Recorder and Choir

Posted at 12:16 PM on May 22, 2012 by Elena See
Filed under: Choral Music

Michala Petri

Since the very beginning, Classical MPR has championed choral music through our regional broadcasts. Now, you can listen to choral music all day and all night long with our new online choral stream!

Danish recorder player Michala Petri's newest recording is titled English Recorder Concertos — but it's not out of the question for her NEXT recording to be featured in our choral stream. Take a listen below...and make sure to visit the New Classical Tracks page with Julie Amacher to hear selections from Petri's newest release.

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