Music with Minnesotans: Mary Ann Pulk

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
April 3, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — In April it's Voice of Spring, when we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Choral Stream and bring a bit more choral music your way - some new, some familiar - but all a chance for us to bask in the glorious indescribable beauty of singing.

My guests this month are what we might deem 'choral fanatics' and we start the series with Mary Ann Pulk, the Executive Director of a mainstay in the choral world in Minnesota, VocalEssence.

I still remember the first moment I met Mary Ann. It was a balmy summer night in the backyard of one of those gorgeous Summit Avenue homes. This one owned by Stephen Paulus who was celebrating his 60th birthday. Lots of music, stories and plenty to drink. Mary Ann just popped over introduced herself and we started chatting music. Mind you, she never once told me her title, just made conversation with her always-ready smile and easy-going nature.

It was later I found out she is Philip Brunelle's right-hand woman. She's been managing director of the ensemble since 2003, but when the time came to find a new Executive Director, there was no doubt Mary Ann was the one.

She has wide experience in the world of choral music, serving in this same position with the Grammy-award winning Phoenix Boys Choir. She led some important work there including reaching out to the Latino community, keeping the boy's still singing with an alumni men's choir and beefing up the endowment fund.

But Mary Ann doesn't jump up and down telling you about all she's done. She describes the boy choir like a soccer mom, her own two boys matriculating through the ensemble. She tells me how bonding it is to sing, how boy sopranos are fearless and can float the high notes with a kind of tough boy athleticism. And her eyes light up when she shares the music.

Maybe that's why she is so successful. It's the music that motivates.

At VE, Mary Ann has helped this already successful group do even more, building their core of professional singers, releasing internationally distributed recordings - yes, that's right, a dozen recordings! - and overseeing a major festival to celebrate the music of William Bolcom.

All hard work, requiring vision and enthusiasm and efficiency, but most of all passion for the art form. Mary Ann speaks of Bolcom as this incredible genius with a mind like an encyclopedia, but who makes you feel like he's interested in talking to you and sharing his music and passion and artistry.

At the end of our chat, Mary Ann reminds me that we both played in Toledo, Ohio. Don't laugh, it is a small city but has one of the most remarkable concert halls, the Greek revival Persityle Theatre right inside the wonderful Toledo Museum of Art. Fabulous acoustics, terrific musicians - I was one of those many years ago! - and a place where Mary Ann sang some of the greatest choral literature as a high schooler with great names in the choral world conducting. That experience nurtures a love of the art of choral music that lasts a lifetime - and for Mary Ann Pulk, it definitely shows!

Mary Ann Pulk's playlist:

Olivier Messiaen, O Sacrum Convivium - Dale Warland Singers

William Bolcom, Song of Innocence and Experience: Cruelty has a Human Heart - University of Michigan Chamber Choir/Symphony Orchestra

Ola Gjello: Ubi Caritas - Phoenix Chorale/Charles Bruffy

Eric Whitacre, Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine - Eric Whitacre Singers

Benjamin Britten, Ceremony of Carols: Spring Carol - Choir of King;s College, Cambridge

Stephen Paulus, The Day is Done - VocalEssence/Philip Brunelle

Moses Hogan, My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord - VocalEssence/Philip Brunelle

Next week, I'm joined by the former Executive Director for the Dale Warland Singers - and also my boss here at Classical MPR - Gayle Ober, who now assists and advises as the first point of contact to the community for the philanthropic George Family Foundation. But as a soprano, she has a wealth of knowledge and loads of enthusiasm for great choral singing.

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