Renaissance Man - Philip Brunelle and Music-logo

Renaissance Man - Philip Brunelle and Music


This podcast is an ongoing interview series with noted conductor, organist, musical leader, educator and entrepreneur Philip Brunelle.

This podcast is an ongoing interview series with noted conductor, organist, musical leader, educator and entrepreneur Philip Brunelle.




This podcast is an ongoing interview series with noted conductor, organist, musical leader, educator and entrepreneur Philip Brunelle.








18 - Stewart Copeland

Episode 18 welcomes 5-time Grammy winning drummer and composer Stewart Copeland to unravel his latest composition, the oratorio Satan's Fall. In this episode, brother Chris steps in for Tim as Philip and Stewart discuss the intricacies of the source text, Milton's epic Paradise Lost. As for composing, "The most important thing in any piece of music is rhythm," says Philip. "That's it. It starts with rhythm. I always say (to a choir), 'You've got just three things to deal with... you've got...


17 - VocalEssence 2021-2022 Season, Examined

Episode 17 covers the expanse of inspiration and insights leading to VocalEssence's 2021-2022 season. Philip talks about researching and programming a diverse mix of choral music—from Astor Piazzolla to Gabriel Kahane to The Aeolians to Jose Nünez to Stewart Copeland of The Police. "There's so much great choral music of the past and present," notes Philip, gesturing to the tens of thousands of scores surrounding his office. In this episode we also learn what constitutes a "fantastic"...


16 - Resilience

An apt title for this episode might be How a Choral Director Works Through a Pandemic (and Other Adversities). In facing the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, Philip recalls, "my reaction was—become creative. What are the opportunities to share music in a new way, in a new dimension?" That's our main focus in this episode, on the ways in which a choral director pivots in the face of a situation that literally threatens choral music. There was a lot to learn, and a lot that's now changed....


15 - Improvisation, Part Two (Opera)

And we’re back! We return to the topic of Improvisation—this time focusing on improv in the realm of Opera. (See episode 11 for Improv, Part One.) You might not consider Opera a venue for improvisation but the practice goes back to the Baroque era and the practice of ornamentation. Philip discusses this, and more, in a conversation including singer and long-time operatic improv partner Vern Sutton. The two first met at the University of Minnesota in the 1960s. They take us on a journey to...


Episode 14 - Christmas Prep 2018

In this episode, Philip walks us through his methodology for preparing a Christmas music season — starting with his first at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis in 1968. We discuss programming, rehearsing, and then focus on the topic of carols. Philip talks about the history, structure and nuances of effective Christmas carols. We end with a review of the winners in this 20th year of VocalEssence's holiday carol contest.


13 - VocalEssence Turns 50

Way back in 1969 a 25-year old Philip Brunelle was hired as organist and choirmaster at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, while still serving as percussionist and pianist for the Minnesota Orchestra. Clearly, he wasn't busy enough. Because in that same year, Philip founded the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota which later became VocalEssence ( In this episode we go back in time to understand the organization's founding stories -- the motivations and...


12 - Dominick Argento Interview, March 2018

In mid-March 2018, Philip sat down with Pulitzer Prize winning music composer, and Minneapolis resident, Dominick Argento. Their conversation ranges across a decades-long relationship, from the 1960s when Philip was student and Dominick his teacher at the University of Minnesota, to later periods when Philip commissioned Dom to write all kinds of choral music.


11 - Improvisation, Part One

In this first of three related episodes, Philip begins a conversation on Improvisation. After checking in on recent adventures with the IFCM in Barcelona, Spain and Kaili, China, Philip dives in—discussing improv training, perspectives and experiences in the classical, church and operatic realms. He touches on French organist training, Handel’s oratorios, Baroque ornamentation and Bel Canto, as well as music theory and the importance of understanding Inventions, Sonata Form, Fugue form, etc....


10 - ACDA 2017 National Convention

In this tenth episode, Philip talks about preparations and excitement for the American Choral Directors Association national convention, which involves thousands of singers from all over the world, taking place in Minneapolis in early March 2017.


09 - Protest Music with Melanie DeMore

Episode 09 of Renaissance Man welcomes vocal activist Melanie DeMore ( who is collaborating and performing with Philip Brunelle through the month of February as part of Vocal Essence WITNESS. In this episode, Melanie and Philip talk about the history of Protest Music in the world and especially in the US, the hallmarks of effective protest songs, and their work together this month leading into the upcoming WITNESS: Underground Railroad performances...


08 - Holiday 2016

Episode 8 is focused on the business of holiday music specifically, the logistics and work that goes on behind the scenes by a music director to make Christmas and holiday performances what they are. It was recorded in Philip’s office on December 8, 2016. During the episode, Philip talks about selecting and programming music at Plymouth Church and VocalEssence for the holidays, including his sources of programming inspiration. He talks about how to keep programing fresh, and how to learn...


07 - Opera, Part 2

In this second of two episodes dedicated to opera, Philip talks about the business of opera and the role a Music Director plays in day-to-day financials, operations, planning and fund raising that drive an opera company. He uses his 17 years of experience with Minnesota Opera and conducting experience around the world as a tapestry for illustrating the collaboration between composers, stage directors, singers and instrumentalists in getting work from theory to closing curtain. Philip recalls...


06 - Opera, Part 1

Welcome to Episode 6, the first part of a longer conversation about Opera. This episode dives into Philip Brunelle’s 17 year tenure as Music Director at Center Opera — which later became Minnesota Opera. It’s a fascinating journey akin to today's technology start ups, filled with lots of musical entrepreneurialism. If you’ve got questions for Philip about choral conducting or music in general, please send them to us: renaissancemanpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com.


05 - Election Music, Bonus Episode

In this bonus episode, Philip talks about recent travels to Ghana and South Africa and then offers perspective on the role of music in presidential elections and politics - including the origins of The Star Spangled Banner.


04 - Choral Direction, Bonus Episode

Here’s a bonus episode on the role of a choir director and the business of choral conducting. Philip offers a handful of choir directing tips honed over decades of work.


03 - Choral Direction, Part 2

In episode 03 we continue the conversation on choral conducting and the role of a Choir Director. This part of the conversation focuses on the practicalities of being a choral director (e.g. selecting music, administration, scouting venues, recruiting talent, preparing a score, allocation of voice types, etc.); as well as the business of rehearsing (e.g. how to motivate singers you’ve never conducted before, how to handle challenges with voice ranges and abilities, etc.) and...


02 - Choral Direction, Part 1

Episode 02 is the first of several episodes focusing specifically on choral direction and the job of being a choir director. We open with a brief review of Philip’s choral directing schedule in the month of June 2016, traveling from South Korea to Sweden; followed by a discussion of how and why Philip became a choir director. Then we dive into the job description, the “101" of Being a Choir Director. Philip talks about why choirs and singing matter today, the essential need for a steady...


01 - Education

Welcome to the debut episode of "Renaissance Man - Philip Brunelle and Music," an ongoing podcast series with noted conductor, organist, musical leader, educator and entrepreneur Philip Brunelle by his son, Tim. This show connects the dots across all kinds of music - especially choral, church and opera, with the arts, non-profits, entrepreneurialism, education, and travel around the world. In this first episode, we're going to start at the beginning and focus on Philip's musical education....