VocalEssence (Minneapolis, MN)


Photo looking down on the full chorus

VocalEssence performing a Young People’s Concert as part of the WITNESS program on Gordon Parks. Photo by Walter Griffin

Since it was founded in 1965 as the Plymouth Music Series, VocalEssence has grown into one of the world’s premier choral arts organizations, presenting innovative music performances in addition to quality arts education programs.  With its 120-voice Chorus and the 32-voice Ensemble Singers, VocalEssence presents both lesser-known classical pieces as well as works by contemporary composers.

In FY 2005, VocalEssence received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $35,000 for its WITNESS program, which annually highlights the contributions of African-American artists. For 2005, its fifteenth anniversary, WITNESS focused on photographer, author, filmmaker, and composer Gordon Parks, who received the National Medal of Arts in 1988. 

A key part of WITNESS is its School Program, which in 2005 expanded to include 45 K-12 schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and suburban and out-of-state districts.  For the 2005 curriculum, the focus was on the relationship between art and politics in the African-American community, beginning with W.E.B. du Bois and working to contemporary times.  A special focus was placed in the curriculum on Gordon Parks and his use of art in the fight against racism.  With 13 teaching artists from varying arts disciplines -- including composers, dancers, authors and photographers -- making two visits per classroom, more than 5,000 students and teachers were reached.  Workshops were designed for each age group, with activities that included preparing a performance piece to present to other classes and the WITNESS Young People’s Concerts. 

In addition to the school program, WITNESS included a subscription concert and a newly released four-disc recording set.  A multimedia presentation exploring Gordon Parks’s life and arts was developed for the subscription concert and later adapted for the Young People’s concert. 


(From the NEA 2005 Annual Report)