Song of Ourselves

Philip Brunelle and Sigrid Johnson pick the best Minnesota songs. Uffda.

Q: VocalEssence, the chorus you lead, is traveling the state this month singing Minnesota’s musical legacy. How did you pick these songs?
Philip Brunelle: We wanted a broad range: some famous names—Judy Garland, Bob Dylan, Prince—and music by singer-songwriters like Dan Wilson and even jingles like the Hamm’s beer commercial. [Sings jauntily.]

Q: Prince, by chorus?
PB: When people hear “choral concert” there’s some negativity. And then they hear us and say, “Oh, you can do all that?”

Q: You’ll also sing Norwegian folk songs and a German polka. Don’t you have to include Swedish music, too?
Sigrid Johnson: No, we don’t have to be fair.

Q: Were you Dylan fans in his heyday?
SJ: I loved his songs; his voice was a little much. And don’t even bother asking Philip.
PB: I had a paper route and I spent the money buying madrigals—that’s the kind of teenager I was.

Q: Is there a certain Minnesota-ness to music made here?
SJ: No, it’s not like there’s a Cajun culture here or something. But music has always permeated the state, starting with Lutheran churches, German singing clubs. We’re a state of singers.

Q: You’ll be traveling on Highway 23. Why? Are there a lot of pie shops along the way?
PB: It’s the only diagonal state highway in Minnesota, running all the way from Luverne to Duluth. We wanted to let people know we’re here for them. St. Cloud, you need suggestions for good American music? Duluth, you want to arrange a pops concert? We can help.

Q: What does a chorus sing on a tour bus?
SJ: We don’t. Most of the singers are smart enough to say, “I need to save my voice.” And that doesn’t come from singing “99 Bottles of Beer.”

VocalEssence’s North Star Tour hits Marshall, Luverne, Montevideo, St. Cloud, and Duluth, before ending at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul on November 6.

 Find a set-list for the North Star Tour at