On Wednesday, June 3, the Rolling Stones will perform at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. For part of the concert, the Rolling Stones will be accompanied onstage by 24 members of the Minneapolis-based choral group VocalEssence.
Reached by telephone, VocalEssence Artistic Director Philip Brunelle described how the collaboration came about as well as the mood of the choir members as they look ahead to Wednesday night's gig with the rock legends. Here's a transcript of the phone interview with Brunelle:
Tomorrow, 24 members of VocalEssence will be singing with the Rolling Stones. How did that come together? How did the Stones find you?
About six weeks ago, I got a phone call from a British lady out in Los Angeles who said that the Rolling Stones were going to be coming to Minneapolis on tour; they wanted to involve a choir; I was recommended, and VocalEssence; and could we be available on the third of June? I said, "Well, I can be available and let me just ask the singers and find out if we indeed have that date working out, because some people might be out of town, you know, those kind of things."
So I did check with everyone and then got back to her and said that we definitely could do it, and then she said, "Fine now, for the next almost six weeks, no one can say a word. And if we find that word has gotten out, then it's cancelled."
And I said, "OK!"
So everybody was given to silence, and they did, they were great, and then this week, [the Rolling Stones' representatives] called up a few days ago and said, "OK, now you can say something, and we'll tell you what you can say or what you can do."
Because of the kind of mega-stature of these people, there's obviously certain things like, you know, you can't be sitting there onstage with them having selfies going and stuff like that. But you do have to make sure that it's all spelled out so that everybody understands the nature of what you're doing there.
But everybody was so excited about the opportunity, so we're looking forward to it.
How does it make you feel to suddenly be tapped on the shoulder by the Rolling Stones?
Well, it's a great, great opportunity. Over the years, we have been on A Prairie Home Companion a number of times, we did a program last year with Rufus Wainwright. But of course, in addition to our regular concert season and all of that kind of repertoire from Bach up to Argento and Paulus and Libby Larsen we do a lot of different repertoire, and this will be another one to add to that package.
Do you know which songs you'll be doing?
Yes I know what we're doing, but that was one of the things they said we can't talk about. And so I said, "OK!" and so we haven't.
They've been lovely to deal with and I'm told though I haven't met Mick Jagger I'm told that he is a really nice guy, and I do want to meet him because he and I have the same birth month and the same birth year.
Wow, that's a nice coincidence.
A very nice coincidence! So I didn't know that until recently, but I will be sure to wish him happy birthday.
According to the report on MPR News, it said 24 members of VocalEssence will participate.
Right. It is. VocalEssence we have the ensemble singers and we have the chorus so all together, there is something close to 130, 140 singers. So it was an interesting challenge to kind of figure out which singers to use for this project, but we do things with different-sized groups all the time, so sometimes someone might want four singers and then someone may want 12, so it just varies. For this one, they wanted 24, so that's what we did.
And the other nice thing is they wanted us, the 24, to have two conductors, so Phillip Shoultz, who is my new associate conductor at VocalEssence he doesn't really start until July 1, but I said, "Here, why don't you come and join for an early event?" Which he was delighted to do.
So it will be the two of you onstage?
Along with the singers.
Along with the singers, right.
Now there has been some word on the street that there was a suggestion from the Rolling Stones that the members of the participating choir be of a certain age range. Were you aware of that?
Well, what we've known is when they have performed, sometimes they've done this for children's choirs, and I said, "That's not us." But they were not, from what I know, they were asking us more just about voice type and, for instance, they needed to have some sopranos who they knew could sing high, so we really kind of went at it more in terms of what we were going to come up with vocally.
One thing that has been floated out there is that there was a restriction on any singers who might have gray hair.
Oh, I never heard that. Never heard that. And then you've got a conductor with gray hair, so hey. No. That I never heard.
So the 24 members of VocalEssence will be joining the Rolling Stones for an undisclosed number of songs as per the contract?
You have it.
You are not able to share how many songs?
No, I can't tell you that even. But it'll be interesting. We'll have chorale group rehearsal with them tomorrow and sound check and off we go!
What has the mood been among the choir members?
Well, they, of course, are ecstatic. They're very excited about the opportunity of singing on a concert like this, and seeing these legendary performers that are there. So I think that's a really wonderful excitement.
It reminds me also, of some years ago when James Earl Jones came and did some reading with us and everybody was like, "Wow a chance to be with somebody like that."
And then this season when we had Peter Schickele here and did the PDQ Bach, and those who know about it, they were like, "Wow, this is another kind of legendary person."
So this is another in that whole series of legends, and I'm delighted that it's going to happen.