Most kids want games and toys for Christmas. Not six-year-old Philip Brunelle. He wanted the vocal score to Handel's "Messiah." Now an internationally renowned conductor, choral scholar and performer, he is the founder and artistic director of the Minneapolis-based VocalEssence, one of America's premier choral arts organizations. He has appeared as guest conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Berkshire Choral Festival, the Swedish Royal Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony, among others. His many awards include the Royal Order of the Polar Star from the King of Sweden and Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit. Brunelle appeared on the very first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, July 6, 1974.
Growing up in rural Maine, Heather Masse sang hymns and folk songs around home with her family. Now based in New York, this New England Conservatory of Music alum is a one-third of the Juno Award-winning Canadian trio The Wailin' Jennys. Her solo album, Bird Song, was released in 2009 on Red House Records. The Jennys' latest is Bright Morning Stars (Red House).
The St. Olaf Choir
The St. Olaf Choir, under the direction of Anton Armstrong, performs with the same choral excellence and artistry listeners have come to expect since the group's founding in 1912 by F. Melius Christiansen, a pioneer of a cappella choral singing in America. Based at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, the 75-voice choir has appeared in major concert halls from New York City to Los Angeles, Scandinavia to China. Among their recordings is Great Hymns of Faith (St. Olaf Records).
The St. Olaf Orchestra
Richard Ostling of Time magazine once said that the St. Olaf Orchestra "has to be one of the best college orchestras in the nation." The ensemble has had more than a hundred years to get that way, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, when it was guided by F. Melius Christiansen, also founding conductor of the St. Olaf Choir. In addition to its annual tours of the United States, the St. Olaf Orchestra, under the direction of Steven Amundson, has performed in Europe and will travel to China next spring.
Garrison Keillor was born in Anoka, graduated from the University of Minnesota ('66), and lives in St. Paul. He is the author of numerous books, including Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny (Viking), and the editor of several anthologies of poetry, including Good Poems: American Places (Viking).
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band is led by A Prairie Home Companion music director Richard Dworsky. Keyboard player, composer and improviser in any style, he also writes all the script themes and underscores. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me.
Chet Atkins called Pat Donohue (guitar) one of the greatest fingerpickers in the world today. And he writes songs too — recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers, and others. Nobody's Fault (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's 10 albums.
Gary Raynor (bass) has performed with the Count Basie band and Sammy Davis Jr., with whom he toured for several years. He was first call for dozens of touring Broadway shows, including the first presentation of The Lion King. Gary teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
Peter Johnson (percussion) has played klezmer music with Doc Severinsen and jazz with Dave Brubeck. He was a drummer for The Manhattan Transfer and for Gene Pitney. He has toured the world, but he always comes back to home base: Saint Paul.
One minute he's mild-mannered Tim Russell; the next he's George Bush or Julia Child or Barack Obama. We've yet to stump this man of many voices. In other roles, Tim played the part of Al, the stage manager, in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion and a detective in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man.
On APHC, Sue Scott plays everything from ditzy teenagers to Guy Noir stunners to leathery crones who've smoked one pack of Camel straights too many. The Tucson, Arizona, native is well known for her extensive commercial and voice-over work on radio and television, as well as movie and stage roles.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).