Vocal Arts Ensemble is greater Cincinnati’s premier professional vocal ensemble dedicated to presenting passionate and innovative performances of choral music that raise and nurture the public’s appreciation of the life-enriching qualities of the choral arts.

About/History: Founded in 1979, for over 40 years VAE has brought the power of spectacular, powerful and thrilling choral performances to audiences of all generations.

Because of the small size of the choir, VAE is uniquely able to present diverse performances that engage and enchant a range of music lovers. VAE has enjoyed artistic leadership by some of the nation’s leaders in choral conducting; Grammy® Award winner/seven-time nominee Craig Hella Johnson currently leads the talented and dynamic choir. Praised for his visionary approach, Johnson is considered one of the most influential voices in choral music in the US today.

Works presented each season range from emerging composers to the well-loved pieces of the choral canon, and it is this intimate balance of traditional yet innovative programming, as well as the creativity and passion brought to the stage by Johnson that makes VAE so unique. VAE is committed to the presentation and development of modern chamber music, premiering new works and commissions annually. Additional community engagements throughout the year include appearances with the May Festival and collaborations with area arts organizations. Broadcasts of performances on public radio and live streaming online (through local station WGUC) help VAE to reach an extended and diverse audience across our region.

Over the years, creative collaborations have resulted in unique productions and reached diverse audiences; partners have included the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra; Opera; Ballet; Boychoir; Children’s Choir; May Festival and Youth Chorus; concert:nova; National Underground Freedom Center; Ensemble Theatre; local school choirs; and many more. Partnerships with area choral organizations through the Greater Cincinnati Choral Consortium also provide opportunities to engage the community in Cincinnati’s rich choral arts scene.

Educational activities are key to developing appreciation for the arts in students of all ages. VAE’s Music Director therefore leads masterclasses and works with students across the region (including serving as a frequent guest at the University of Cincinnati). The VAE also works to expand in-school activities and opportunities for students in Cincinnati’s public schools.


1979 – Founded/led by Elmer Thomas

1987 – Earl Rivers became 2nd Music Director

1993 & 1997 – ASCAP-Chorus America Awards–for “Adventuresome Programming of Contemporary Music”

2002 & 2004 – Released two commercial CDs of primarily contemporary American choral music

2004 – Earl Rivers received Chorus America’s “Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Choral Art”

2008 – Earl Rivers retired; VAE featured a season of guest conductors

2009 – Donald Nally became the 3rd Music Director

2013 – Craig Hella Johnson became the 4th Music Director

2014 – Instituted administrative shared services agreement with May Festival and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; strategic planning begun

2015 – Craig Hella Johnson won a Grammy® Award and received Chorus America’s “Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Choral Art”

2016 & 2017 – VAE broke 4 separate attendance records

2017 – VAE began residency in Memorial Hall

At VAE, we believe music enriches life; to this end, we strive to be both artistically excellent but also to create performances that engage everyone. These are not concerts simply to be heard, they are a complete organic experience!