Fine Arts Series History
In 1966 the organ in the west gallery was built by Robert Noehren and installed. Just after the organ was installed, Msgr. Francis Beres, the Cathedral rector at the time, asked local organist Phyllis Stringham to plan some recitals. These programs were held occasionally through the years but were not part of a formal series.
In 1979, Sr. Mary Jane Wagner assumed the position of Cathedral Director of Music. In the winter of 1980 she gave an organ concert based on the psalms. Soon thereafter parishioner Carl Diederichs, Cathedral curate Fr. Ken Augustine and Sr. Mary Jane organized a Fine Arts Committee and the Cathedral Fine Arts Series was born.
It was through the encouragement of Fr. Ken and the steadfast support of Fr. Jim Brady, Cathedral rector at the time, that Sr. Mary Jane developed a regular arts series. A varied program not limited to organ recitals and other musical events was soon developed. Several events became an annual part of each season, including the Tour of Churches (Fr. Ken’s initiative). Usually Sr. Mary Jane alternated each season between giving a solo organ recital and organ plus instruments/voice. Though not ideal, the cathedral high school auditorium was used for several art exhibits. The Cathedral regularly collaborated with the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists in having one national organ recitalist each year. Among those organists was Robert Noehren, builder of the gallery organ. Sr. Mary Jane remembers that Robert Noehren truly enjoyed playing the Cathedral instrument; it was one of his two favorite installations. Organist David Craighead played during one of the worst snowstorms of the 1980’s.
Drama was a significant element of the Fine Arts Series too. Most notable is “The Play of Daniel.” Transcribed by Milwaukee Archbishop Emeritus Rembert G. Weakland, it was first performed in December 1985 and became a Milwaukee holiday tradition for a number of years.
In February 2002 the Wednesday Noon Concert Series was begun. For the most part, each Wednesday year round half-hour concerts take place between 12:15 and 12:45. A variety of performers, including choir, guitar, cello, piano, organ, voice, string trio, harp and others, provide a mid-day respite to downtown workers and guests. Though a freewill offering is taken, there is no charge to attend the concerts. The Wednesday Noon Concert Series is the only on-going series of its kind in the Greater Milwaukee area.
Annual events include Advent Lessons and Carols, performed each December by the resident choirs and ensembles of the Cathedral and Grand Music for a Grand Space performed each April. The Cathedral Treasury houses artworks and artifacts of the Cathedral and Archdiocese. Occasionally a specific exhibit will be mounted, such as “O Come, Let Us Adore Him”, creches from around the world. The Fine Arts Commissions continues to collaborate with the Milwaukee chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
For over 25 years the Cathedral Fine Arts Series has been a constitutive part of the Cathedral’s mission. Michael Batcho, current Cathedral Director of Music, collaborates with the Fine Arts Commission to diligently uphold the tradition of variety and excellence upon which the series was born.
Previous Performers have included:
- Diane Bish
- Dave Brubeck
- Frederick Swann
- Anonymous 4
- Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir
- Clay Christiansen
- Mary Preston
- Wolfgang Rubsam
- Karel Paukert
- UW Madison Concert Choir
- St. Hallvard Boys Choir
- David Craighead
- Millenia Consort
- Gloria Dei Cantores
- Stephen Tharp
- San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble
- Dr. Jennifer Pascual
- David Heller
- Douglas Cleveland