DID YOU KNOW... 100 Years of People and Stories


Who We Are

#3 Young People's Orchestra

The Young People's Orchestra was founded in 1927 as the Young People’s Orchestra with Rudolph Kopp on the podium.  The Young People's Orchestra and the Young People Band after it, were both created to give a performance opportunity to graduating seniors who had enjoyed a solid music experience the Milwaukee Public Schools.   The Milwaukee Public Schools, at the time under their Director of Music, Herman F. Smith,was considered one of the finest music programs in the counrty. Mr. Smith also served on the board of the Civic Music Association in the 1930’s.

Rudolph Kopp was a prolific movie composer and music director based in Hollywood.  We find nothing that tells us what brought him to Milwaukee.  Milton Rusch, the conductor who held that position for the longest time, rose from Assistant Conductor to Conductor in 1930.  A Milwaukee native, Dr. Rusch was a product of and professor at the Milwaukee Normal School (nka UW-Milwaukee).   1918, the year that CIVIC MUSIC was established, was a big year for him.  Not only was he playing oboe in the United State Navy Band under John Philip Sousa, but he performed a piano soloists with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Frederick Stock!

In 1947, the Young People’s Orchestra became the Civic Orchestra. As the story goes, many of the founding members were still playing 20 years later and not passing for young people anymore!  And so, a change was made for the orchestra and the band.

The Civic Orchestra reorganized as a separate entity in 1993 and became the Festival City Symphony.  Through the years the orchestra’s conductors have been:

Rudolph Kopp, 1927-30
Milton Rusch, 1930-58
Delwin Shaw, 1958-59
Joseph Skornicka, 1959-65
Michael Hammond, 1966-68
Edward Mumm, 1968-1989
Monte Perkins, 1989-2017
Carter Simmons, 2017-Present


#2 A Sounding Board for Milwaukee's Cultural Discussions

Association minutes show that over the years, Civic Music Association was a sounding board for events and improvements to the cultural life in Milwaukee. In 1941 there was discussion about creating a commission to study the development of a Music Hall.  In 1943, a resolution was sent to the Common Council to erect a Music Hall as a War Memorial.  1944 shows that they were thinking big with what they thought the hall should have - - one large concert hall for opera and symphony (and remember this is before the MSO, when the Chicago Symphony came up regularly), a smaller hall to seat 1,500, a concert hall to seat 800, small recital halls and rehearsal facilities.  By 1953, it was clear that the building would be a War Memorial... without the Music Hall.  Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, construction began in 1955 and the building was dedicated on Veterans Day in 1957. 

In 1960, minutes show that CMA sent a letter to Common Council, the Mayor, and the County Board of Supervisors emphasizing the urgency of taking action in the promotion of the Music Hall now being slated to be located on the Milwaukee River.  Construction began in 1966, and it opened on July 26, 1969 as the Performing Arts Center.  Following a $25 million donation from the Marcus Corporation, the County changed the venue's name in 1994 to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.


#1 Young People's Band

(a.k.a Civic Symphonic Band and Milwaukee Concert Band)

The Young People’s Band first comes up in the Association minutes in 1939.  Milwaukee Public Schools were pumping out highly skilled wind players who had no place to play.  As with any orchestra, the Young People’s Orchestra had only so many seats for winds players.   CMA voted to go ahead with forming the band and appointed Joseph Skornicka, then a MPS supervisor of music and assistant conductor of the Young People’s Orchestra , as conductor. 

Auditions were called, and 106 musicians showed up - - far exceeding their expectations!  For their first concert, band members sold 1000 tickets for their performance at the Auditorium (now the Milwaukee Theatre). Through the years the conductors were:

Joseph Skornicka, 1940-1959
     (Ed Zielinski took a few years beginning in 1943 during Skornicka’s tour of duty and Richard Koebner for 1956 when Skornicka was finishing and defending his doctoral dissertation)
Paul Anderson, 1959-1973
Wayne Becker, 1973-1989
Patricia Wellman, 1989-1997
Nicholas J. Contorno, 1997-2002
Gregory A. Schaffer, 2002-2016
Jeremy Davis, 2016-2018
Patricia Backhaus, 2018-present

In 1946 it was renamed the Civic Symphonic Band when the Orchestra was renamed the Civic Orchestra.  And in 1996, the band separated from CIVIC MUSIC and became the Milwaukee Concert Band.