The Brown County Civic Music Association: Ninety years of music

andrew kruse-ross |bccma| april 2017

All photos courtesy Jonathan Kirn.Since 1927, the Brown County Civic Music Association has sought to foster community interest in the performing arts via a series of concerts performed by professional artists of both national and international acclaim. Today, the BCCMA does this by offering five world-class concerts annually to the people of Brown County at an affordable rate.

Much as it was 90 years ago when the organization was founded, a passion for music is at the heart of the BCCMA. That passion is easily recognizable with the organization's current president, Mary Meyer.

“Music is such a special thing," says Meyer, “live performance especially — it's an art created and then it's gone."

While not claiming to be an especially religious person, Meyer sees a divine hand at work in the creation of music, stating “there are certain beautiful things in this world that are not an accident and music is certainly one of those."

Meyer's love of music led her to serve on the board of directors of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, where she says she was privileged to serve with such a small, yet passionate group of dedicated people. When the 102-year-old GBSO dissolved in 2015, Meyer, like many others, was heartbroken.

Meyer points out that such potential for disappointment exists in any collaborative, creative effort and says that her involvement with the BCCMA “fills a void" in her once belonging to the GBSO.

For the past nine months, Meyer has served as the organization's president, a position that has been held by members of many of the community's most notable families. Members of the Barkhausen, Baer, Kress and Frigo families have all taken on the role in the organization's history, evidence of the organization's entwinement with the city's history and growth.

Meyer isn't alone in her dedication to the BCCMA, however, and is quick to deflect praise upon the many volunteers responsible for making the non-profit organization and its concerts a success.

“These concerts happen because of the time, energy and passion of these people," says Meyer. “This is a community effort in terms of the concert that you're experiencing from all aspects."

Indeed there is a great deal of work that takes place both on and around a stage long before the first notes of any performance reach the ears of an audience. Those performances remain true to the organization's mission of presenting “outstanding professional artists and organizations," within the realm of classical music, but the concerts offered are not uniformly what one might expect, and are quite diverse in falling under the broad umbrella of classical music.

Recent offerings alone have brought the chamber music ensemble Chrysalis Chamber Players, the swinging jazz standards of the Boston Brass Quintet, the a cappella sextet Chapter Six and the classically-styled Manhattan Piano Trio to Brown County audiences. To date performers from 29 countries have participated in BCCMA concerts.

The difficult task of selecting the talent for the organization's concerts falls to members of its Talent Selection Committee, which until recently was headed by Roger Bintz, who served in that capacity for more than 40 years. Today, that position belongs to musician Andrew Parks.

It is through yearly membership subscriptions, ticket sales and donations that the BCCMA is able to schedule four of its five concert offerings each year. However, the financial responsibilities involved in bringing a trio or sextet to Green Bay are considerably different than those involved in bringing an entire orchestra to town, but with the generous assistance of the George Kress Foundation, that's exactly what the BCCMA is doing.

For the tenth consecutive spring, the BCCMA will close its season with the brilliance and power of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Under the direction of Maestro Edo de Waart, the 68 professionals of the MSO will take the stage of the Ralph Holter Auditorium located inside Green Bay West High School.

The venue, constructed in 1928, is nearly as long-lived as the organization itself and has served the BCCMA well — even turning some heads in the process. Often, performers have a misconception about the venue and may know only that they're performing in a high school. Meyer recalls a recent episode concerning The Manhattan Piano Trio where upon entering the auditorium the trio's cellist's “jaw dropped and her eyes got wide." Meyer says such musicians must be expecting to perform in a gymnasium. Instead, they're greeted by the grandeur and beauty of the Holter Auditorium and equally delighted in the venue's acoustic capabilities.

There is perhaps no better introduction to the organization than to attend one of its five-star concerts. All are invited to attend, regardless of musical background or exposure to classical music. Meyer says she's pained to know that some are intimidated by the prospect of attending a classical music performance and she welcomes the uninitiated to attend any BCCMA concert.

“If classical music isn't something that you've been exposed to, I don't blame people for being apprehensive, but we welcome young children and we very much want families to attend."

The BCCMA strives to ensure that all who are interested in attending a concert feel welcome, regardless of age or physical limitations.

“I don't think it's a secret that classical music tends to be most popular with the older generation," says Meyer.

To accommodate attendees that may feel daunted by the distance from the parking lot to the auditorium, the BCCMA has four wheelchairs at its disposal and the volunteer assistance of the Green Bay West Octagon Club, which has offered to assist in transporting concertgoers to and from their seats.

“It may seem like a small thing but it's not. We hear people say if it wasn't for [these chairs] they wouldn't be able to come," says Meyer.

In an effort to counteract dwindling opportunities for student exposure to classical music, the BCCMA offers reduced rates on subscription memberships and single tickets for students, as well as provides excellent educational opportunities for student musicians as took place when 50 young men from area high schools and colleges were invited to participate in a master class workshop with touring a cappella group Chapter Six.

“They had been given a piece selected by Chapter Six, weeks prior," says Meyer. “They were invited to join Chapter Six on stage and perform and four or five of the young men even had to perform brief solos which they had to audition for as part of the workshop, so they got a real professional experience."

Meyer believes that regardless of whether students continue in their pursuits of music or not, such experiences have a positive effect that transcends the boundaries of musical study.

“A lot of the young men were nervous in the beginning, and it was so cool to see that apprehension melt away. That confidence they gained translates to other areas."

Meyer encourages anyone that's left undecided about attending a BCCMA concert or that feels intimidated by experiencing classical music live with these words:

“Once you've had a taste, and especially with the quality of music that this organization brings in, you'll definitely want to come back and invite your friends to experience the magic of one of Green Bay's secret treasures."

The BCCMA welcomes the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Edo de Waart to Green Bay's West High School on Saturday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $36 for adults and $11 for students and available in advance at bccivicmusic.org or at the door (cash or check).

Concert tickets are general admission, so arriving early to get preferred seating is advisable. Doors open at 7 p.m. A social reception with light refreshments will follow the performance.

To learn more, or for information on volunteer opportunities, visit bccivicmusic.org.

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