top of page
1957 band and orchestra.jpg


104 Years of People and Stories

#3 Young People's Orchestra

(aka Civic Orchestra, and now as Festival City Symphony)

The Young People's Orchestra was founded in 1927 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 in 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 country. 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 the Civic Music Association 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 as piano soloist 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, 1989-93


As the Festival City Symphony:

Monte Perkins, 1993-2017

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 the building should include - - one large concert hall for opera and symphony (and remember this is before the MSO was established and 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 the 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 land adjacent to the Milwaukee River. Construction began in 1966, and it opened on July 26, 1969 as the Performing Arts Center, now known as the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

#1 Young People's Band

(aka Civic Symphonic Band and now as 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 after high school graduation. The Young People’s Orchestra, of course, had only so many seats for winds players. CMA voted to go ahead with forming the band and appointed as conductor Joseph Skornicka, then a MPS supervisor of music and assistant conductor of the Young People’s Orchestra. 


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:


In 1946 it was renamed the Civic Symphonic Band when the Orchestra was renamed the Civic Orchestra.  And in 1996, the band became its own organization as the Milwaukee Concert Band.

Joseph Skornicka, 1940-1959
  (Ed Zielinski took a few years beginning in 1943 during Skornicka’s

  military assignment at Camp Crowder in Nebraska, and Richard

  Koebner took 1956 when Skornicka was completing his doctoral

Paul Anderson, 1959-73
Wayne Becker, 1973-89
Patricia Wellman, 1989-97


As the Milwaukee Concert Band:
Patricia Wellman
, 1996-97

Nicholas J. Contorno, 1997-2002
Gregory A. Schaffer, 2002-16
Jeremy Davis, 2016-18
Patricia Backhaus, 2018-present

CIVIC MUSIC MKE supports music education and provides performance

opportunities to young musicians in the Greater Milwaukee area. 

bottom of page