The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Founder Bruce Croushore explains how the “Grace Presents” series of FREE concerts came about and what it offers for the future. | July 17, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Bruce Croushore is leaving Madison this month.

Croushore founded Grace Presents, a monthly FREE concert series that features performances of eclectic music. He agreed to answers questions about his role as a local music entrepreneur or amateur impresario.

Croushore, a retired corporate attorney, and his wife Michele Hilmes, who retired last month from her position as Professor in the Communication Arts Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are moving to New York, where they met and married 38 years ago and where their daughter, her husband and their infant grandson live.

Bruce Croushore

What motivated you to start Grace Presents?

It occurred to me for years that Grace Church’s historic and beautiful nave or sanctuary (below top) is the right size and has pleasant acoustical properties for music performed by soloists and small ensembles.

Having attended concerts in churches in cities in the US and in Europe, I figured Grace -– a lovely and peaceful space ideally situated (below bottom) on Madison’s Capital Square and on the music venue axis from Monona Terrace to Overture Hall and on to Mills Hall -– is perfectly suited for a concert series.

MBM Grace altar

grace episcopal church ext

How did you piece together Grace Presents?

To put it together, I figured the series first needed the support of Grace’s clergy, staff and lay leadership, which came quickly and unanimously in March of 2011, with some caution about staff time demands.

Next, I held a meeting of several folks I knew in Madison’s music community to seek their input on feasibility, frequency, format, timing and programming. Their questions and comments helped launch the series, which in a fit of rare creativity I dubbed, “Grace Presents.”

How is Grace Presents managed and operated?

Out of the planning meetings arose a task force without whose support and hard work the Grace Presents series would not have advanced. Members of the task force worked diligently, not only at the concerts but also in start-up efforts to negotiate a mission statement and work out processes and procedures.

More goes on behind the scenes in organizing and presenting a concert series than one might imagine. I feel the scheme we devised suits our purpose well.

In a stroke of fortune, Laura Weiner (below) came on board as our first program coordinator. Laura is a gifted horn player who was working at the time on a Master’s degree at the UW-Madison School of Music and who was a leader in the “Classical Revolution” movement in Madison.

Laura Weiner

She brought the energy, organizational skills and musical connections Grace Presents needed in its inaugural season. (Below are violinist Laura Burns, of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Jess Salek playing the complete violin sonatas of Johannes Brahms, whose “Liebeslieder” Waltzes can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Laura Burns Jess Salek Brahms Grace Epis

Did the series take off as you had hoped?

That first experimental season began in June 2011 and met with success. We tried different days of the week and different times of the day. We also experimented with varied programs, from a UW-Madison student brass quartet to Caravan, a local gypsy swing band.

Very importantly, we stuck to the guiding principles of charging no admission but paying an honorarium to all performers and keeping the music secular and eclectic. The quality of the performances was outstanding and attendance was gratifying.

Over the years, the task force realized that noon on Saturdays, especially when the Dane County Farmers’ Market is open, works best, as does keeping the concerts between 45 and 60 minutes long.

Scheduling was and remains a challenge because of conflicts such as events at the Overture Center and around the Capitol Square, as well as Badger football games. We surveyed the first concertgoers – and we have surveyed all that followed – and found that diverse programming has wide appeal.

Grace Presents sign

What did you learn over Grace Presents’ seasons?

Despite satisfying turnouts and positive comments on the surveys, we learned quickly that Grace Presents could not be sustained by free-will donations tossed into a basket at the concerts.

With Laura Weiner’s diligence in researching and writing a proposal, we had the good fortune to obtain a grant from Dane Arts near the end of the first season. That grant, along with a few generous individual donations and gifts from Grace Church, allowed us to meet our obligations. Funding for the following seasons came from the same sources. (Below are the Madison Bach Musicians performing a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

MBM Grace cantatas ensemble

What does the future look like for Grace Presents?

The 2015 season line-up features many gifted musicians who perform a wide variety of music genres. Some members of Grace Presents’ voluntary task force attend Grace Church and others do not.

This is in keeping with the series’ mission of offering quality yet informal performances of secular music to the broader Madison and Dane County community, at no charge.

It also provides an attractive, historic and acoustically pleasing space to artists who perform a wide range of music and who are paid a decent honorarium.

The current program coordinator, Andrea Mauch (below), has the drive, charm and savvy required to move the series to the next level. She is talented in using the Internet and social media to promote Grace Presents. I am especially grateful to Andrea and to task force members Lynn Morgan (the current chair), Tino Balio, Bill Foote, Kia Karlen and Ginny Shannon for all they do to keep the Grace Presents concert series going strong.

They’ll do a great job maintaining the series on a sound footing. I pray it remains for years to come “a masterpiece of eclecticism,” as John McPhee once described Bill Bradley’s graceful hook shot.

Andrea Mauch - long scarf color

For more information, you can go to this link:

http://gracepresents.org

 

 

 

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1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for this Jake. We are now in Cold Spring, reminiscing about our wonderful years in Madison and anticipating exploring the Hudson Highlands and spending time with our grandson Sam and his parents. I will continue to enjoy reading The Ear. All the best, Bruce

    Comment by Bruce Croushore — July 17, 2015 @ 7:34 am


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