Our Founder: Thallis Hoyt Drake

A Tribute from Maria V. Coldwell, Ph.D., Executive Director, Early Music America, from our 20th Season

Thallis Drake founded Early Music Now in Milwaukee in 1986. Early Music Now has become one of the most distinguished presenting organizations of early music in the United States, and has expanded its activities to include both Madison, WI and Evanston, IL. Thallis was always very concerned to include educational and outreach events in addition to the formal concerts in her series, and the organization continues in that approach.

In 1999, Thallis had an idea to encourage early music presenters in the U.S. to increase their presentation of U.S.-based early music ensembles. These presentations would help expand public recognition of U.S. ensembles and help ensembles develop bigger audiences and more income through touring. She persuaded Early Music America, the national service organization for the field of early music, and a total of eight presenting organizations to apply for a consortium grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. This grant was approved and resulted in the “Star-Spangled Season” project of 2002-2003. Judges (including Thallis) from the participating organizations did taped auditions of numerous U.S. early music ensembles and selected 62 groups to be included in a large touring arts roster, printed as a booklet by EMA. This roster was circulated to over 2,000 presenting organizations in APAP, Chamber Music America, and Early Music America. More bookings resulted for the artists included in the roster, and the eight presenting organizations participating in the grant all committed to presenting four U.S. early music ensembles in their 2002-2003 seasons. Early Music Now in Milwaukee actually presented U.S. groups in all six of its concerts that year, including ensembles from Pittsburgh, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Boston, San Francisco, Albuquerque, and Chicago. (I note that their 20th anniversary series in 2006-2007 will also include six U.S. early music ensembles.)

The “Star-Spangled Season” was a great contribution to the field of early music in the United States, and it would never have happened without Thallis Drake’s energy, commitment, and vision. Early Music America is very grateful to Thallis for her efforts on behalf of early music, both in Wisconsin and nationally.