About Bel Canto Chorus
The Bel Canto Chorus is a Milwaukee-area community chorus, and one of the oldest musical organizations in Wisconsin.
The early days of Bel Canto Chorus can be traced back to a small choral ensemble of just four men and four women who were led by Thomas H. Stemper, a local music teacher and owner of the Milwaukee Church Supply Company. They sang everything a capella, and like many of the chorus groups at the time, specialized in sacred music. On Easter Sunday, 1931, this small ensemble, which included Stemper’s wife, Elsa Van Asche Stemper, and his nephew, William Hargarten, appeared at the chapel of St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee and performed Hans Gruber’s Festival Mass, the work that would inspire the group’s original name: Festival Singers.
Milwaukee nights were filled with music in the 1930s, as choral societies and singing clubs throughout the city continued traditions brought to the area by German immigrants.
The Festival Singers of Milwaukee grew in size to about 70 singers in 10 years, and as the only chorus in Milwaukee not affiliated with a particular church, were kept busy, performing before Holy Name Societies (Catholic men’s groups), at conventions, dedications, memorial services, and on local radio programs.