Classical Sounds

9/25/2019 - Frederick Butzen

Classical Music in Kenosha, WI

September begins autumn, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, as the poet Keats reminds us. It’s the time when children return to school; when the Kenosha HarborMarket overflows with apples, pears, and cider; and, it begins the season of classical music.

As I wrote last month, Kenosha has a very lively arts scene. Last month, I wrote about the visual arts in Kenosha. This month, I’ll look at another area where Kenosha excels: classical music.                                                                                                          

What Is “Classical” Music?

Every culture has its music; and every culture has its “classic” music – music that comes from deep within its history and traditions. By classical music, I mean the classic music of our culture: born and nurtured in Europe, influenced by the musics of many neighboring cultures, brought to the Western hemisphere, and now performed and enjoyed throughout the world: without a doubt, one of the great artistic creations of humankind.

Kenosha has a number of institutions that teach and perform classical music. While recordings are pleasant to listen to, nothing is as thrilling as a fine live performance; and visitors will find much happening here that is worth taking in.

The Kenosha Symphony Orchestra

Now celebrating its 80th season, the Kenosha Symphony Orchestra is an outstanding orchestra composed of local and regional musicians. Its size is closer to that of a chamber orchestra – eight first violins, for example, versus dozens in a major symphony orchestra – but I find that that gives balance and depth to a sound that remains full and rich: sometimes, less is more. While this isn’t an orchestra to perform, say, Bruckner or Mahler, I very much enjoy its performances of both modern music, and music of the classical and early romantic eras.

Last year, highlights included a performance of Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto #2 with  pianist Wael Farouk as soloist; a performance of the Brahms violin concerto with Milwaukee Symphony concertmaster Frank Almond as soloist; a a concert of the music of John Williams.

Under the baton of music director Robert G. Hasty, he 2019/20 season will feature four concerts:

Tickets are $30. All concerts are at 7:30 PM, and are performed at the Ralph J. Houghton Performance Center, 913 57thStreet.                                    

Fine Arts at First

Kenosha’s First United Methodist Church sponsors Fine Arts at First, a series of performances by accomplished artists that are open to the public.

Last year’s programs featured, among others, a recital by pianist Wael Farouk; and a concert by the Estonian a cappellaensemble Heinavanker, which is noted for, among other things, its recordings of the music of the 16th-century English composer Thomas Tallis.

A highlight is the annual “Sing-Along Messiah”, which features an orchestra conducted by pianist and conductor Gregory Berg, plus soloists. Admission is free, though a free-will offering is accepted. I attended last year, and enjoyed it immensely. The professional musicians were excellent, the do-it-yourself singers knew the choruses, and Dr Berg conducted the choral parts at tempi that were – let us say – non-condescending. A good time was had by all!

As of this writing, the schedule for the upcoming season is not available. Please check the  Fine Arts at First web site for details of the upcoming season’s concerts.

Carthage College

Carthage College is both one of the oldest and one of the newest institutions in Kenosha. It was founded in Illinois in 1847, but moved to Kenosha from Carthage, Illinois, only in 1962. Its campus is in the northeast corner of Kenosha, between Sheridan Road and Lake Michigan, and just south of the border of Racine County.

Carthage College is noted for its teaching of the arts: theater, the visual arts, and, in particular, for music. The music faculty boasts a number of accomplished musicians, perhaps the best known of whom is pianist Wael Farouk.Carthage’s many recitals and concerts, some of which feature world-renowned artists, are open the public and are very reasonably priced – and are well worth the trip from Chicago.

Music by Women

The upcoming academic year marks the sesquicentennial of Carthage College’s first admitting women as students. To celebrate, Carthage’s music department will be presenting concerts and recitals that feature women performers and music by women composers.

The celebration will begin with a concert by the women’s a cappella ensemble Women of the World. This renowned group will perform on Thursday, October 3, 2019, at 7:30 PM.  Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for students. For tickets, click here.

The celebration continues with a concert by the women of the Carthage music faculty, “More Than Just a Voice”, on April 18, 2020, at 7:30 PM. Admission is free, but a ticket is required

For other events in this celebration, see Carthage College’s calendar of musical events.

The Chopin Journey

This season, pianist Wael Farouk will perform The Chopin Journey – a pair of recitals of works by the Polish composer. 

The first recital, on Saturday, October 26, 2019, at 7:30 PM, Farouk will play Chopin’s Scherzi and Ballades. The second recital, on Sunday, May 1, 2020, at 1:00 PM, will feature both of Chopin’s piano sonatas.

Admission is free. No ticket is required.

Lakeside Piano Festival

Carthage College’s Lakeside Piano Festival in March of each year, features performances by world-class artists, including Simone Dinnerstein in 2018 and Jorgé Federico Osorio in 2019, as well as by Carthage faculty and students.

The 2020 festival continues Carthage’s celebration of the sesquicentennial of its admitting women as undergraduates, with two recitals by female pianists: the EStrella Piano Duo of Elena Doubovitskaya and Svetlana Belsky on March 26, and Joanne Polk’s Celebration of Women Composers on March 29. Admission is free, but a ticket is required

Other Carthage Events  

Other musical events at Carthage include the Chamber Music Series, and performances in music theatre and opera. Or, you can let Carthage College come to you with its Chicago Holiday Concert, at Symphony Center on Friday, December 13; for tickets, click here.

For a full calendar of upcoming musical events at Carthage College, see Carthage College’s calendar of musical events.

University of Wisconsin – Parkside

The University of Wisconsin – Parkside (UWP) is the Kenosha branch of the University of Wisconsin system. In addition to its faculties of science and engineering, UWP has a strong program in music.

The UWP campus in northern Kenosha, a few miles west of Lake Michigan. Its performance space at the Rita Tallent Picken Regional Center of Arts and Humanities (aka, “The Rita”) is an attractive space with excellent acoustics.

Concerts and recitals offer performances by students, faculty, and distinguished guest artists, such as Kenosha native Paul Cortese. Among the musics performed are orchestral music, choral music, opera, and jazz.

As of this writing, information about the upcoming season is not available. For information on the upcoming season’s musical events at UWP, click here.

Kenosha United School District

One cannot write about classical music in Kenosha without mentioning the remarkable breadth and depth of support for music education in Kenosha County.

The Kenosha United School District (KUSD), which are the united public schools of Kenosha County, have a system-wide support for music education that surpasses anything I saw in Chicago. While some schools in Chicago have solid programs in music, and local organizations, such as the Merit School of Music in downtown Chicago or the People’s Music School in Uptown, provide excellent musical education, Chicago has nowhere near the system-wide depth and breadth of support for music education that is found here in Kenosha.

Ralph Houghton

It’s impossible to discuss music education in Kenosha without bringing up the name of Ralph Houghton.

Houghton was the KUSD Director of Music from 1956 to 1979. A captain in the infantry during World War II, and a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, Houghton built the program up from a handful of teachers to one of the most respected programs in the nation. To build support in the community for his program, he created all manner of events, from ice-cream socials at his home, to concerts and festivals that showcased the KUSD students. Houghton retired as KUSD assistant supervisor in 1987, and died in 2009 at the age of 89, but his influence is felt throughout Kenosha County to this day, in the deep support for music education in the county, and in the musical accomplishments of KUSD students and of KUSD alumni and alumnae.

His life is a parable of how a good educator in the right setting can make a huge difference in a community, and in the lives of those who grow up here..


Three of the annual festivals that Ralph Houghton launched continue to this day:

  • Band-o-Rama, for concert bands. For a history of the Band-o-Rama, click here. For a video of highlights from the 2019 Band-o-Rama, click here.
  • Choral Festival. For a video of the 2019 festival, click here.
  • Orchestra Festival, which includes orchestra players from across the school district. For a video of the finale of the 2019 festival, a performance of “Jupiter” from Holst’s “The Planets”, click here.

You can find more event informaiton on the Calendar of Events at - so explore the events and our community and add some of these great performances to your list of things to do. I hope to see you there!

Frederick Butzen

Frederick Butzen

Community Blogger

Recently retired software engineer & technical writer. Essayist and amateur musician, lifelong Chicagoan and newly arrived Kenoshan, enjoying exploring life and culture north of the Cheddar Curtain.