Thallis Hoyt Drake, 96, founder of Early Music Now and arts advocate


Some may consider them tireless. But then along came Tallis Hoyt Drake.

In her 90s, she wrote emails urging people to oppose potential changes to the greenery of her cherished Riverwest neighborhood. She also exhibited her watercolors in group exhibitions.

Throughout her long life, she combined her passion for music and the performing arts with a can-do attitude.

According to a memorial announcement from the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, Drake died at her home on May 27, days after she fell and fractured her hip. .

She will be remembered by many as the founder of Early Music Now and a loyal concertgoer.

Jill Anna Ponasik, Milwaukee Opera’s producing artistic director, said it was by no means inevitable that Milwaukee would have a thriving early music organization. She compared Drake to Finn Younger Calker-Bronson. Kevin Stalheim, founder of Ko-Thi Dance Company and founder of Present Music, was “an artist and producer who had vision, charisma, perseverance and started something that didn’t exist[here],” Ponasik said. “And worked on it for decades.”

Discover a passion for early music

According to a profile of Leifa Butrick in the October 13, 1991, Milwaukee Journal (the source of many of the biographical facts for this article), Thallis Hoyt was born in 1927 Born on October 8, 2016 in “a wealthy family in Chicago”. Her unique name, Thallis, is a blend of her parents’ names, Thatcher and Phyllis.

A violinist since age 5, she majored in violin at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. At the age of 19, she married a 41-year-old man. After the marriage broke up, she moved her daughter Alexis to Milwaukee in 1953 because it was “one of only three states at the time in which divorce without alimony could be granted,” Butrick wrote in The book says.

She worked as a secretary at a local architectural firm, where she met architect Douglas Drake. They married on Valentine’s Day 1957 and later became parents to Victoria and Jared. The Drakes also purchased a bungalow in Gordon Circle, off Burleigh Street, which they renovated and extended into the home featured in Better Homes.

She returned to playing music with the encouragement of a leader of the local McDowell Club, which provided musical opportunities for women. (Membership was expanded to men during Drake’s term as president from 1965 to 1967.) One of McDowell’s members recruited Drake to join the Medieval Music Group, a group of women who played medieval music. Her choice of the viola da gamba, an instrument appropriate to the period, led her into the world of early music, a broad term used to include music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and sometimes the Baroque music.

Later she organized an orchestra, “Les Jongleurs”, which performed for several years the medieval liturgical drama “The Play of Daniel” at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. The orchestra performed music copied by former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland while he was a student.

After serving on the board of directors for several years, in 1980 she became executive director of the Civic Music Association, which promotes music education, raises scholarships and sponsors concerts.

In 1986, Drake began raising the necessary funds to hold the first Early Music Now concert in March 1987. 4 and Tallis scholars. The 2024-25 season will be the 38th season. Drake served as its volunteer leader until 2001, When Early Music Now hired Charles Q. Sullivan as its artistic and executive director.

During Sullivan’s first year, he and Drake worked together in a small office, where he experienced her helpful, direct approach and powerful ideas. He said in a recent phone interview that it’s always fun to walk into the office on Monday mornings “because my desk is covered with yellow sticky notes saying, ‘Don’t forget to do this’ and ‘Be sure to contact this person.'” Although Sullivan had extensive musical and managerial experience, but early music was not his strong suit at the time “so I had a huge advantage from the connections she had made, and she was widely respected throughout the early music community. “

Sullivan retired from Early Music Now in 2017 and was succeeded by current executive director Charles Grosz.

“We bring in musicians from all over the country, representing a dozen countries from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, as well as India, Japan and Tibet. I think it’s important to embrace all backgrounds,” Drake told Shepherd Express in 2021 said.

Supporter of young artists

Drake is a loyal concertgoer. An obituary written by her family said she “felt it was her duty and pleasure to attend performances – especially performances by local musicians whom she deeply admired.”

“A lot of young artists have felt supported by her,” said Ponasik, who counts herself among them. When Drake thinks a show “is great, she’ll send comments to friends telling them why they should go see it,” Ponasik said. In 2010, after Drake saw the Milwaukee Opera’s performance of “26,” Ponasik was heartened that “someone knew what they were talking about” praising the work and Encourage her to keep going.

“I’ve always been able to accept her criticisms” because they were specific and presented in the context of widespread support for the work, Ponasik said.

To ensure that others have the opportunity to hear the performances, Drake coordinates summer concerts at the Beaune Arboretum and Lake Park at various times, as well as the Sopra Mare Café Series on Sunday mornings at the Villa Terrace Museum of Decorative Arts.

In 2016, the Milwaukee Arts Council awarded her the annual Friend of the Arts Award.

Her husband, Doug, died in 2010.

Her family suggests memorial donations to Early Music Now; a memorial concert will be held at First Unitarian Church in the fall at a date to be announced later.



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