With a free concert on Thursday, the series that brought classical music to Minneapolis kicks off another season.
In 1892, Minneapolis was a brawny city of the northwest, proud of its electric streetcars, booming population and bragging rights as the nation's leading flour milling center.
Culture was just beginning to bloom. The founding of the Minneapolis Symphony was still a decade away. Across the river in St. Paul, refined women had been listening to classical music recitals presented by the Schubert Club for a decade.
Twelve ladies in Minneapolis decided their city needed a classical music organization, too. That's how The Ladies Thursday Musicale -- now called Thursday Musical -- was born.
The nonprofit group marks its 120th anniversary with a free concert Thursday morning at the Bloomington Center for the Arts. The group has thrived for 12 decades by relying on a core of devoted volunteers and hundreds of talented amateur musicians whose skills are at the professional or near-professional level.
"That's the beauty of the organization," said Carolyn Pratt, executive director. "They have a love of the organization and a fierce pride in our mission, which is to serve local musicians and audiences and build that partnership together."
Thursday Musical's programs emphasize soloists and chamber music. Its Thursday Morning Artist Series in Bloomington usually features soloists or classical duets, trios or quartets, with vocalists, piano, strings and woodwinds. Its Home Programs are concerts presented in private homes before 25 to 50 people.
Community concerts take place in retirement homes, churches and museums, and the group's Young Artist Program is a recital and scholarship competition for students from junior high through college. Winners of that program earn scholarships. Former participants in the youth program include classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, founder of the Julliard School's guitar department, and two former Miss Americas: soprano Dorothy Benham and violinist Gretchen Carlson.
About 200 singers and other musicians take part in Thursday Musical programs each season. Thursday Musical does not cap the number of participating artists, but everyone has to audition. United by a love of music and dedication to practicing and keeping up their skills up, participants include people like ophthalmologists, college professors and real estate agents. A few have been substitute players for groups like the Minnesota Orchestra.
Musicians in the program usually play just one concert a year, using a rotation to make sure that everyone gets on a program as soon as possible.
"People are very conscious of the level of artistry that's expected," Pratt said. "Believe me, when you're on that concert stage before that audience, it's a big deal.... You are offering your tip-top best."
At the start, the female founders were classical musicians who had studied on the East Coast or in Europe and wanted to stay active in music. At first, membership was limited to 40 women, but after five or 10 years men got involved, too, and by 1917 membership had ballooned to more than 1,000. The group began giving concerts in hospitals, and between 1914 and 1939 ran a project to give pianos and violins and music lessons to children in the city's neighborhood settlement houses.
Today more than 500 people hold season tickets to the Thursday morning concert series. Thursday's free concert will continue longstanding traditions, including a pre-concert coffee hour at 9:30 a.m. that uses a silver service set that was given to the group in 1940 by the daughters of a former Thursday Musical president.
"We still have it, and we use it," Pratt said. "That's kind of the really neat thing about the Musical. We are steeped in tradition, aware of our history and continuing that history."
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380