Our History

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The planning and programming for the Washington Island Music Festival can be traced back to 1990 when Milwaukee Symphony oboist Stephen Colburn and his wife soprano Marlee Sabo first visited the Island and saw its potential for classical music performance, education, and a unique community/artists partnership. After discussions with the director and Board of the Island Art and Nature Center for over a year, it was mutually agreed to attempt it with the ANC as the sponsor. Today, in its 23rd year, the Washington Island Music Festival, Inc. is an independent non profit organization.

From a core of ten musicians performing five concerts in a week to today’s complement of fifteen musicians plus guest artists performing in twelve events over two weeks, the Festival has gained strength, stature, and widespread acceptance and support in the Washington Island community. These professional musicians, many of whom play for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, enjoy the rare pleasure of ensemble playing, and pleasure in the Island and its people. Colleagues from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Colorado Symphony join them in providing classical concerts ranging from the Baroque to modern, with a tip of the hat to the Island’s Scandinavian connection. Artistic director Stephen Colburn’s direction and keen musicianship have been key in the ongoing vitality and viability of the Festival. His wife, Marlee Sabo, has often appeared with the ensemble as has the Island Festival Chorus composed of approximately forty Island vocalists.

Since 2003, the Music Festival has been the sole support and provider of Music Education in the Washington Island School. Providing both vocal and instrumental instruction as well as music appreciation and education continues to be an important mission of the Music Festival. The Music Festival has been sustained by the vision, dedication, and purpose of volunteer members of the Music Festival Board, many of whom have served multiple terms over several years. Ultimately, our wonderful audience completes the Washington Island Music Festival experience. The energy, attendance, enthusiasm, and generous support are essential factors of the unique and nourishing participation in the Music Festival. Along with the classical concerts, the two week festival includes a four-day music camp, a Children’s Concert, Music Appreciation Sessions, and the hugely popular “Under the Big Top” tent concert featuring the best of Island music talent.