Present Music lets its ‘Nation’ pick its latest program

This June, Present Music will end its season with a great evening of music. The twist? None of the audience members have any idea what they’ll be coming to see.

"Present Music Nation" is the ensemble’s second version of this “choose-your-own-concert” format. They first tested it with Choose, a concert in June 2012 that also featured a program of audience-selected pieces.

Audience development manager Erin Woehlke said in a recent phone interview that the good reception of "Choose" gave artistic director Kevin Stalheim the encouragement to plan for a similar show, when the time came. “The concert fit the theme of this season, so we decided to go ahead with it,” she says. 

"Present Music Nation" will cap Present Music’s 33rd season. The company was founded in 1982, and works with contemporary composers to develop and create new music for Milwaukee. Despite being a locally driven music organization with a large Milwaukee fanbase, Present Music has grown to perform both nationally and internationally, and has won numerous accolades and honors in recent years.

Concerts like "Present Music Nation" require a very different sort of preparation than a regular show — after all, even staff members didn’t know what would be a part of the concert until recently.

Present Music’s voting process took place largely online in late April and early May, with the group posting possible selections on its Facebook page and sending out information to mailing lists as well. Fans had the opportunity to listen to all the pieces suggested and then vote for their favorites in an online forum, unable to see the results or even what pieces were currently leading the votes.

June’s concert will showcase the voting results, as well as create a show that reflects the audience Present Music has cultivated over the last 33 years.

“'Present Music Nation' is a great embodiment of the organization,” explained Woehlke. “So much of what we do is community-centered. We pride ourselves on really being a community within the Milwaukee scene. Present Music Nation lets our audience, our community, become involved with the development of a concert and that is really special.” 

There is one thing those attending can count on seeing for sure. The concert will include a performance by the Calamity Janes and the Fratney Street Band, a Milwaukee-based folk and bluegrass ensemble. 

The group has been on a brief hiatus, and "Present Music Nation" marks one of their first performances back. “We’re excited to have the Calamity Janes onboard,” says Woehlke. “They’re a great group that produces fantastic music — it’s an added bonus for audience members to have them performing with us.”

Woehlke was able to divulge another small clue though: The concert will include a piece by Present Music’s new community engagement project,

“As for anything other selections or how voting turned out,” Woehlke says, “I am not allowed to say. You will have to attend the concert yourself and find out!”


"Present Music Nation" will be performed at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. June 5 at Hot Water Wherehouse, 818 S. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $35, $25 and $15, with a half-off discount for students. Visit to order.

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