In 1957, Mr. Fred Bartel, who was then a teacher at Garden Homes Lutheran School, gathered a group of singers for the installation of Rev. Werner Franzmann as editor of the Northwestern Lutheran, a periodical of the Wisconsin Synod. This group, composed largely of teachers, found the experience so rewarding that they decided to continue meeting on a regular basis. Rev. Kurt Eggert, pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church at the time, was asked to serve as director. The group adopted the name The Lutheran Chorale of Milwaukee and used “Sermons in Song” as its motto.
The choir began preparation for its first full-length program, “The Christian Life,” which was presented on May 3, 1958, at Grace in Milwaukee and a week later at St. Mark’s in Watertown. There were 58 people in the choir for that first concert. The accompanist was Hildegarde (Eggert) Fischer, sister of the director, and the narrator was Professor Gerhard Franzmann.
Mary Prange 2007
Pastor Eggert was succeeded by Mary Prange, who had sung under his direction since 1974 and had been serving as the assistant director of the Chorale. Mary served as director for 25 years. After retiring from directing in 2018, Mary continues to serve the Chorale as a singer in the alto section, and also helps out in countless other ways as needed.
Levi Nagel began his tenure as director in 2018. Long-time accompanist for the choir, Lynn Kozlowski, retired from the Chorale in 2020 after serving in that role for 50 years.
Pastor Eggert directed the group from 1958 until 1993. He was a master at putting together thematic programs, with music ranging from works of the old masters to the latest compositions. He was especially interested in new hymns, and his influence in that area is still enjoyed to this day through his work as project director of Christian Worship, the hymnal used in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and also through the hymns he wrote.
Those who sang under Pastor Eggert’s direction remember him for his careful attention to the text and sonorities of the music and also for his wonderful sense of humor. He conducted his last concert on April 25, 1993, at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, and in June of that year he went to his Eternal Home.
Levi Nagel 2017
The Chorale presents two full-length concerts each year. Its repertoire features sacred compositions from every era, with an emphasis on Christ-centered texts that are intended to edify the listeners as well as the singers. Often the choir is accompanied by organ, brass, strings, and woodwinds. On occasion the choir also sings for special services such as church anniversaries and hymn festivals.
Approximately 500 people have sung in the Chorale since its inception. Members are drawn from about thirty different WELS churches in the Milwaukee area. The group rehearses every Sunday night from September through November and January through April.