green lake festival of music

Since its founding the Festival has brought the highest-caliber artists from throughout the U.S. and abroad to its audiences, earning a reputation for high artistic standards.

Festival Founders (from left to right): Douglas Morris, Burton Kilbourne and Gerald Grout


The Green Lake Festival of Music was founded by Ripon College Music Professor Douglas Morris and several community leaders, including Green Lake residents Jerry Grout and Burton Kilbourne. The Festival was formed to enrich the lives of area residents with a range of summer concerts primarily at Ripon College.


The festival introduced an annual Choral Workshop directed by world-renowned English choral conductor Sir David Willcocks (who greatly enjoyed his central-Wisconsin sojourns).


Doug Morris led a choir tour to Poland, followed a few years later by a tour of England. Later choir tours of Ireland (2001), Austria/Hungary/Czech Republic (2003) and the Atlantic Provinces of Canada (2005) were co-led by GLFM administrator Maria Dietrich and former Ripon College choir director Kirin Nielsen.


The GLFM added a Children’s Choir program, directed by Jonathan Willcocks, who also composed several suites for the children’s choir, commissioned by the GLFM.


The Festival presented the first concerts in Green Lake’s newly restored Thrasher Opera House, beginning a collaborative relationship between the two organizations.


Jeannette Kreston, director of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, was named GLFM’s director following Doug Morris’s retirement. Kreston created a two-week student chamber-music workshop, providing an intensive, high-quality experience for high-school and college string and piano students. Now known as the Chamber Music Institute, the program has grown to attract students ages 18+ from around the world.


With generous donations in their memory, the GLFM purchased a 7’ Steinway grand piano and held the inaugural concert of the Burt & Bunny Kilbourne Piano Series at the Thrasher Opera House, where the piano is housed.


Following Sir David’s retirement, the Festival appointed Stephen Alltop, conductor of Chicago’s famed Apollo Chorus, as director of the Festival’s new Choral Institute. That year the Festival was also recognized for excellence with a Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts.


Laura Deming, longtime cellist in the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra and founder of Michigan’s Pine Mountain Music Festival, took the helm as GLFM’s director, further developing the chamber music program and spearheading a drive to significantly increase the Festival’s endowment. During Laura’s tenure the Festival shifted from selling subscription and at-the-door concert tickets to making all concerts available free of charge while encouraging attendees’ free-will donations.


John C. Hughes (then chair of the music department at Ripon College, now music director of Chicago Master Singers) became the Festival’s director of choral programs. Also in 2018, the Festival added a Composer Residency featuring the choral music of Ola Gjeilo and a visit from the composer. Subsequent composers in residence include Shawn Kirchner, Morten Lauridsen, Elaine Hagenberg, and Reena Esmail.


Maria Dietrich, longtime music faculty member at Ripon College, arts administrator with GLFM, and former director of the Thrasher Opera House, was named the Festival’s interim director, and subsequently guided the Festival through the pandemic with a series of virtual concerts. Sam Handley joined her mid-season as director designate, and with the board’s help they created a Virtual Gala finale that raised enough money to pay all of the Festival’s 2020 season performers 50% of their contracted fees. Deb MacKenzie, music faculty member at Ripon College, also joined GLFM as administrator in 2019.


Sam Handley, an accomplished bass-baritone and alumnus of the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago who teaches at DePaul University in Chicago, became GLFM’s new artistic and executive director, presiding over the Festival’s return to live performances in 2021. In his first years with the Festival, Handley has brought back a children’s chorus component, expanded the composer residency, reinstated the Choral Institute, redesigned the Chamber Music Institute, and increased the international profile of the Festival.