The 411 on what's happening in the 414

1) Gospel Music at the Marcus Center

Julia Prescott is still considered a relative newcomer by the older singers who have performed with the Queens of Harmony, a traditional gospel group first formed in 1966. She joined the a capella act in the mid-1970s, when she filled the role of backup singer. Later, the group’s collaborator and teacher, Jimmy Gray, encouraged her to step to the front, and there she learned that gospel wasn’t just a music, it was a force, a conduit.

The Queens of Harmony perform with the Masonic Wonders and others at the 2014 Jubilee finale. Photo by Art Elkon.

“The holy spirit will come into you,” she says, “and you don’t really see the audience anymore. You’re just doing it.”

On March 8, the Queens will perform alongside other gospel singers, young and old, for this year’s Milwaukee Gospel Jubilee at the Marcus Center. The event benefits the Progressive Community Health Centers, which provide health care to many people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

Local musician John Sieger, along with Sarah François, helped to start the Jubilee five years ago. He also plays guitar with the Masonic Wonders, who have been around even longer than the Queens. Sieger gradually got to know the gospel community here and fell in love with it. “The scene is deep,” he says, noting that he sees great singers and drummers all the time.

This year’s Jubilee includes veteran groups such as the Voices as well as some new and non-traditional ones. Trends that Prescott has a hard time associating with gospel, including rap, have worked their way into the form and make it harder to decipher for some, she says somewhat jokingly. “You want people to know what you’re saying and relate to it.” — Matt Hrodey

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2) Quiet Clubbing at the MAM

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s Windhover Hall, with its 90-foot vaulted ceilings and marble floors, doesn’t look much like a dance hall. But this March, MAM Director of Special Events Krista Renfrew expects people to pack the space and dance with wild abandon – to songs that only they can hear.

Renfrew and her colleagues have been putting on quiet clubbing events at the museum since February of 2016. And the events have become one of the most popular components of the museum’s recurring MAM After Dark series. “We sell out at 2,000,” she says, “and that happens pretty often.”

How, exactly, does quiet clubbing work? The events at the MAM typically feature two local disc jockeys, DJ Why B and DJ Bizzon, who create playlists that dancers can access through their headphones. And the DJs can tell – based on the way those headphones are lighting up – whose music is more popular at any given moment, incentivizing them to update their playlists in real time. 

The next MAM After Dark event will take place on March 15. In addition to quiet clubbing, there’ll be gallery tours of the museum’s collection, a DIY station, trivia and dinner service at Café Calatrava— Lindsey Anderson


3) ComedySportz: How to tell a joke

Brian Green. Photo by Kat Schleicher.

Comedian Brian Green has been affiliated with Milwaukee’s own ComedySportz since the company was founded in 1984, and he’s long been a fixture of the local stand-up circuit. We asked him for a few tips on how to construct, and deliver, a great joke.

1. “You have to believe that you’re funny. If you don’t, your audience definitely won’t.”

2. “Try to sound as conversational as possible, like you’ve just thought of something hilarious and you want to tell the audience about it.”

3. “Know when not to tell a joke. A lot of comics say that comedy is tragedy plus time. Sometimes you need to stop and ask yourself whether enough time has passed yet. Otherwise, you’re going to get people saying ‘too soon’ to you.”

4. “Remember that not everyone’s going to like all of your jokes. You’ve either got to keep going, and roll right into your next joke, or find a way to acknowledge the fact that you bombed in a funny way.” 


4) Hey, Will Pergl, what’s your favorite work?

Artist and Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design professor Will Pergl has created hundreds, if not thousands, of sculptures – many of them large-scale wooden pieces – over the course of his career. But the one that resonates most strongly with him is Eight Waves: A Tree Mandala for Christopher Billings Smith (2008).

The University of Iowa Emergency and Trauma Center commissioned the work to commemorate a century-old oak tree that had to be removed during a construction project. Pergl used lumber from the felled tree to create the sculpture, which takes the form of a mandala. “It represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself,” Pergl says.

Eight Waves: A Tree Mandala for Christopher Billings Smith

“I dedicated this sculpture to Christopher Billings Smith, who sent me a life-changing letter after he heard of my traumatic table saw accident. Nineteen years ago I lost four fingers. He had a similar accident,” says Pergl. The sculpture is housed in the waiting room of the medical facility, and Pergl says he “would be grateful if this sculpture gives anyone the hope and courage Christopher’s letter gave me at a very difficult point in my life.” — Lindsey Anderson


“The Cultural Cosmos” appears in the March 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning Feb. 25, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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