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The Sinsinawa Dominican Tradition of Excellence in Music

“Education of the Highest Order…”

The roots of excellence in music education run deeply through Edgewood College history. When Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli founded the Sinsinawa Dominican Order in 1847, he immediately established music as a cornerstone of the curriculum. Recognizing that outstanding musical experiences required proper equipment and training, he purchased high quality pianos and harps from the East coast and had them transported to Wisconsin by teams of oxen. He also hired music educators who began to educate the new community of sisters that he had established.

The sisters in turn began to teach music courses in their educational institutions, including St. Clara Academy in Benton, Wisconsin, St. Clara College at Sinsinawa Mound, as well as the direct predecessors of Edgewood College in Madison, St. Regina Academy and the Academy of the Sacred Heart.

Throughout the evolution of Edgewood into a four-year college, music continued to hold a prominent place in the curriculum, and was embedded into the daily life of the college, with participation from a significant portion of the student body.


  • 1830

    Portrait of Samule Mazzuchelli

    Samuel Mazzuchelli, O.P., arrives in Wisconsin after coming to the United States as a missionary in 1824. Steeped in a strong arts tradition in Italy, Mazzuchelli brings his love of the arts to Wisconsin, and ensures that musical equipment is procured and teachers readied to provide an excellent music education.

  • 1847


    Samuel Mazzuchelli establishes the community of Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters.

  • 1852

    Dominican Sisters Ensemble

    Four Sinsinawa sisters establish St. Clara Academy in Benton, Wisconsin, a school for girls. Fr. Mazzuchelli’s records indicate payments for pianos and harps carried by oxen from the East.

    Instrumental Ensemble featuring Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters and their students at St. Clara Academy in Benton, Wisconsin c. 1850s. The Academy was publicized as “the oldest chartered institute for the education of girls in the Northwest.”

  • 1871


    Seven Sinsinawa Dominican sisters establish the St. Regina Academy, located on the corner of West Washington Avenue and South Henry Street in Madison. Music lessons are available on piano, guitar and voice.

  • 1881

    News clipping

    August 30,1881 Wisconsin State Journal advertisement highlighting instruction in piano, guitar, zither and voice and organ, with fees of $8-$12/quarter on top of the $165 tuition and board.

    Dominican Sisters moved their St. Regina Academy from the corner of Henry and West Washington to the Edgewood Estate and opened a School named St. Regina Academy at Edgewood.

  • 1890

    St. Clara's Academy

    1890 advertisement in the “Young Eagle,” a Sinsinawa publication, highlighting classes in vocal and instrumental music, including lessons on voice, piano, organ, harp, guitar and violin.

  • 1901


    Opening of St. Clara College at Sinsinawa.

  • 1910


    A “Department of Public School Music” is established at Sinsinawa to train teachers to teach music in both public and parochial schools.

  • 1927

    sr amanda

    Edgewood College is established as a junior college for women. The strong liberal arts program included outstanding music instruction. Sr. Amanda Courtaux, an 1879 graduate of the Paris Conservatory, was an instructor of piano. One of the first seven graduates of the College, Marcella Schumacher, became a music teacher.

    Pianist and composer Sr. Amanda Courtaux, an 1879 graduate of the Paris Conservatory, served as piano instructor at Edgewood College beginning in the late 1920s.

  • 1931


    Mary Edward Blackwell, O.P., becomes the first woman to earn an advanced degree in music at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. In 1933, she was awarded a $6000 scholarship to study with Ottorino Respighi in Rome and an additional $2000 to study with Igor Stravinsky.

    Lessons in piano, harp, voice; choir expected of almost all students during this decade.

  • 1934


    Half-hour broadcasts over WIBA featured “the Edgewood Hour” showcasing choral groups performing cantatas and operettas.

  • 1936

    Blackwell- Boulanger

    Sr. Mary Edward Blackwell commences study with Nadia Boulanger in France, and continues to study with Boulanger through 1938.

  • 1939


    Sr. Mary Edward Blackwell arrives at Edgewood College after having studied with Respighi, Boulanger, and Stravinsky in Europe. She chairs the Edgewood College Music Department from 1944-1950, a period of unprecedented musical opportunity for students at the College as well as Madison community members.

  • 1941


    Nadia Boulanger arrives in Sinsinawa and begins to teach Sinsinawa musicians from across the country. Boulanger continued the summer sessions through 1944.

    She is seen leading a choir rehearsal in Sinsinawa, c. 1942.

  • 1943


    Nadia Boulanger teaches at Edgewood throughout the summers of 1943 and 1944. Her Wednesday evening concert lectures at Edgewood, open to the public, won acclaim from the Madison community.

  • 1944


    In January, Igor Stravinsky gives a lecture at Edgewood entitled: “Composing, Performing, Listening.”

  • 1944

    Boulanger with Musicians

    In August, the premiere of Stravinsky’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Milhaud’s Viola Sonata No. 2 took place in the Edgewood College Chapel. Nadia Boulanger and Richard Johnston performed the Stravinsky, while violist Germain Prevost of the Pro Arte Quartet performed the Milhaud, accompanied by Boulanger.

    Choirs, Madison Catholic Hour

    The Edgewood Choirs were heard on the airwaves again during the 1940s and 1950s as part of WKOW’s “Madison Catholic Hour.” Here the choir is under the direction of Sr. Justinia Kress.

  • 1956


    To commemorate the 75th Jubilee of the Sisters’ arrival at Edgewood, Sr. Lois Nichols, music department, and Sister Thomas More Hunt, drama teacher, composed and staged “the rich and colorful history of Edgewood in music, drama, dancing, singing, pageantry and tableau,” according to the Capital Times.

  • 1958

    Choirs, Madison Catholic Hour

    Music education remained an important area of focus throughout the 20th century. This 1958 photo shows Sister Mauricia Fitzgibbons providing autoharp instruction during an education course.

  • 1961


    DeRicci Hall opens; new music rooms and “chorus studios” were advertised as part of this addition to campus.


    The Madison Summer Symphony (later called the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra) begins offering summer concerts on the lawn behind DeRicci Hall. The concert series continued at Edgewood for over 10 years.


    The Music Department has a long history of working with College Ministries to provide liturgical music. This photo of a 1967 liturgy in the Edgedome reflects changing times.

  • 1977

    Edgewood College scene

    The Music Department had an important presence in the 1977 celebration of the 50th jubilee of the College. Shown here are ensembles performing in the Edgedome, pictured on the front cover of “The Edgewood Scene."

  • 1979

    Edgewood College scene

    The Music Department entertains with a madrigal dinner. Seated at the front right is Dr. Vernon Sell, the first lay chair of the Music Department, with the Madison Consort of Early Music.

  • 1991


    The lower level of Regina Hall is renovated to accommodate new computer laboratories and music classrooms upon the opening of the Oscar Rennebohm Library.

  • 1993


    The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra was established in 1993 and performed under the direction of Maury Brand. Blake Walter became the ensemble director in 1995.

    Several new instrumental groups established during this decade, including the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra, the Concert Band, and Jazz Ensemble. Courses in world music and jazz history were added, along with a new degree track in music business.

    ECO program

    First Edgewood Chamber Symphony program, 1993. The group was later renamed the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra.

  • 1994

    ECO program

    First Concert Band program, November 1994.

  • 2004

    Chamber Singers

    The Music Department expands into additional spaces in Mazzuchelli Hall in 2004; enrollment in music triples, resulting in increased hiring of music faculty. The curriculum is further expanded to include courses on women in music, West African drumming, Middle Eastern drumming, Guitar Ensemble and Men’s Chorus.

  • 2005

    Women's Choir

    The women’s chorus performed in the Edgedome in 2005 for the inauguration of President Daniel Carey.

  • 2011


    band performing in St. Joseph's ChapelThe Edgewood College Concert Band, established in 2004 by Julie Dunbar, pictured in the St. Joseph Chapel in 2011.

  • 2012

    Guitar Ensemble

    The Edgewood College Guitar Ensemble of spring 2012 with instructor Nathan Wysock (back left) in their rehearsal room in Mazzuchelli Hall overlooking Lake Wingra.

    West African Drumming

    West African Drumming Ensemble members rehearsing outside on the Regina Terrace with instructor Todd Hammes, 2012.