Parents claim that it’s easy to get their children to attend Sunday services at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church because of the music. The music is the product of a remarkable man named Stephen Wolff; and Stephen Wolff, as he tells it, is the product of advanced musical training, and an unusual upbringing that stressed music, literature, and religious devotion. As music director of St. Mark’s Wolff not only provides organ and piano music for the services, he performs at many church events, composes original music, creates jazz versions of traditional hymns, leads the choir, and has brought in a range of musicians to perform at a concert series for the whole community. Additionally Stephen and these “musicians in residence” provide music lessons at the church on a variety of instruments. When not doing all of the above, Stephen is putting the finishing touches on a book of 100 Sonnets.
If Stephen Wolff seems to overflow with creativity, his upbringing is probably the cause. Stephen is one of 17 children born to the marriage of a piano teacher mother and a Marquette University seminarian, both very devout Roman Catholics who made sure their children were surrounded by and in touch with spiritual and artistic beauty.
Every child had a musical instrument, music lessons, books and pets. There was no TV. Every day was infused with spirituality in the form of daily mass, saying the Rosary every night, and reading spiritual texts. The children participated in gardening, canning food and raising chickens. Every child was given a college education at Marquette University.
To Stephen, music is a way of living a life of the imagination. Music and poetry bring one into association with perfection, and perfection has an influence on the soul. At St. Marks, Stephen feels blessed to be surrounded by the beauty of the church and a friendly body of people. Stephen lives just west of Downer Avenue. The Concert Series offers a variety of music once a month during academic year. Stephen performs three solo concerts in the Series and also accompanies the other performers, and pronounces the church’s acoustics “wonderful.”
- Stephen Wolff, interview by Fran Assa, Daniel Cho and Yuko Nakamura, Milwaukee, June 18, 2013.