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Merit School of Music honored two of its most distinguished alumni, brothers Demarre and Anthony McGill, their parents, Ira Carol and Demarre McGill, and corporate leader Northern Trust Corporation at the annual Merit Gala, which took place on May 10, 2016, at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago.

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Merit’s Gala 2016 was a festive celebration of the non-profit community music school’s distinguished history and its exciting future, all built on its nationally accredited, high-quality music education program, which it provides to Chicago children regardless of their economic circumstances. The benefit attracted a crowd of more than 470 supporters and raised nearly $1 million. Proceeds will help Merit fulfill its mission of giving Chicago-area children – regardless of their economic circumstances – the opportunity to achieve their full musical and personal potential through accessible, high-quality music education.


That mission is exemplified by internationally, renowned classical musicians, Demarre and Anthony McGill. As boys growing up on Chicago’s south side in the mid-1990s, the McGills turned to Merit and what is now the Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory to begin comprehensive music instruction. Today, Demarre, who plays flute, and Anthony, clarinet, are the first African-American principal players in their orchestras, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic respectively. Both credit the high-quality music education from Merit as crucial to paving the way for their professional careers in classical music as adults.


In addition, Frederick H. Waddell, Chairman and CEO of Northern Trust, accepted Merit School of Music’s 2016 Corporate Leadership Award on behalf of the company. Merit has benefited from Northern Trust’s support for 26 years, which has been critical in nurturing programs that have offered tens of thousands of children life-changing opportunities through music study, performance and appreciation.


Duffie Adelson, who retired as President of Merit after 33 years last spring, was also honored, and was delighted to learn Merit’s Board of Trustees have renamed the school’s financial aid programs the “Duffie Adelson Financial Aid Fund.”


Following cocktails, guests were welcomed by Gala co-chairs Merit Trustee and Alum Jennifer Montague, and her husband, Reginaldo Montague, and Merit Trustee Ryan DeVore, and his wife, Amy DeVore. Honorary co-chairs for the evening were Judy Istock and Richard L. Thomas. A delicious dinner was accompanied by an inspiring tribute video sharing the McGill family’s history with Merit, coupled with features on a few of today’s top Merit students. Demarre, Anthony and their parents were presented with the Alice S. Pfaelzer Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts. After the award presentation, Anthony delighted guests by playing the Allego animato movement from Saint-Säens’ Clarinet Sonata, Op. 167 in a duet with 12-year-old Merit Conservatory pianist Joshua Mhoon. Demarre closed the evening with “La Milonga” on flute, accompanied by the Merit Guitar Quartet.


In his first gala as President and Executive Director of Merit, Charles Grode noted, “As we celebrate our past, we also look toward Merit’s 40th anniversary in 2019. We need to boldly embrace the spirit and mission of our founders, while building Merit’s ability to respond to the changing, growing needs of our students and city. Over the next three years we will need to grow our ability to offer excellent, sequential and sustained musical instruction to an increasingly diverse student body, and expand our financial capacity to remove financial, geographic and personal barriers to participation. If we are successful, we have the opportunity to be recognized as the Chicago-based national model for sustained diversity and excellence through music.”


Capping the evening were live performances from Merit’s acclaimed KGT Woodwind Trio, winner of the Junior Division Wind Prize at the 2016 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, an outstanding performance from Merit’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble, as well as a wide range of the school’s top student soloists and ensembles.