Merit School of Music

A Week in the Life of a Merit Music in Communities Teacher: Kristin Hedlund

young strings players

Hi, friends! I’m Kristin Hedlund, a violin teacher in Merit School of Music’s in-school music program, Merit Music in Communities, and at Merit’s home in the West Loop.

March is 
Music In Our Schools Month, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of making high-quality music education more accessible to kids and teens by incorporating music into the school curriculum. I’m excited to celebrate by giving you a behind-the-scenes look at a few Merit Music in Communities sites.

But first, let me take a step back and tell you a little bit more about Merit’s in-school programming—and about myself as well!

kristin hedlund

First: A Little Background

Launched in 1984—just five years after Merit’s inception—Merit Music in Communities (MMiC) provides high-quality music education at 24 schools and community centers throughout Chicagoland. The beauty of MMiC is that we can bring music directly to kids who couldn’t otherwise access music classes or lessons. It’s amazing to see the impact on the kids and on the school communities.

I started at Merit in the fall of 1988, teaching group classes at two of Merit’s in-school sites as well as private violin lessons and, I’ll tell you, I was hooked from the get-go! 35 years later, and I still am. Today, I teach at two MMiC sites, lead the Cherub Orchestra in Merit’s group class program in the West Loop, teach chamber music and sectionals in Merit’s Conservatory, and teach private lessons too.

Now, come with me for a typical busy, music-filled week with Merit!


With coffee in tow, I head to Chopin Elementary School in Humboldt Park. Chopin boasts one of our most robust MMiC sites, consisting of group classes, private lessons, and a large ensemble. I’ve been teaching at Chopin for nine years, but the program has been around since 2000.

While at Chopin, I teach a full day of private lessons from 8:30am – 3:30pm. This one-on-one time with students really helps them refine their skills and focus on the areas where they need the most work. Since adding private lessons to the program at Chopin, I’ve watched the kids grow leaps and bounds in their music studies.

After a 30-minute break, it’s time for orchestra followed by a group violin class. Class is always full, and the kids are excited to be there. It makes my day to see how much their music instruction means to them. Music allows them an escape from whatever is going on in their personal lives—a chance to decompress and lean into their creativity.

I love this video featuring students from Chopin Elementary (and Nobel Elementary, where we have another MMiC site) performing at Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. My students really enjoy performing at cool venues like this one! 

The music program at Chopin has been there for many years, so in the long term, you can also see the impact it’s had on the school community. Parents are actively involved and it’s very common for former students to come back and visit.


Today is a bit “light” on Merit, but it’s still full of music! I return to Chopin Elementary first thing in the morning, starting my day with a group violin class at 8:45am.

After this class, I hop in my car and drive over to Dominican University where I teach in addition to my work at Merit. I spend the rest of my day teaching students in Dominican’s music school.


I’m off to Burbank Elementary! Located in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood, this community partnership offers private lessons, a group class for beginners, and string and cello choirs. Just like at Chopin, the music program at Burbank has fostered a fantastic sense of community. I actually have too many parent volunteers signing up for field trips and concerts. A great problem to have!

have so much fun in my beginning strings class at Burbank Elementary! The kids are 2nd – 4th graders and are just so cute.

I kick off the day by working with individual students in private lessons from 10:00am – 2:30pm. After that, I head straight into a violin choir rehearsal—a large ensemble of violin students working together to strengthen their skills as ensemble participants, both now and in the future.

Right now, we’re preparing a Children’s Day performance at Burbank, so we’re working on the pieces they’ll perform at that school concert. The kids get so excited for concerts. They’re a great motivation for them to really focus on learning their parts. In the past, they’ve performed at Willis Tower, Navy Pier, and more.

After Burbank, I stop at home briefly to teach an online private lesson with a student who’s a senior in high school. I’ve known her since she was in one of my Merit group classes when she was in 2nd grade. She’s in so many other extracurriculars but sticks with violin because she says it relaxes her. Everyone needs a creative outlet!


It’s Burbank again for me today. I’m there teaching private lessons from 9:30am – 2:30pm, and then have another violin choir class after that.

Then it’s back in the car to head to Merit for a private lesson. As you can see, I drive a lot between different sites and Merit, so I turn on an audio book to pass the time.

That evening, I lead Merit’s Cherub Orchestra as part of our Instrumental & Vocal Music program, which consists of group classes for beginners through intermediate musicians. Intermediate string musicians also participate in an orchestra in addition to their group class.

I particularly love seeing my MMiC students further their studies by joining our Instrument & Vocal Music program. By doing this, they’re able to continue to foster their love of music and learn new skills. In the summer, I’ve had MMiC students join the summer camps at Merit. These camps just light a fire under some students’ dedication to their music!

Before I head home, I have one more private lesson, this time with a student who’s in Merit’s Conservatory.


Fridays are Merit-free. In the morning, I work virtually with my students from Dominican University.


Saturday is Conservatory day and I’m at Merit from 10am – 4pm. I teach two chamber music classes, a sectional for students in Chamber Orchestra, and private violin lessons for Conservatory students.

I love that the Conservatory brings together student musicians from across the city and suburbs of Chicago to make music together. The message is so powerful: It doesn’t matter where you’re from, music is the common denominator.

conservatory students awaiting their performance

Waiting backstage with a few of my Conservatory students before a performance.


It’s my day off! My three children are all grown up, so my husband and I are able to fill our free time however we like. You can find us at a concert, play, museum, or volunteering on Sunday afternoons.

It’s been a busy week bursting with music education! The days I teach at our in-school sites are truly my favorite days of the week. There’s nothing else quite like the energy of introducing young children to music and watching them learn and grow before your eyes.

Special thanks to the Ralla Klepak Foundation for Education in the Performing Arts for supporting our private lesson programs at Burbank and Chopin Elementary Schools!

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