In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the CDC’s current recommendations, Merit School of Music has closed the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center and suspended all in-person activities. Virtual options are now available for summer camps, private lessons, Early Childhood classes, and small group classes. We thank you for your understanding and continued support during this unprecedented situation.

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Faculty & Staff

Charles Grode

President & Executive Director


Northwestern University
M.A., Theatre

Lawrence University
B.M., Theatre and Drama


“Passionately inspired” is the phrase Charles Grode uses to describe his feeling about working with Merit’s staff, faculty, students, parents, donors and others in the Merit community. A seasoned leader in arts and education, Mr. Grode has extensive experience in organizational, relationship, resource and staff development. He joined the Merit family in September 2015 after 17 years on the staff of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association.

As President & Executive Director, Mr. Grode works with Merit’s Board of Trustees on strategic planning, and guides efforts to enhance the impact of programs on a diverse student body. He is responsible for the leadership and overall management of Merit, including oversight of faculty and staff, developing and guiding major projects, and ensuring all programs reflect the mission of the school.

Mr. Grode’s educational background and professional experience prepared him well for his role at Merit. During his tenure at the CSO, he oversaw the organization’s extensive education and community engagement programs, including the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the only pre-professional training orchestra affiliated with a major symphony orchestra.

He held several senior executive positions with the CSO Association, culminating his tenure there as Vice President for the Negaunee Music Institute. Created under Mr. Grode’s leadership in 2008, the Institute was the recipient of funding in perpetuity, and engaged more than 200,000 students, educators and parents each season.

Mr. Grode has also worked at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Suzuki-Orff School for Young Musicians. Born in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, he holds a Bachelor of Arts in theatre and drama from Lawrence University, and a Master of Arts in theatre from Northwestern University. He has studied trumpet, bassoon, piano and cello, and continues to study music history.

Mr. Grode lives in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood with his wife, Heidi Lukas, their cat Bixby, and their Westie, Pearl.  He is an avid runner, completing more than ten half marathons since 2006.

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Together we will create a future for the school that is worthy of its past.”