- Music Classes & Lessons
- Group Classes & Ensembles
- Private Lessons
- Early Childhood
- Summer Camps
- View by Instrument/Age
- Why Choose Merit
Individual lessons and group classes for students at any level.
- Community Programs
Bringing accessible, high-quality music education to Chicagoland communities.
- Selective Programs
- Chicago Musical Pathways
The highest level of achievement for Merit students in tuition-free, audition-based programs.
Who we are and what we believe in.
How Merit makes a difference.
Merit's supporters remove barriers to music education, ensuring access for Chicago's youth.
Additional info for current and prospective students.
Try out for the Alice S. Pfaelzer Conservatory—Chicago’s premier program for pre-collegiate musicians.
Conservatory Audition Registration Closed – Request an Audition Below
Merit’s Alice S. Pfaelzer Conservatory gives talented young musicians the opportunity to work with Chicago’s finest music educators through participation in a variety of pre-collegiate classes including technique, music theory, chamber music, large ensembles, and more—all TUITION-FREE.
Audition registration opens
Deadline to register for an audition – request an audition below
April 29, May 6, May 13
Conservatory audition dates
What Do Auditions Entail?
Spots in Merit’s Conservatory are in high demand. Current Conservatory students are required to re-audition every year in order to ensure equal access to this sought-after program. Returning students do not need to take a theory placement test or schedule a family interview.
Students new to the Conservatory are required to audition, partake in a family interview, and complete a theory placement exam. See below for details.
New & Returning Students
The audition will assess your current skills, musicianship, sight-reading ability, etc. Some program divisions have different requirements based on ability levels or ensembles. Students should prepare the requirements best suited to their level.
New Students Only
The family interview is an opportunity for you to talk one-on-one with a Merit team member, ask questions, and discuss the commitment of joining the Conservatory. All interviews take place on the audition day and are scheduled after registration. A parent or guardian is required to attend.
Theory Placement Test
New Students Only
A theory placement exam will be administered on the day of your audition. Theory curriculum is a required part of participating in the Conservatory. The exam assesses theory knowledge and places students in an appropriate level theory class—it does not impact acceptance.
I'm a current Merit student. Do I have to audition?
Conservatory participation represents the highest level of Merit's instructional continuum, available exclusively via an audition process. All prospective newcomers to the Conservatory—including students in Merit's group class, private lessons, and Merit Music in Communities program—should follow the new student audition requirements above.
I'm a returning Conservatory applicant. Do I have to re-audition?
Yes. All current Conservatory students need to re-audition to keep their spot in the Conservatory and should follow the returning student audition requirements above.
Students who have previously been in the Conservatory, but were not in the Conservatory for the previous academic year, need to audition as a new student.
Do I have to audition for each ensemble?
Students auditioning for one ensemble are automatically considered for other ensembles within their division. For example, a student auditioning for Symphonic Band is also automatically considered for Concert Band.
In some cases, a student may audition for an ensemble below their ability. In this case, they may be asked to audition again for placement in a higher ensemble.
We encourage students to audition on material best representing their abilities. Please talk with your lesson teacher or ensemble director if you aren't sure what material may be best for you.
Can I participate in multiple instrument divisions?
Students are allowed to participate in multiple program divisions (i.e. Band, Orchestra, Piano, Guitar, Voice, or Jazz) should they successfully audition into each division.
That being said, the Conservatory schedule may not allow a student to participate fully in both divisions. In that case, you may have to select between the two divisions.
Can I participate in multiple ensembles?
After auditioning into their primary ensemble, students have the opportunity to join additional ensembles once they have been accepted. Available ensembles include instrument ensembles and chamber groups. These ensembles are determined in early fall, prior to the start of the year.
Wind Symphony students have the option to audition to participate in Merit Philharmonic. Interested students must audition for both Merit Philharmonic and Wind Symphony at the May auditions. Only students accepted into Wind Symphony will be considered for Merit Philharmonic, and participation in both ensembles is expected.
Can I participate in Merit's Conservatory and my school program?
YES! In fact, we highly encourage that you participate in your school’s music program while attending Merit.
Merit’s Conservatory program is NOT a replacement for your school’s music activity, but rather a supplement to enhance your musical experience.
Is there a fee to participate in the Conservatory?
Thanks to the generosity of Merit’s supporters, the Conservatory is a tuition-free program. This means that the cost of tuition (a $3,700 value) is waived for all Conservatory students!
Upon accepting your invitation to join Merit’s Conservatory, there is a registration fee of $200, which can be set up under a payment plan if needed.
Interested in Joining Merit's Conservatory?
Fill out the form below to request an audition!