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 until further notice. Virtual options are now available for 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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Alice S. Pfaelzer Conservatory

LEARN MUSIC. LEARN MORE.

Because no matter what you want to be, an excellent music education will help you achieve your goals.

The Alice S. Pfaelzer Conservatory is the culmination of Merit’s instructional continuum and represents the best of Merit’s talented student musicians.

For 26 Saturdays during the academic school year, students receive instruction from 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.

merit music conservatory

Video auditions are now available for the 2020/2021 academic year!

WHO

The Conservatory is comprised of student musicians from every corner of the Chicago area, representing our city’s diversity, talent, and unmistakable potential.

90+ Chicago Zip Codes
Demographics Pie Chart: White = 32%, Latino/a = 30%, Asian American = 16%, African American = 14%, Other = 8%

WHAT

Merit’s Alice S. Pfaelzer Conservatory is a comprehensive program that includes four main components:

  • Instrumental or vocal technique class
  • Large ensemble
  • Theory
  • Weekly recital hour

Upon acceptance, students must participate in all aspects of the program. The academic year begins at the end of September and continues through April. Classes take place on 26 Saturdays* throughout the year and are held between 8:00 am – 5:45 pm. Students should expect to have at least a four to six hour day, depending on their level and program.

*Select students also have ensemble rehearsals during the week.

26-Saturdays
104-Teaching-Hours
conservatory dollar value
Competitive-Chamber-Ensembles
Recitals-and-Masterclasses

WHY

Because music inspires growth.

Our graduates have gone on to become professional musicians, artists, engineers, doctors, and civic leaders of all kinds. We believe that every child deserves the opportunity to grow through music, and the Conservatory brings that belief to life.

Graduates-Impact-Graphic

Below you will find descriptions of Merit’s Conservatory large ensembles and programs. Please note: Although grade level information is included to serve as a general guideline, students are placed according to their level of musicianship.

Students must audition for entrance into a specific ensemble or program. If accepted, they are required to participate in a comprehensive, daylong program consisting of a large ensemble, music theory class, musicianship/instrumental group class, weekly recital hour, and electives (chamber music, other large ensembles, composition, etc.).

BAND

CONCERT BAND

The Concert Band is the entry-level band for the Conservatory. It is comprised of up to 80 winds, brass, and percussion students who are generally in 6th – 8th grades.

SYMPHONIC BAND

The Symphonic Band is an advanced wind group. It is comprised of up to 80 wind, brass and percussion students who are generally in 8th – 10th grades. Programming consists of challenging high-school repertoire.

WIND SYMPHONY

The Wind Symphony is one of Merit’s premiere ensembles. The Wind Symphony provides a rigorous experience for talented and motivated young musicians, representing some of the finest wind playing in the country. It is comprised of up to 80 wind, brass and percussion students who are generally in 10th – 12th grades. Programming consists of modern and traditional repertoire, as well as new commissions. The Wind Symphony rehearses each Saturday, as well as each Tuesday evening.

ORCHESTRA

STRING ORCHESTRA

The Conservatory String Orchestra is an intermediate level ensemble. It is comprised of up to 50 violin, viola, cello, and bass students who are generally in 5th – 10th grades. Programming consists of modern and traditional string orchestra repertoire.

MERIT PHILHARMONIC

The Merit Philharmonic is Merit’s top orchestral experience for talented young musicians. It is comprised of up to 65 string, wind, brass, and percussion students who are generally in 9th – 12th grades. Programming consists of modern and traditional orchestral repertoire.

Woodwind, Brass, and Percussion students interested in auditioning for the Merit Philharmonic must first be accepted into the Wind Symphony. Students who are accepted into the Conservatory at the Wind Symphony level may then audition in the fall for seating placement in Merit Philharmonic. 

PIANO

Spots in Merit’s Conservatory piano program are limited and highly competitive. Students participate in a variety of activities including piano duets, music theory, weekly recital hour, and studio class. Top pianists may also be required to participate in chamber ensembles. Because spots in the Conservatory piano program are so limited and competitive, pianists must re-audition each year.

GUITAR

Guitarists in the Junior or Senior Guitar Division participate in a comprehensive, daylong program consisting of theory, musicianship/instrumental group classes, weekly recital hour, guitar ensemble, and electives. Guitar students are generally in 7th – 12th grades.

VOICE

Voice students in the Conservatory are being accepted into a comprehensive, daylong program consisting of a large ensemble, theory, musicianship/vocal technique classes, weekly recital hour, and electives. Voice students are generally in 6th – 12th grades.

JAZZ

Students in Merit’s Jazz Division participate in a comprehensive, daylong program consisting of theory/improvisation, big band rehearsal (Concert Jazz Ensemble or Merit Jazz Ensemble), combo rehearsal, weekly recital hour, and electives. Jazz students are generally in 8th – 12th grades and have had several years of playing experience. Students in Merit’s Jazz Division have the opportunity to perform in many venues across the city of Chicago including the Chicago’s renowned Jazz Showcase.

CONCERT JAZZ ENSEMBLE

The Concert Jazz Ensemble is an intermediate level ensemble for Conservatory students that have a basic understanding of and experience with jazz performance styles and improvisation.  It is comprised of saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and rhythm section (piano, guitar, bass, drum-set, and vibraphone). This ensemble is recommended for students who are generally in 8th to 10th grades and have one to two years of jazz ensemble experience.

Conservatory students not majoring in Jazz Studies may be eligible to participate in this ensemble pending completion of a seating audition in the fall.

MERIT JAZZ ENSEMBLE

As the most advanced big band in the Jazz Studies department, the Merit Jazz Ensemble features the Conservatory’s most experienced Jazz Studies majors as well as upper-level Band students with considerable experience in jazz performance and improvisation. It is comprised of saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and rhythm section (piano, guitar, bass, drum-set, and vibraphone). This ensemble is recommended for students who are generally in 10th to 12th grades and have two to four years of jazz ensemble experience.

Conservatory students not majoring in Jazz Studies may be eligible to participate in this ensemble pending completion of a seating audition in the fall.

Through placement auditions, each student is provided a customized schedule resulting in 3 to 7 hours of weekly commitment.

CURRICULUM

  • Music Theory
  • Instrumental or Vocal Technique Classes
  • Large Ensembles
  • Live from Gottlieb—Weekly performances by world-class professional artists and Merit’s renowned faculty
  • Electives

LARGE ENSEMBLES

  • Concert Band
  • Symphonic Band
  • Wind Symphony
  • String Orchestra
  • Piano Studio Class
  • Guitar Ensemble
  • Merit Philharmonic
  • Concert Choir
  • Conservatory Choir
  • Merit Jazz Ensemble
  • Concert Jazz Ensemble

ELECTIVES

Elective options change from year to year and often include courses such as:

  • Suzuki-Alegre Strings
  • Chamber Music
  • Composers Forum
  • Jazz History and Listening
  • Choir
  • Jazz Ensembles
  • Merit Brass Ensemble
  • Merit Clarinet Ensemble
  • Merit Trombone Choir
  • Percussion Ensemble
  • Trumpet Ensemble

JAZZ

Non-Jazz Studies Majors at the Symphonic Band and Wind Symphony levels who would like to participate in a jazz ensemble as an elective will have the opportunity to complete a seating audition in the fall and will be placed based on instrumentation requirements and availability for Concert Jazz Ensemble and Merit Jazz Ensemble. Participation is contingent upon meeting all other core scheduling requirements, including theory classes, instrument technique classes and Live from Gottlieb, as well as the ensemble requirements for each student’s major division.

COMPETITIVE CHAMBER MUSIC 

Entrance to the competitive chamber music program is by audition. Learn teamwork and share musical ideas with your peers as you participate in weekly rehearsals and perform throughout the year at Merit concerts, schools and community centers, in chamber music competitions, and on television and radio programs.

COMPOSITION

In the Composers Forum elective, students study with renowned composition faculty and guest composers, and twice annually hear their compositions performed by professional musicians.

AUDITION INFORMATION  UPDATED FOR COVID-19 

Thank you for your interest in the Alice S. Pfaelzer Conservatory at the Merit School of Music! We hold our auditions for the Alice S. Pfaelzer Conservatory in May for both classical and jazz programs. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state mandated shelter-in-place, our audition process will be completed through video submission. Please read the below for the most updated information regarding the virtual audition process. 

All auditions must be uploaded to a shareable platform (YouTube, Google Drive, Box, etc.) and the link submitted through this form.

Audition videos are due by May 1st for Piano, and May 16th for all other instruments.  

GUIDELINES FOR SUBMITTING RECORDED AUDITIONS 

RECORDING

  • At the start of the video, please state your first and last name, age, and the program you are auditioning for. 
  • Before each piece/excerpt state the name of the piece, the movement if applicable, and the composer. 
  • Each piece/excerpt must be captured in one take. Any editing/splicing within the piece/excerpt is prohibited.  
  • You may submit separate videos for each requirement.  If you submit more than one video to complete your audition, please indicate how many total videos you are uploading so that the audition committee knows how many videos to review.  
  • The student’s full face and their instrument must be well lit and in full view of the camera and should take into consideration any instrument specific accommodations (i.e. seeing both hands for piano and woodwind players, posture and hand position for string players, etc.). 

SUBMITTING

When you are ready to submit your recording: 

STEP 1

  • Upload your video to YouTube as an unlisted video. 

Or 

  • Upload your video to Google Drive, Box, or another file sharing software and use the shareable link.  

Videos must be viewable by anyone with the link. If you have questions or concerns, please let us know.  

STEP 2

Submit your video link through the Conservatory Audition Video Submission Google form. Please only submit one form per student per program. If you have multiple video links for various requirements, please submit all of them on the same form. If you are auditioning for multiple programs (i.e. you are auditioning for both classical and jazz trumpet, auditioning for both Wind Symphony and Merit Philharmonic), please submit a separate form for each program.

If you have any questions or concerns, please email abischoff@meritmusic.org, or speak with your program manager or director. 

RETURNING STUDENTS 

All students currently enrolled in the 2019/2020 Conservatory MUST re-audition for re-admittance into the Conservatory for the 2020/2021 academic year. 

Returning students do NOT need to take a theory placement exam, nor complete a family interview. Returning students only need to complete an entrance audition.  

NEW STUDENTS 

New students must complete a successful audition to be accepted into the Conservatory. The audition process consists of:

  • An audition
  • Theory placement exam
  • Family interview

The family interview serves as an opportunity for prospective families to ask any specific questions and to ensure that students and families are prepared for the significant commitment required of all Conservatory students. A parent or guardian must be present with the student for the family interview. 

Family interviews will take place on May 2, 9, and 16 during the day. The interview process will take place in real time via Zoom and should last 20-30 minutes. Families who have previously signed up for an audition time slot will receive a Zoom Meeting invitation to the email address on file for the day they originally signed up to audition. Families who did not previously sign up for an audition time should register for a day by clicking this link. Instructions and assistance for Zoom Family Interviews will be shared at a later date via email.

Music theory tests will be emailed to the address on file for new students on the day they are scheduled to complete their family interview. Students have until the end of the day to complete and submit their test for grading. If a theory test is not received, students will be automatically placed in Theory 1. The theory test is for placement only and has no bearing on your acceptance into the Conservatory.  Thus, it is important that students complete the test independently and without help from others or outside sources.   

Merit’s Alice S. Pfaelzer Conservatory is a comprehensive program that includes four main components: an instrument/vocal technique class, large ensemble, theory, and weekly recital hour. Upon acceptance students MUST participate in all aspects of the program. Classes take place on Saturday and are held between 8:00am – 5:45pm. Students should expect to have at least a four to six hour day, depending on their level and program. (Note: Wind Symphony students also have ensemble rehearsals during the week.) 

AUDITION REQUIREMENTS 

Audition requirements and repertoire for 2020/2021 are now available. Please visit the Entrance Audition Requirements page to view requirements. These requirements have been updated due to COVID-19. Please be sure to check the requirements before recording and submitting your video audition.  

BAND AND STRING STUDENTS

Carefully review the audition requirements for each large ensemble and choose to audition for the ensemble that is closest to your level of playing. (Please visit the Conservatory Large Ensembles section for descriptions.) Students must prepare all materials listed.

MERIT PHILHARMONIC WINDS & PERCUSSION

Please note that Woodwind, Brass, and Percussion students interested in Merit Philharmonic must first successfully audition into the Wind Symphony. Students who are accepted into the Conservatory at the Wind Symphony level will then be considered for Merit Philharmonic. Students should submit 2 separate videos, one for Wind Symphony and one for Merit Philharmonic.

PIANO

Please review the audition process on the Piano Audition Requirement page as the requirements have been adjusted. All piano students (new or returning) have until May 1st to submit a video.

AUDITION RESULTS NOTIFICATION 

Audition results will be sent by email no later than June 15, 2020. 

If accepted, students will have until July 15, 2020 to confirm their acceptance and register for the Conservatory. To register, please contact Student Services.  

Please contact Amy Bischoff for any questions or concerns.