Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free 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 Tuition-free 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.

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 Tuition-free 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 8:00 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
5000-Approx-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 Tuition-free 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 80 violin, viola, cello, and bass students who are generally in 5th – 9th 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 50 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 8th – 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 and participate in either Concert or Conservatory Choir.

CONCERT CHOIR

This choir is for the novice singer. It is open to students of all ages in the Conservatory. Students will learn basic vocal technique, solfege, and sing songs in two-part harmony.

CONSERVATORY CHOIR

This choir is an auditioned ensemble open to students in the Conservatory who are 8th grade and older. Students will sing a variety of challenging accompanied and a cappella literature.

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 registration for the 2019/2020 school year is now open. To sign up for an audition, please access our new registration system here.

Returning Merit students already have an account, and should recover their password if they have not done so already. Students new to Merit will need to create an account to sign up for an audition. The deadline to schedule an audition is April 14.

Students are responsible for preparing materials specific to the instrument and/or ensembles for which they are auditioning. Required audition materials can be found here.


AUDITION DATES: MAY 4 & MAY 11, 2019

On audition day, students should plan to be at Merit for at least one hour. The audition process consists of four sections:

• Warm-up • 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.

Accepted students will be notified by June 8, 2019. Please direct any questions or concerns to Amy Bischoff by email at abischoff@meritmusic.org.