Merit School of Music

Our History

From humble beginnings to emerging as Chicago’s premier community music school for all ages.

Our Founders

Merit is founded on the belief that talent is equally distributed in every neighborhood and on every street, but the opportunity to develop those talents is too often provided only to the privileged few.

In 1979, two pioneering women sought to fight that inequity.

Alice Pfaelzer

Alice S. Pfaelzer

Co-Founder; Executive Director 

(1979 – 1992)

Emma Endres Kountz

Emma Endres-Koutz

Co-Founder; Artistic Director 

(1979 – 1983)

Rising to Meet Chicago's Need for Music Education

When arts programming in Chicago Public Schools was under threat in the 1970s, Alice Pfaelzer and Emma Endres-Kountz responded by founding the MERIT Music Program. 

The inaugural program reached a cohort of 150 students and supplied weekend instruction of the highest caliber. 

More than forty years later, Alice and Emma’s vision has blossomed into Chicago’s community music school, providing equal access to excellent instruction for tens of thousands of talented youth—offering them the opportunity to be permanently transformed by music.

Merit Through the Years

Merit School of Music founders Alice Pfaelzer and Emma Endres-Kountz performing a piano duet

Merit Begins as a School

Merit is founded by Alice Pfaelzer and Emma Endres-Kountz to provide music education through a tuition-free Conservatory.

On the Move

Merit moves from Roosevelt University to the Fine Arts Building and adds private lesson instruction.

Merit students from the 1980s
Merit students in an ensemble rehearsal in the 1980s

Merit Music in Schools

Merit begins in-school programs, now called Merit Music in Communities.

Expanding Our Reach

Merit expands to Dearborn Station to engage more students.

Merit expands to Dearborn Station
Celebration and ribbon-cutting ceremony when Merit moved to the Joy Faith Knapp Music center in 2005

On the Move Again

Merit moves to its own home, the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center in the West Loop.

Still Growing

Funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Merit creates its first daily, intensive off-site program at Carson Elementary in Gage Park.

Instructor with students at Carson Elementary
A group photo of CMPI students

Chicago Musical Pathways

Merit partners with more than 20 other Chicago-area organizations to launch the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative, a $3.5 million program designed to support students of underrepresented backgrounds pursuing careers in classical music.

Merit proudly continues to carry on the mission and vision of Emma and Alice by delivering the highest quality music education to thousands of students daily.

A choir class during a recent performance

Support the Future of Merit School of Music

Close this search box.