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From humble beginnings to emerging as Chicago’s premier community music school for all ages.
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 S. Pfaelzer
Co-Founder; Executive Director
(1979 – 1992)
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
On the Move
Merit moves from Roosevelt University to the Fine Arts Building and adds private lesson instruction.
Expanding Our Reach
Merit expands to Dearborn Station to engage more students.
On the Move Again
Merit moves to its own home, the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center in the West Loop.
Funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Merit creates its first daily, intensive off-site program at Carson Elementary in Gage Park.
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.