Starting the Year with a Bang: A Letter from the Dean

Two students stand in front of the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center, holding guitar cases and amps.

Dear fellow music-lovers,

We are thrilled to welcome you to Merit School of Music’s 2023-2024 Academic Year! Soon the halls of the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center and our community partner sites will come alive with the sound of young people making beautiful music. Whether beginning their musical journey or developing their craft over years of study, our students find in Merit a creative outlet, a sense of pride that comes with musicianship, and an opportunity to make lifelong connections.

Connection is at the core of what we do. We strive to create an environment where every student feels a sense of belonging, safety, and support as they explore, grow, and take risks in their pursuit of musical excellence. Students come to Merit from every Chicago neighborhood and background to learn together, dream together, teach each other, and broaden their horizons through music.

Welcome back to our returning students, families, and friends, and a warm welcome to our new additions! We’re so glad you are part of the Merit community.

Here’s a sneak peak of what we’re looking forward to sharing with you this year:

Weekly Live From Gottlieb Returns

Back by popular demand, Merit is excited to bring back our weekly performance series, Live from Gottlieb. The past two years Merit limited the all-Conservatory gathering time to once per month, but we are thrilled to once again schedule weekly, professional performances for students in 2023/24. We will host performers from all over the country, feature guests from universities and college conservatories, and sprinkle special student performances here and there.

Sensory-Friendly Concert Series Continues

Following the success of last year’s inaugural Sensory-Friendly and Family Concert, Merit will host two more of these events this school year. The first, our Sensory-Friendly and Family Halloween concert, is on Saturday, October 28 in Gottlieb Hall. These concerts are specifically designed for neurodiverse audiences and families with small children. All conventional rules for the audience are out the window as we invite concert goers to move freely about Gottlieb Hall and enjoy the concert in the way that’s most comfortable for them. We hope to see you there!

A child appreciates the music with his eyes closed at last year's Sensory/Family-Friendly Concert.

Wind Symphony Selected to Perform at the Midwest Clinic

On December 22, our Wind Symphony will represent Merit at the Midwest Clinic International Band, Orchestra and Music Conference here in Chicago! Director Chip Staley entered the ensemble for consideration, and they were selected to perform as the demonstration ensemble for a clinic entitled “The Chorale Curriculum: Using Numbers to Ignite Our Students’ Musicianship.” We are so proud of this exceptional group for this accomplishment, and we can’t wait to hear them perform in December.

Collaborations with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Music of the Baroque & More

With the Conservatory year kicking off on Saturday, September 23, we look forward to building upon several exciting residencies and collaborations:

Enrique Mazzola, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Music Director – The partnership we began with Lyric Opera and Lyric Unlimited last year continues to grow. Conservatory Orchestra students will have the chance to work with Maestro Mazzola in a rehearsal setting this spring.

Enjoy the highlights from last year’s collaboration with Lyric Opera Chicago. Photography by Jaclyn Simpson

Nicholas Kraemer, Music of the Baroque’s Principal Guest Conductor – Members of Merit Philharmonic will rehearse under the direction of Maestro Kraemer and showcase all they’ve learned through a collaborative performance with Music of the Baroque musicians. This is the third year in our collaboration with Music of the Baroque, and we are thrilled to continue this incredible experience for our students this October.

Peter Slowik, Oberlin Conservatory of Music’s Head of String Department & Viola Professor – One of the world’s most acclaimed artist-teachers of viola, Slowik will visit Conservatory to work directly with Orchestra students of all experience levels.

Expanding Our Community Partner Programs

Merit is expanding our programming in schools and neighborhoods across the city. This year, we anticipate teaching over 1,400 school-aged students how to kickstart and develop their musical skills. With Merit in as many as 30 sites across the city and the near suburbs, the students will be making music with Merit from Auburn Gresham to Forest Park to Brighton Park and back again. Interested in bringing Merit to a school near you? Visit our Merit Music in Communities page to learn more, and please feel free to share our program information with your school administrators!

The JuJu Exchange Headlines Play On

Play On, Merit’s annual benefit concert hosted by our Associate Board, returns to City Winery on Wednesday, November 1. We’re ecstatic to announce that The JuJu Exchange, comprised entirely of Merit alums, will headline this year’s event. Our Conservatory Honors Jazz Ensemble and Merit alum King Melik will perform as opening acts. Learn more about the event!

The JuJu Exchange in cool tones. Nico Segal plays trumpet, Julian Davis Reid holds a small keyboard, and Nova Zaii holds a soundboard. Above them are the words "Play On" in purple text.

Save the Date: Stringtacular 2024

My favorite final concert of the year is always Stringtacular. It is such a unique, inspiring experience to witness our highly accomplished Conservatory students alongside our youngest string players—some as young as five years old! There is nothing quite like it to demonstrate the growth and power of music and community combined. We hope you join us for Stringtacular 2024 on Saturday, May 18.

In case you missed it, enjoy last year’s Stringtacular performance!

The start of the school year is a time for new beginnings: new music, new challenges, new friendships, and new achievements. Here’s to the start of a wonderful year!

All the best,

Kurtis Gildow's signature

Kurtis Gildow
Dean & Vice President for Educational Affairs

A headshot of Kurtis Gildow.

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