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Merit School of Music and Cambridge Audio team up to deliver a “bigger footprint” on the Chicago Music Scene


Merit School of Music and Cambridge Audio have launched a new strategic partnership – one to drive publicity and fundraising, the other to drive music appreciation and revenue.


– Cambridge Audio, a 50-year-old British maker of hi-fidelity audio equipment, is expanding to the U.S. in 2018 and partnering with music charities as part of its plan to grow a grassroots consumer base.


– Chicago’s Merit School of Music is modernizing its efforts to win over a new generation of millennials that can support the 39-year-old nonprofit community music school’s mission.



A new partnership between one of Chicago’s most respected nonprofits and one of the U.K.’s most successful audio equipment companies is exploring a way in which companies with diverse missions can benefit one another.

Cambridge Audio (Cambridge), a 50-year-old British maker of hi-fidelity audio equipment, is expanding to the U.S. in 2018, and will open its first U.S. retail location in Chicago later this year. As part of its strategic plan to grow a grassroots consumer fan base, the company is partnering with nonprofit groups to generate awareness — both for its products and its charitable partners.

Cambridge has named the Merit School of Music (Merit) as its new partner in Chicago, and the two companies are embarking on a long-term plan to generate awareness for one another, with thousands of Chicago-area music students set to reap the benefits.

Far from just a business tactic, however, Cambridge counts itself as true believers. The company’s founders have a long history of partnering with such charitable organizations, and Gregg Chopper, Cambridge’s director of the Americas, considers a musical mission part of the company’s DNA.

“When I first visited Merit, I was struck by the photos lining the walls of so many young students that didn’t go on to become famous musicians, but likely went on to be leaders in other fields, drawing from their experiences at the school” Chopper explained. “I knew then that Cambridge and Merit speak the same language and have the same values. It’s about music being the continuation of our natural language, and spreading that language, whether it’s through studying music or listening to music through high-quality audio equipment, is a powerful thing to be a part of.”



To kick off the partnership, Cambridge is donating 50% of the proceeds it earns from the sales of its SE1 headphones to Merit and its other U.S.-based charitable partner, Music Unites. Cambridge is known across Europe as experts in creating neutral, ultra-realistic audio quality that has come to be known as The Great British Sound. The SE1s are high-quality, in-ear headphones constructed with premium beryllium 8-mm speaker drivers. They are housed in rigid, aircraft-grade aluminum, and are connected with high-purity and oxygen-free copper wire. The headphones retail for $50.

“We don’t want to just cut a check, though, we want to be involved,” Chopper said. “From co-hosting events to speaking to students about careers in audio equipment and offering internships, we are planting roots in Chicago and investing in the city’s future leaders. Of course, it helps our bottom line, but that’s not enough. We want to be a company that has a bigger footprint than the products we sell. Cambridge wants to help make the world a better place, and we think the shared love of music has that power.”


Raising funds in the new millennium

For its part, Merit is no stranger to a noble musical mission. For nearly 40 years, the school has been providing music education to Chicago youth against the backdrop of limited, inconsistent funding for arts education in the city’s schools. The programs of Merit — of which a significant portion are provided to students at little or no cost — provide a safe space for both musical and personal development. The school helps give rise to new generations of civic leaders, and in many cases, is keeping children off of the streets and away from potential danger.



Keeping current with the times, however, is a challenge for any organization that needs to stay relevant for multiple decades. While Merit’s curriculum is focused on classical and jazz, the school has been adapting its fundraising and publicity efforts to appeal to a new millennial generation of music education supporters. In 2017 Merit partnered with Hopewell Brewing Company for a full-day fundraiser, complete with DJ sets. It also teamed up with The JuJu Exchange, which features four Merit alums, including the Grammy-nominated Nico Segal, who is also a member of Chance the Rapper’s backup band, for a benefit concert at City Winery that featured several of the city’s up-and-coming music stars.

“We’re honored to partner with Cambridge Audio, not just for this SE1 headphone campaign, but for a long-term partnership,” said Charles Grode, Merit’s president and executive director. “This new strategic relationship enables Merit to expand its publicity and fundraising efforts into new territory. We are exploring a variety of ways that Merit and Cambridge can join forces to expand the fascination and love of music among our youth, which helps them gain the self-confidence and other skills needed to be successful in music and in life.”

In another more modern bid, Merit has linked up with Kuma’s Corner, a chain of Chicago-based burger bars famous for playing ear-shattering heavy metal music in its dining rooms and naming all of its burgers after metal bands. It’s a far departure from the Bach, Beethoven and Monk that Merit is teaching its students, but the efforts should help Merit become a household name among the city’s millennial music fans.

“We know that a love for music is bigger than any one genre or age group, and that is why Merit is trying to engage music lovers across Chicago,” Grode explained. “We all have a vested interest in shaping the lives of our city’s citizens and future leaders, so whether it’s developing musical and personal skills by playing music together at a high level, listening to favorite albums through Cambridge’s premium audio equipment or enjoying a great burger to the sounds of thrashing metal, Merit will help lead the charge.”


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