Merit’s Building Reopens and Students Return after 1 Full Year of Virtual Instruction

Conservatory Wind Symphony spreads out in Merit’s Gottlieb Hall during their first in-person rehearsal in a year.

Just over a year ago, on March 13, 2020, Merit School of Music closed the doors to the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center to keep our community safe. Thanks to the support of our families, faculty, staff, and the generosity of our donors, we’ve found innovative ways to maintain strong music education programs virtually for thousands of students over the past 365 days.

This past Saturday – exactly one year to the day since closing those doors – we were absolutely thrilled to open them again and welcome a group of our Conservatory students back into the building.

The first day back which was dedicated to Conservatory Band programming was filled with as much excitement as we had all imagined.  Students and teachers buzzed with a new energy and music floated throughout halls that had fallen silent for so long. “There’s a certain magic that takes over a room when live music-making is happening,” Merit’s Band Program Director, Andrew Zweibel, reflects. “We’ve been sorely missing that magic this past year, and feeling that energy take over the halls of the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center once again was an experience I will never forget!”

Merit In Person Flute Class
Music filled the halls of the Joy Faith Knapp Center on Saturday, March 13 when limited in-person programming resumed. Here, Conservatory flute students make music together under the instruction of Susan Crandall.

Always focused on the safety of our students, families, and staff, Merit has been actively planning for a return to the building since the start of the pandemic. Our team spent the past year preparing for a safe return by investing in specialized PPE for instruments, revamping our HVAC system to increase air circulation, and strategizing new building safety guidelines and procedures, such as implementing health screenings and scheduling more time between classes for deep cleaning. So, in late February when COVID-19 metrics for the city of Chicago reached lower levels and the city lowered its restrictions overall, we felt confident to begin rolling out a phased reopening.

Our students were ready for reopening too. Over 75% of Conservatory students opted for in-person learning this spring and they clearly share in the collective excitement. The remaining 25% who don’t feel comfortable returning to the building yet can still participate virtually thanks to Merit’s new “teaching carts”, stocked with equipment for high-quality video and audio instruction. Here’s how a few students reacted when we invited them back:

“Can’t wait to see my teachers and friends!”

“YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAY!”

“I am just really excited and ready to return to playing with my friends and teachers and seeing them again at Merit!”

While in-person programming will continue to be limited for the foreseeable future (select Conservatory and Early Childhood classes only), it’s a step toward a new normalcy, a sign that fresh horizons are in sight, and the best gift we can think of to give to our students.

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