Merit School of Music

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Merit School of Music is a nonprofit organization located in Chicago, Illinois, USA. The mission of Merit School of Music is to provide music education to students in metropolitan Chicago. Its goals are to help young people achieve their full musical potential, to remove economic barriers to participation, and to stimulate personal and educational growth through music.

Merit School of Music is a member of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, Illinois Arts Alliance, Illinois Alliance for Arts in Education, Chicago Consortium of Community Music Schools, and the Chicago Music Alliance.


Merit School of Music was founded in 1979 by Alice S. Pfaelzer and Emma Endres-Kountz in response to the elimination of music education from the Chicago Public Schools' elementary school curriculum. They had borrowed space from Roosevelt University for their tuition-free Conservatory program, held on Saturday afternoons. Two years later Merit's growing enrollment created the need for a larger space and the school was moved to Chicago's Fine Arts Building. In 1987, Merit moved again to the basement of the Dearborn Station in Chicago's Printer's Row neighborhood. This location remained the school's home for the next 18 years.

By 2005, the school needed more room to accommodate its student body. After a $19 million capital campaign, Merit purchased an old TV studio in Chicago's West Loop and underwent extensive renovations to make the building musically equipped. The building is named the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center. It was named in honor of Joy Faith Knapp, a young businesswoman who lost her battle with Lupus. It is located on 38 South Peoria Street.


The The Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory is Merit's most advanced musical program, it is named after one of Merit's founders, Alice S. Pfaelzer. The Tuition-free Conservatory (TfC) is for high intermediate to advanced students with at least three years of experience on their instrument. Students meet for 26 Saturdays during the school year for three to nine hours.

The Preparatory Program is an after-school program that includes instrumental and vocal instruction, music theory classes and large ensembles. The program prepares students for entrance into Merit's most advanced program, the Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory.

Bridges: Partners in Music brings music instruction into more than 80 public, parochial, charter and private schools, community centers, and homeless shelters, each week. Each program is designed in consultation with the Principal or Site Director and the Director of Bridges: Partners in Music.

Merit's Bridges program offers group instruction on instruments, as well as in general music, early childhood, musical theatre and chorus. Band and string orchestra programs are also available.

Bridges students have the opportunity to continue their musical studies and further develop their technical and musical skills in one of Merit's on-site programs.

Dynamic Starts offers small group instrumental instruction on the fundamentals of music. Each instrument has a minimum age requirement.

After the first year of study, students continue their musical development in Dynamic Starts Enriched for an additional year or two and prepare to audition for Merit's intermediate level Preparatory Program.

Music Explorers program supports a child's first steps in music. It incorporates song, chant, movement exercises and instrument play.

Alegre Strings is an all-violin performing ensemble with weekly rehearsal classes. Students are instructed using the Suzuki method. As the students progress in their studies, they continue with classical pieces and also incorporate the folk songs of Latin America.

Students begin their training in either one of the Bridges: Partners in Music off-site programs or on-site through Dynamic Starts. By audition only, they continue through Merit's curriculum into the Preparatory Program and eventually into the Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory.

Parents are required to attend classes for the first three years and must participate in at-home practice with the student.

Performances are a central component of Alegre Strings. Students in the Alegre Strings program have performed for Presidente Fox of Mexico, NBC News, Fox News, WGN News, and have been featured in articles in Chicago Parent, The Chicago Tribune, Exito, and Ladies Home Journal.

All Alegre Strings students perform in the Alegre String-Tacular – part of an all-day festival sponsored by Univision. Held in June at Harrison Park, the concert features all 150+ Alegre Strings students from around the city performing 35+ pieces in unison from memory. Students also perform for the Alegre Carnaval – the Alegre Strings’ annual fundraising event.[1]

The Director of the Alegre Strings is Shalisa Kline Ugaz.

Regenstein Scholarship Program - students living in Chicago Housing Authority communities, or other government-subsidized housing, are eligible to apply for the Regenstein Scholarship Program. The Regenstein Scholarship Program is dedicated to the musical and personal development of children who live in Chicago's public housing communities.

In addition to a financial award, selected Regenstein Scholars receive an instrument for use while enrolled at Merit, musical supplies, and public transportation tickets to and from Merit obligations. Students and families receive additional staff support to help guide them through their Merit experience. Instruction for beginning music students, including early childhood programs, is available.

The Private Lesson Program is offered on all instruments in both classical and jazz music and in ethnic drumming. Private Lesson students perform at an annual recital and have opportunities for performance and competition throughout the year.

Merit's Private Lesson Program is an option for adult music students. Merit is located in the West Loop and offers lessons on weekends and weekdays during after-work hours. An optional end-of-year recital is available for students.

Musical Theatre. Under the direction of a Merit faculty member, students receive training in classical and popular styles of singing, instruction in dance such as tap, jazz and ballet, and coaching sessions, where they learn the basics of spoken dialogue and staging.

National Advisory Board[edit]


  1. ^ Alegre Strings

External links[edit]