Artistic Excellence: Learning from the Pros

At The People’s Music School, we’re all about artistic excellence.

It’s in our roots: our founder, Rita Simo, attended The Juilliard School after achieving excellence in her own free music education – and then performed around the world.

It’s part of every day: our faculty and staff are professionally trained and play across Chicago, the country, and the world.

And it’s baked into our approach: our students develop musical excellence through our four pillars of instruction: music theory, group lessons, individual lessons, and ensemble performance. They show their stuff on stage and in jury reviews every semester, working hard to show progress in music fundamentals, like scales and sight-reading, and the artistry of music, like performing well-rehearsed pieces. We see the benefits of this excellence in students’ artistic, social, emotional, and intellectual growth today and for years to come.

We up the ante on fun AND excellence for our students through some amazing artistic partnerships. We’re grateful and proud that our students are rehearsing, composing, performing, and learning with incredibly talented musicians this year, including:

1. The Civic Orchestra of Chicago

The scoop: Civic Orchestra Fellows were in residence with our Albany Park Youth Orchestra students in February, teaching, performing, and most importantly acting as mentors to our students. The residency culminated in a side-by-side performance of Beethoven Symphony No. 7 with the Civic Orchestra at Symphony Center on Saturday, Feb 6.

The cherry on top: Both hearing Civic perform and performing side-by-side with them was inspirational and aspirational for our students. Our musicians had a week to learn from some of the best young musicians in the country – and an opportunity to perform on the stage of Symphony Center where some of the greatest musicians in the world have played!

2. Chicago Symphonic Winds

The scoop: CSW visits our Uptown Academy each year for Instrument Expo Week – performing for new students, and helping them try out instruments during an instrument “petting zoo,” ultimately selecting their future instrument of study. We were thrilled to welcome them in residence with our South Side Band students at our Gary Comer Youth Center (GCYC) Community Program this year, too.

The cherry on top: The Chicago Symphonic Winds members are a triple threat at GCYC: performing for students, leading clinics for sections (woodwind, brass, and percussion) to work on specific instrument techniques and the band repertoire, and rehearsing for a side-by-side performance at our GCYC Spring Concert on May 17th.

3. ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble)

The scoop: The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), a world-renowned performance group, is in residence with The People’s Music School’s Youth Orchestra for the next six months. ICE musicians will be working with our students on a piece composed JUST FOR THEM (what?!) by internationally renowned composer Marcos Balter.

The cherry on top: Students are broadening their ability to create and innovate with music. The residency will end with a world premiere of the newly commissioned piece at the Harris Theater on October 6, 2016 for Ear Taxi, Chicago’s New Music Festival. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!

4. Sphinx Virtosi

The scoop: Sphinx Virtuosi performed for students at our Uptown Academy in December, including some stunning Mozart interpretations.

The cherry on top: In addition to taking in a beautiful performance, students had the opportunity to have a Q&A session with the musicians after the performance and meet them in person, hearing first hand just what it’s like to be a young, performing musician.

The scoop: Joshua Jones, Percussionist and African American Fellow with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, visited the South Side Band at Gary Comer Youth Center in February.

The cherry on top: Joshua spoke to students about his 20-year quest to perfect his drumming skills, and how he’s been practicing since he was 2 years old! As a native Chicagoan, Josh relayed his own experience growing up in the city and inspired our kids to keep practicing – emphasizing that hard work can lead to great things.


6. Avalon String Quartet

The scoop: Described by the Chicago Tribune as an ensemble that invites your ears, mind, and spirit into its music, the Avalon String Quartet has established itself as one of the country’s leading chamber music ensembles. The Avalon will be in residence three times in March-April to coach some of our high school string students in master classes and private lessons. They’ll also lead a side-by-side performance of Holst’s Brook Green Suite, which will be performed at The People’s Music School’s annual Hackathon on Saturday, April 9.

The cherry on top: Students get a month of intense training from a world renowned string quartet, complete with a collaboration performance!


7. Axiom Brass

The scoop: Axiom Brass is committed to education, and their blend of virtuosic performances and dynamic teaching have inspired young audiences around the nation. Axiom Brass will join us in early May at the Uptown Academy and as the official “Ensemble-in-Residence” for our newly launched Back of the Yards Youth Orchestra, support by our partnership with Rush Hour Concerts.

The cherry on top: The residencies will include master classes, lessons, performances, and workshops for students – a whole week of awesome!


8. Third Coast Percussion

The scoop: Third Coast Percussion will be in residence at our Albany Park Community Program in May and June, rehearsing and ultimately performing a piece.

The cherry on top: Third Coast’s inventive approach encourages our students to experiment, create, and play in ways they’ve never played before.

9. North Park University

The scoop: For years, we’ve partnered with North Park University’s School of Music to bring meaningful experiences and enrichment to our Albany Park Youth Orchestra students. On February 25th, we hosted the first ever “Beethoven Festival” – a side-by-side performance with the university’s top performing orchestra!

The cherry on top: North Park University is the site of our 16th annual – and largest ever, with 500 students performing! – Performapaloozathon, coming up on June 11th!

10. Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University

The scoop: We have had a long term partnership with NU Bienen SOM through professors Leslie Grimm (lecturer, clarinet) and Marcia Bosits (piano pedagogy). For many years, NU piano pedagogy students have performed for and given feedback to TPMS students – while also learning from TPMS staff who join as guest lecturers in their piano pedagogy classes.

The cherry on top: NU students – both undergraduate and Graduate – present chamber music performances each year for TPMS students.


We extend a special thanks to Rush Hour Concerts and Caerus Foundation for their partnership in bringing high quality professional residencies to our programs, including Axiom Brass, Avalon String Quartet, and Third Coast Percussion this year! You can hear each of these ensembles perform (for free!) this June as part of the Rush Hour’s Summer Concert Series. As you enjoy the performances, imagine how excited our students are to learn from and perform with all of the incredible musicians above!


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