Greater South Side Program Manager Elena Grijalva helps students find their own path in music

Our Greater South Side site is our fastest growing program. And the demand for high-quality, accessible music instruction is only increasing.

Meet Elena Grijalva, Greater South Side (GSS) Program Manager. As the head of the program, Elena not only ensures day-to-day operations run smoothly, but she works to grow and foster the GSS community. She wants students to be able to find their creativity and passion through music, just like she did. “I see my younger self in them. That continues to be my driving force in shaping this inspiring GSS community.” 

Read on to learn more about Elena’s work as our Greater South Side Program Manager. 

Musical Beginnings

Elena with her Greater South Side Low Brass students Savannah and Aleena 

Elena grew up with a love for music, but she didn’t immediately know how she wanted to pursue it long-term. She remembers, “I was 17, knew I loved trombone, and found out I could get scholarships to play. I thought – sign me up!” Elena received her Bachelor’s degree in trombone performance from Lawrence University, and her Master’s from University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. 

“As years went by of freelance gigging and teaching, I got to work with different music organizations in Chicago; from bigger symphony organizations to smaller music non-profits,” says Elena. “I noticed that in each one of my roles I was gravitating towards student and family outreach/engagement. Being the only person in my family to go to college to study music became a labored and explorative journey within itself. I wanted to pursue a career that helped students find their own path in a vast music community.”

Elena’s Work at People’s

Elena helps new GSS students choose their “forever instruments” at the instrument petting zoo

Elena joined The People’s Music School team in 2021 as the Greater South Side Program Manager and Low Brass Teaching Artist. “Broadly speaking, my role entails planning and scheduling the everyday run of classes and concerts,” she says. But amongst the daily music instruction, student assessments, faculty coachings, and concert planning, Elena finds community connection to be at the heart of it all. 

“Beyond the work we do to serve our students with musical instruction, we’re also committed to creating a safe space for our community to come together. Everyone deserves to be seen and heard in addition to engaging with our rigorous music instruction.”

The Greater South Side Community

Greater South Side families applaud string ensemble performance at Winter Concert

“When anyone asks about our Greater South Side site,” says Elena, “three words always resonate with me when describing this community: Resilient, vibrant and dedicated.”  

“My time at GSS has given me the opportunity to create spaces for our community in three different locations now. The GSS community continues to be resilient and dedicated throughout these many changes. Not only do families come from all over the vast South Side but we also serve some west side and north side families at our GSS site.  The families we get to serve, along with the faculty and staff, come from a variety of backgrounds that make this site extraordinarily vibrant.”

A Community that Shows Up

GSS parent helps with repairs to a bass stand 

Elena has seen the GSS community flourish through its continuous growth and resilience. “I’ve seen our community consistently show up for each other through an endless amount of donations; from student supplies, time supervising our students, to physical labor helping move and assemble furniture, and even transportation by creating their own carpools.” 

“And let’s not forget our most generous donation we’ve gotten from our community – a space for our students to learn. Assistant Principal at Wendell Phillips High School (and GSS Parent) graciously offered TPMS a space for our entire South Side community to continue thriving. When our program asks for help, everyone in this community has the willingness to contribute. I am beyond grateful to serve beside them.”

A Team Effort

Elena credits her GSS team for the success of the program. “I’m very lucky to have the support of my coordinator staff, Zach, Cortina and Kimi,” she says. 

“Working with them is an absolute collaborative effort. Each one of them offers a unique viewpoint and feedback that helps make our program run smoothly. I’m forever appreciative not only for their strong work ethic but their bubbly and upbeat personalities. Plus – they all have great anime, book, and art recommendations to lift my spirits!”

Elena also recognizes the hard work of GSS Teaching Artists. “I’m always excited to see the faculty members connect with their students and see how their students impact the way they teach and what music to choose. It’s amazing getting to see all the students evolve and show their full personalities. Every year I get to see musical growth but also a tighter bond to our community.”

The Key to Making it Work

Elena awards GSS students with certificates for Most Improved and Community Ambassadorship at the Spring Concert

As a Program Manager, Elena admits, “sometimes there isn’t enough time in the day.” Her advice? “Be malleable! All of these fields require wearing multiple hats and they all intersect at times. In music, arts administration, teaching, and nonprofits, sometimes you’re a performer, an organizer, a mentor, a student, an advocate, and the list goes on. Be able to recognize your strengths and learn from others on how you can fortify your weaknesses. We need an arsenal of tools to hone in on the art of adaptability.”

Elena has big dreams for the future of the GSS program. “Every year the program gets bigger, the bigger ideas I have for our site. My long term goals of having chamber groups, mini recitals, instrument specific ensembles like percussion or brass, implementing sound/recording classes and much more just take time. I look forward to giving my GSS community more opportunities in the coming years and do all I can with the time we have together now.”

Life Beyond Music

“Besides playing music, I’m usually reading, watching reality tv or exploring a new walking trail with my pup,” says Elena. “My favorite genres of books are speculative fiction, sci-fi, and graphic novels. If you’re interested, I’ll gladly give out any recommendations! Reality tv is definitely my guilty pleasure, but oddly enough helps me reset. It helps me turn off my brain and laugh at the nonsense. If anyone’s a hiking enthusiast, please share the trail spots with me! I’m always looking for more ways to tire out my 1 year old husky/labrador mix.”

Elena can’t stay away from her passion for music for too long. “If you’ve ever had a conversation with me, you’ll know I’m pretty into the trombone. I’m currently working on another concept for my second album that involves transcribing songs I loved as a young kid – there’s lots of half transcribed Selena songs already! Connecting with the students at GSS has tapped into my inner child and has definitely inspired the concept for this album.”

1 thought on “Greater South Side Program Manager Elena Grijalva helps students find their own path in music”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *